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8/10

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Panasonic SDR-S10 Camcorder

Convergence has been one of the watchwords of the computer revolution. But although camcorders have been able to take photos for years, and most digital cameras have a movie recording function, no device yet has truly mastered both domains. Camcorders are too big to compete with pocket cameras, and cameras too small to accommodate the storage requirements of video. Weighing in at under 200g, however, Panasonic’s SDR-S10 certainly looks like it could be a contender for the convergence crown.
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The SDR-S10 has been widely touted as the world’s smallest camcorder. It owes its diminutive size to its use of SD memory for recording, which Panasonic has been championing in its camcorders for some years. The S10 comes with a 2GB card as standard, but as it supports Class 2 or higher SDHC, cards up to 8GB in capacity are now available with larger sizes on their way. Video is recorded in MPEG2 format at regular TV resolution up to 10Mbits/sec. So the supplied card is enough for 25 minutes of video at the top XP quality setting, or a more useful 50 minutes using the middle SP mode.
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We shouldn’t get your hopes up too much this early in the review, however. The S10 is not endowed with a megapixel CCD, the likes of which you would find on Panasonic’s Lumix range of digital cameras. Instead, it incorporates a 1/6in 0.8-megapixel sensor. This is perfectly adequate for video, but only takes photos at 640 x 480. So in reality the SDR-S10 is not the perfect crossover device its tiny proportions would imply. It’s really just a camcorder the size of a pocket camera, although it still offers a healthy 10x optical zoom.
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The form factor of the S10 is also a little strange, and we had trouble getting used to it. The idea appears to be to hold the camcorder in the palm of your hand like a Dictaphone, using your thumb to control the zoom rocker and forefinger to operate recording. It’s certainly operable like this, but is a novel approach and forces you to shoot from just above waist height rather than the head height most people will be familiar with. We also found this arrangement particularly uncomfortable when taking photos – although with 640 x 480 stills this will be a very occasional function. There’s no lens cover, either, where a built-in one would have been appropriate. On the plus side, only a few seconds separate turning the unit on and being ready to shoot.

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