Panasonic has been resolutely sticking with CCD technology for its camcorders, where even JVC has switched over to CMOS sensors for its latest GZ-HD10 and GZ-HD40. Now, with the HDC-SD100, even this last bastion is making the switch. But instead of moving from its former three-CCD to a single larger CMOS like the rest, Panasonic has opted for three-CMOS instead, which it is calling 3MOS.
The trio of CMOSes in the HDC-SD100's 3MOS system are 1/6in in size, so as small as the CCDs in previous models such as the HDC-SD9. These also only offer 610,000 pixels each, so you're not getting the full resolution of HD for each colour channel as you do with professional three-chip camcorders. But Panasonic has augmented the 3MOS with a new HD Crystal Engine image processor, to make the most out of the new sensor array.
The SD100 records to SDHC memory only, although there will also be a larger, but similarly featured HS100 model that will incorporate a hard disk. The SD100 offers four recording mode options, somewhat cryptically called HA, HG, HX and HE. The HA mode is the top option, but the top three record Full HD at 1,920 x 1,080. Only the most economical HE mode drops down to 1,440 x 1,080. Data rates range from a healthy 17Mbits/sec for HA to a miserly 6Mbits/sec for HE - but you will notice the extra compression. An 8GB SDHC card will store an hour of footage in HA mode, or three hours of HE.
Even though Canon's HF10 and HF100 finally put AVCHD on the map as an alternative to HDV for serious videomaking, the HDC-SD100 has a few features not even these Canon models offer. In particular, this is the first AVCHD camcorder we've yet seen with a viewfinder as well as the usual LCD panel. It also offers a lens ring - a feature almost as rare.