Where Sony pioneered consumer high definition camcorders, and JVC brought hard disks to the masses, Panasonic has concentrated its efforts on flash memory. The company has also made three-CCD technology affordable. The SDR-S150 combines both of these into one dinky camcorder that promises high video quality in a pocket-friendly package, although it only offers standard rather than high definition recording.
The SDR-S150 is nowhere near as dinky and slinky as the SDR-S10, which set a new standard for tiny, true camcorders. But where the latter only incorporates a single 1/6in CCD, as with last week's tastily economical MiniDV offering from Panasonic (the NV-GS230), the SDR-S150 relies on a trio of 1/6in CCDs with 800,000 pixels apiece. However, unlike its MiniDV stable mate, this camcorder uses interpolation to provide 3.1-megapixel stills, with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,512. Whilst this is still nowhere near current standalone digital camera standards, it's useful enough for the occasional snap. The SDR-S150 also uses optical image stabilisation, which is fairly uncommon at this price.
At its top XP quality, the SDR-S150 records video at 10Mbits/sec, with 5Mbits/sec SP and 2.5Mbits/sec LP modes also available. When shooting XP video, you can fit about 50 minutes of footage on a 4GB SDHC card. However, Panasonic only includes a 2GB memory card in the box, so you will almost certainly want to add some more storage to the price. An 8GB card will set you back around £50.
The SDR-S150 is very much aimed at the point-and-shoot user. It doesn't have an accessory shoe or microphone jack. So there will be no chance of adding external audio or a video light. You can hook up headphones with the supplied adapter, which connects to the MULTI port (more on that later). Manual focusing uses the joystick rather than a more accurate lens ring. But the Panasonic does have a built in automatic lens cover that opens when you enter the movie or still image recording modes. Although there is no filter thread on this cover, you can unscrew it to reveal a standard 37mm thread. A built-in flash resides above the lens, popping up at the flick of a switch, although it's very small and only has a range of about 2m.