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Every other manufacturer has thrown in its lot, joined the crowd, and now uses a single, large CMOS sensor for high-end HD camcorder models. But Panasonic has continued its backing for the traditional, three-sensor approach to image quality. The HDC-SD100 and HS100 may have heralded an unexpected move from CCD to CMOS for Panasonic, but they still sported a trio. The HDC-HS300, our first taste of Panasonic's 2009 range announced at CES, sticks with the tripartite approach, too. But this time each one is bigger and of a higher resolution.
The previous generation of Panasonic 3MOS models used 1/6in sensors, each with less than the full pixel resolution required for Full HD. But the HS300 integrates three 1/4.1in CMOS sensors and each one has 3.05-megapixels. When shooting video, a letterbox of 2.05-megapixels within this is used, but still images get to use up to 7.95-megapixels.
So, on paper at least, the HS300 promises more detailed video and digital photography than any consumer Panasonic camcorder ever before. With a bit of interpolation, still images can be snapped at up to 3,984 x 2,656 pixels, although only when the camcorder is in photo mode. Otherwise, the upper limit is 3,840 x 2,160 pixels if you want to shoot video at the same time.
However, although the sensor system has had a major overhaul, the electronics behind it have remained essentially the same. Whereas Canon has updated its latest models such as the HF11 to support the top H.264 Main-Profile Level 4.1, which allows a 24Mbits/sec data rate, Panasonic has stuck with Level 4.0. This means the top data rate on offer is 17Mbits/sec, although we haven't been able to see much difference in quality between the two with consumer camcorders.
Since this is a Panasonic HDC-HSxxx camcorder, the HS300 uses a hard disk for recording. The capacity has been doubled over the HS100, from 60GB to 120GB, so now you can pack in 15 hours of footage even at the top quality setting. There's an SDHC card slot, too, and files can span between HDD and flash memory without having to stop the camcorder in between.