Most manufacturers are winding down their standard definition camcorder ranges. But they are still releasing a few new models for those people left not wishing to make the leap to HD, or who just can’t afford it yet. One of these is Panasonic’s SDR-S50, which sits at the top of the company’s standard definition selection.
Panasonic’s strategy with the SDR-S50 is similar to Canon's with the LEGRIA HF M31. The basic camcorder specification is very similar to previous models, but higher-end features have been added to sweeten the deal. Like the Panasonic SDR-S26, the S50 has a 1/8in CMOS sensor with just 800,000 pixels.
Such a tiny sensor doesn’t bode well for low light performance, which we'll come back to later in this review. But it does have one upside. The S50 is able to offer a truly whopping optical zoom whilst still keeping its overall size small. The optical zoom stretches to 70x, and is augmented by an Enhanced Zoom mode which stretches this to 78x. Since the sensor offers more pixels than necessary for standard definition video, the frame can be cropped without going below the necessary total. This does reduce the active surface area, so will marginally reduce light sensitivity, but it won’t noticeably affect detail.
The S50 relies on SD flash memory for storage. Video is recorded in the regular MPEG-2 format used by most mainstream standard definition camcorders, and data rates go up to 10Mbits/sec. This means that a 16GB SDHC card will store more than three hours of footage even at the highest quality setting – ample for most uses. The S50 also supports the new SDXC memory format, so will accept 48GB and 64GB cards, with the latter providing more than 13 hours of storage.