Panasonic gave us a preview of the HS300's video quality at the tail end of 2008 - but we had to promise not to tell until after the official announcement at CES 2009. It was hard to hold in our excitement, as the demonstrations looked very convincing indeed. The HS300's sensors are similar in size to the high-end Sony HDR-FX7E's, giving it the potential to be a consumer camcorder with truly pro-grade image quality.
Putting the HS300 through its paces ourselves, we found that it lived up to our expectations. The level of detail and colour fidelity this camcorder can produce is nothing short of stunning, in virtually all conditions. Low light performance is particularly amazing. There is a certain amount of grain, but the level of colour maintained at very low levels of illumination is a revelation. Overall, this is the first consumer camcorder we've seen which has managed to exceed the high benchmark set by Canon's excellent HF10, HF100, HG20 and HF11.
Since the AVCHD files created by the HS300 are no different from the last few models, compatibility with editing software is now near universal. We didn't have trouble editing footage with any of the latest versions of the mainstream apps. If you just want to watch footage on a TV, a comprehensive set of connections are available, including mini HDMI, plus component and composite analogue. However, no adapter is included for hooking up to a full-sized HDMI port.
When Panasonic released the HDC-SD100 and HS100, we loved the company's continued dedication to ‘prosumer' features. These camcorders were not dumbed down - in fact, they regained some of the functionality of MiniDV all-time-greats like the NV-GS400. But the image quality couldn't quite knock Canon off its pedestal. With the HDC-HS300, Panasonic has at last covered all the bases. This could well be the best camcorder released all year. Panasonic's competitors will need to pull off something special to beat it, although the near-£1,000 price will deter the video-making masses.