With a trio of CCDs, you would expect the HDC-SX5 to provide really stunning image quality. After all, Panasonic’s three-chip DV camcorders are well-known for punching well above their price level in this respect. However, whilst colour fidelity is excellent in sunny conditions and very respectable under good artificial illumination, the small size of the Panasonic’s CCDs does show itself in low light. A lot of noise appears and the colours become very dark – noticeably below Canon’s HV20.
Not all of this is Panasonic’s fault, though. The AVCHD format uses considerably more compression than HDV to achieve its lower data rate. Although its MPEG-4 codec is more efficient than HDV’s MPEG-2, the compression has been pushed far enough to accentuate the effects of noise, and sometimes even introduces other artefacts such as ghosting on moving objects. However, one of the biggest drawbacks of the format has been alleviated in the last few months with quite a few video editing apps now supporting it natively, including Ulead Video Studio 11 Plus and Pinnacle Studio 11.
The HDC-SX5 has plenty of commendable qualities. The lack of microphone input and headphone output reduce its usefulness for more serious video making, but it offers good image quality in adequate lighting, and there are some useful manual controls on offer. Most of all, though, we’re not entirely convinced by the Hybrid recording format, in particular because we’ve never been bowled over by DVD camcorders. Discs may be very easily transferred to a PC by sticking them in your optical drive, but the low level of storage available means you would have to pack quite a few for a long holiday. We’re much more in favour of the HDC-SX5’s SDHC capabilities. Fortunately, Panasonic has alternative models recording to this format alone, which we plan to review in the near future.