From the relative uniformity of MiniDV over the last decade, camcorders now come in a bewildering range of formats. We're at the watershed between standard and high definition models, and there are also many choices of recording medium. But where Panasonic's HDC-SX5 hedged its bets, offering both SD and DVD disc recording, the HDC-SD5 is much more focused - it just records to SD. And we reckon it's all the better for it.
Whilst the SX5 has many commendable features, the SD5 has one it couldn't possibly boast - a very compact and svelte form. It weighs just 400g, and at 74mm wide and 67mm tall it's skinnier than most models. Yet this is still a high-definition camcorder recording with the AVCHD format. It uses a three-CCD sensor system, too, rather than the single CMOS offered by Sony's consumer HD camcorders. With optical image stabilisation as well, the SD5 has potential to punch well above its size.
The similarity in names might lead you to believe the HDC-SD5 is essentially the same inside as the HDC-SX5, and it is. An identical trio of 1/6in CCDs with 560Kpixels apiece are allied with the same Leica Dicomar optics. So, although this is a three-CCD camcorder, its sensors are very small, which will have an impact on low-light sensitivity. Unlike its direct predecessor, the HDC-SD1, the SD5 offers Full HD recording at 1,920 x 1,080, rather than the anamorphic 1,440 x 1,080, although the latter is available as an option.
The SD5 actually offers three recording modes - one using Full HD called HG, and two flavours of 1,440 x 1,080 with different levels of compression. At the top HG setting, the video consumes 13Mbits/sec, so an 8GB SDHC memory card will be enough for around 80 minutes of footage. Unfortunately, Panasonic doesn't supply a memory card with the SD5. So you will need to add at least £40 to the price before you can start shooting, although you will still get change out of £700 in total. As with virtually all camcorders these days, the SD5 can also shoot still images, but only at its native HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, which is useful but won't be giving your dedicated camera any sleepless nights.