In the best lighting, the HDC-SD100 produces incredibly vibrant colour. Point-and-shoot users will be very pleased with the results. But the more professional end of the market will be after a more naturalistic look, and we would like to have seen controls for toning down saturation a bit, as found with Canon’s HF10 and HF100. Performance is still excellent, though, and footage is noticeably sharper than the HDC-SD9. But it still can’t quite reach the benchmark set by the Canons – one large CMOS clearly has the edge over three smaller ones.
The oversaturation does have its benefits. In moderately low light, there is still plenty of colour, more than with the SD9. The level of grain is also lower, and finer, so greater detail is visible. Again, though, the Canon HF10 and HF100 retain more colour and produce a sharper image, albeit with a similar level of grain. Unfortunately, in lower light the Canons increase their lead. The SD100 maintains some colour definition, but the overall image is too dark and marred by grain.
Since it records AVCHD, the Panasonic can now enjoy a wide compatibility for its footage. Even Adobe has recently announced a new version of Premiere Elements with support. As with virtually all non-tape-based consumer camcorders these days, USB 2.0 is the primary means of PC connectivity – if you can find the port. Panasonic has buried it underneath the battery, forcing you to use mains power when copying footage to a computer. The HDMI port is also hidden here, and it’s of the mini variety so will need an adapter for hooking up to a HDTV.
But at least Panasonic’s AC power brick allows you to charge batteries on their own. Under the LCD, alongside the aforementioned dual-purpose AV and microphone minijack, a proprietary port is available for component analogue. So, despite its small size, the SD100 still manages to incorporate a full complement of connectivity options, without the need for a docking station.
In previous camcorder eras, Panasonic has excelled at providing models with comprehensive features for the enthusiast. Its NV-GS400 was the last great ‘prosumer’ DV model. Until the HDC-SD100 arrived, no manufacturer had combined AVCHD with quite that level of professional features. Canon’s HF10 and HF100 are close, but the HDC-SD100 goes a few steps further with its standard accessory shoe, viewfinder and lens ring. Most amazingly, Panasonic has managed to fit all this into a tiny camcorder weighing just 382g. It’s not perfect – the Canon’s beat it for overall image quality, and at close to £700 it’s not cheap. But if you’ve been holding out for an AVCHD camcorder with the full gamut of professional features, this could be your dream come true at last.