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The viewfinder is fixed and won’t be easy to use with a long-life battery attached, nor does it have a rubber surround for comfortable use. But at least it’s there. Annoyingly, Panasonic has moved its joystick from the rear to under the LCD, which is nowhere near as convenient. However, you won’t need it as much as with previous Panasonic camcorders. A switch near the lens toggles between auto and manual focusing, with a second push redirecting the ring to zoom operation instead.
The ring’s functions don’t end there, though. Press the CAM FUNC button, and a small menu appears offering White Balance, Shutter Speed and Iris. The lens ring is then used to scroll through the options, and the CAM FUNC button to make a selection. Then the lens ring adjusts your chosen settings. You can configure shutter from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and the iris from F16 to F1.8, with up to 18dB of gain on top. These can be set independently. Overall, it’s very intuitive and easy to use, making this the friendliest manual control system on any AVCHD camcorder we’ve yet seen.
With a lens ring and viewfinder, it will come as no surprise the HDC-SD100 also has a standard-sized accessory shoe, microphone input and headphone jack. Since you must have the LCD open to use the joystick, there’s a switch on the side to turn it off and enable the viewfinder instead. The latter also doubles as AV output, which must be switched in the menu.
Further discrete buttons toggle the Optical Image Stabilisation and the PRE-REC function. This keeps a few seconds of video buffered, so if you hit record too late you won’t miss the moment. The final button controls the iA Intelligent Auto mode. This adds functions to the Scene modes, such as augmenting Portrait mode with face recognition, or switching on Intelligent Contrast and Low Light mode when necessary.
The remaining controls are only available via the joystick and full menu. You can turn on backlight compensation or soft skin mode via the joystick. One highlight in the menu is the Digital Cinema Mode, which is Panasonic’s version of x.v.Color, but also bundles 25p shooting. We would have preferred to see these as separate options, as the colour alteration may not be to everyone’s taste.
As with Panasonic’s HDC-SD9 and HS9, the SD100 incorporates a quintet of microphones arranged in a cross. These are used to produce the directional signals for a 5.1 surround sound signal, but they also enhance the Zoom Mic function, as well as providing a Focus Mic feature. This attempts to reduce the level of sounds not coming from within the visible video frame.