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The Panasonic HDC-SD9 was the biggest-selling HD camcorder of 2008. It combined decent video quality with one of the keenest prices for a Full HD model around, making high definition affordable at last. But all good things must come to an end, and the SD9 is now hard to get hold of, as it's two generations behind the current range. We've already seen Panasonic's latest high-end model, the HDC-HS300, and its more price-conscious hard disk-based sibling, the HDC-HS20. But the closest thing to a successor to the SD9 is the HDC-SD20.
Like its predecessor, the SD20 is a pure flash-based model, with no memory or hard disk built in. So its dimensions and overall design are very similar to its predecessor. However, where the SD9 packed in three 1/6in CCD sensors, the SD20 has just a single 1/6in CMOS sensor instead. The resolution of this single sensor has been nearly tripled to compensate, with a gross 1.47-megapixels.
However, the light-receiving area will be one third as much as the SD9's, and only 1.17-megapixels are used when shooting video. So the SD20 will be using interpolation to produce its Full HD recording resolution. The only advantage of the small single sensor, apart from the tiny form factor of the SD20, is that it allows the optical zoom to be a very healthy 16x. Otherwise, it is likely to have image quality implications, particularly in low light.
Since there is no memory built in, recording time will depend on the size of SDHC card you use. The SD20 is compatible with Class 4 or faster cards, so 16GB will set you back under £30. Video data rates are available up to 17Mbits/sec, as Panasonic hasn't switched over to the High Profile Level 4.1 AVCHD standard for its consumer models yet. At this top quality setting, a 16GB card will be enough for two hours of footage, and you can fit six hours on if you drop down to the lowest option, which shoots at 1,440 x 1,080 with a 6Mbits/sec data rate.
This aspect of the SD20 is no different from the SD9, but the control system has changed considerably. Panasonic has extended the touchscreen we first saw in the HS300 down to the SD20 as well, so the LCD sports just two physical buttons for calling up the menu and deleting clips when in playback mode. There are a few discrete buttons on the camera body beneath the LCD for enabling the built-in video light and manual mode, as well as disabling the optical image stabilisation system. Two further buttons on top toggle the Intelligent Auto and Pre-REC functions.