Where the Panasonic version can detect up to five faces, the Sony equivalent can find up to eight. And where Panasonic adjusts only exposure, Sony adjusts colour and tone. Nevertheless, dark faces against bright scenery are the main problem, and the Panasonic Face Detection system copes with that adequately. You could perform the same function manually, but it would take a lot longer to configure. With the SD9, a single button turns on Face Detection.
We can also admit to being fairly pleased with the Intelligent Shooting Guide, now that we've used to it. It would have been a travesty if Panasonic had hidden its legendary extensive manual control behind ‘user-friendly' simplifications. Fortunately, the Intelligent Shooting Guide doesn't do this. It just suggests things you can choose to ignore if you wish. If its helpful tips annoy you, they can be turned off, and they disappear after a while anyway. But the suggestions are mostly useful, such as prompting you to enable Intelligent Contrast in bright conditions or switch to Low Light mode in poor illumination, and warning you when you're panning around too fast.
Editing was another area we wanted to test, as software tends to lag behind new recording formats. Although AVCHD is now widely supported by editing applications (with Adobe's software rather conspicuous by its absence) the HDC-SD9 is not entirely standard. Not only does it offer 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD resolution, where the first AVCHD models used 1,440 x 1,080 (the same as HDV), it also has progressive scanning as an option. Then there's the 5.1 surround sound. So we tried importing footage shot at the top-quality 1,920 x 1,080 progressively scanned HA mode into Ulead VideoStudio 11 Plus (with the added Power Pack, a free download). The software had no trouble importing clips from the camcorder over USB, and not only was the correct resolution and aspect ratio maintained, but the 5.1 soundtrack was recognised as well.
Now we've had a chance to give Panasonic's HDC-SD9 a proper going over, we can't help being rather bowled over. It's definitely not a camcorder for the serious hobbyist, even if it can shoot great-quality video in all but the worst lighting conditions. But for the everyday camcorder user, the HDC-SD9 really showcases what Flash memory has going for it. It's unfeasibly tiny and light, yet packs a lot of features and impressive HD video quality. At under £600, it's not outrageously expensive, either, and you can now pick up a 16GB SDHC card for about £50. The HDC-SD9 is certainly the most exciting camcorder we've seen so far this year.