A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to get an early hands-on with Panasonic's new HDC-SD9. Now we've been sent one for a more extensive test. So here are our conclusions, and final assessment.
First, we should reiterate that this is a very small camcorder. It only weighs 275g (337g with standard battery), and is less than 10cm long. You wouldn't quite want to carry it in a trouser pocket, unless you wear a particularly baggy variety or have rather large legs. But the incredible diminutive size of the SD9 will make you far more inclined to stuff it in a bag whenever you go out.
Unlike many tiny camcorders, the SD9 doesn't come with a miniature battery enclosed in the chassis, with no longer-life options. Instead, a decent 1,320mAh unit is supplied as standard, which will be enough for over an hour of recording; up to nearly two hours depending on usage. This fits neatly onto the back of the camcorder, but you can replace it with a long-life version instead, with options up to a whopping 5,800mAh, which will give you between five and eight hours before giving up the ghost.
We have already explained the SD9's main features in our preview. However, we wanted to confirm our very positive first impressions, take a look at the footage on an HDTV, and see exactly how the new electronic wizardry behaves under different shooting conditions. After extensive usage, particularly in low light, we remain quite impressed with the SD9's video quality. The footage does get quite grainy as the light drops below the equivalent of a living room lit by a 100W bulb, although the colour is still reasonable. So here the small size of the three 1/6in CCDs can't be overcome. But for most consumer uses - such as outdoor holiday shooting or indoor events with at least some lighting - the SD9 will fit the bill.
We didn't get much chance to put the Panasonic's Face Detection system to the test in our preview, either, so this was something else we experimented with extensively. One thing it can't do is improve the situation in low light. If there isn't enough illumination in general, Face Detection won't make much difference. It's primarily aimed at conditions where your subjects are against bright backgrounds - quite common if you shoot your family standing in front of a landscape. Apart from this limitation, we found the system worked well, accurately picking out faces and placing a yellow box around them. Face Detection can also be found on Sony's latest models, such as the HDR-SR12.