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Fortunately, Panasonic has added to the HS300 without taking away what made the SD100 and HS100 close to being the best HD camcorder releases of last year: its lens ring. This excellent addition to the previous generation made accessing the main manual settings a doddle. Aside from manual focusing, the lens ring can perform an array of other functions. However, flexibility has been reduced a little in the HS300. With the LCD open, the only alternative function is zooming. The other features become available when you use the electronic viewfinder.
This is because the HS300 now includes a touchscreen LCD, which offers a Function menu containing the main manual settings. The iris is now controlled from here, with settings from F16 to F1.8 available, and you can add up to 18dB of video gain on the top as well. The shutter control is also part of the touchscreen Function menu, providing options from 1/25th to 1/8000th. Similarly, white balance is now operated via the LCD.
The touchscreen has one particular reason for its existence, however, and this is the latest extension to Intelligent Auto. Sony has long offered touch control over focusing and exposure, and it's a very neat feature, allowing you simply to press the place in the frame you want focused or exposed correctly. But Panasonic has met Sony and raised the stakes. Coupled with face detection, the HS300 can track a moving subject. Simply click in the frame on the subject you want to track and a bounding box will move with it. This area will be the reference for automatic focusing and exposure. If you want to capture someone walking towards the camera, it's really quite effective.
However, the presence of the touchscreen LCD and the accompanying simplification of the lens ring functions isn't entirely a step forward. We would like to have seen the option to use the lens ring in the same way as with the SD100/HS100, if so desired. As before, the Digital Cinema mode combines 25p progressive shooting and xvYCC colour, and we would also have preferred these two as separate functions.
The HS300 includes the cross-shaped array of microphones included with its last few predecessors, so can record 5.1 surround sound natively and perform clever directional audio tricks. But there is also a full-sized standard accessory shoe on the top, a microphone minijack input on the side, and a headphone minijack for monitoring levels. So every enthusiast base has been covered.