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When the SDR-S7 first emerges from its box, you could be forgiven for wondering if you've been sent a toy camcorder by accident. We thought the SDR-S10 was small. But the SDR-S7 will break the line of your jacket as little as a pack of twenty filter tipped, and won't get you arrested when you fire it up in an enclosed public space either. Yet this is indeed a grown-up camcorder, with most of the features you would expect from a more regularly sized Panasonic.
Inside the SDR-S7's unfeasibly tiny form lurks a single 1/6in CCD with 800-Kpixels. This is a pretty entry-level sensor, frequently found in the cheapest camcorders. It's used to record standard definition video with MPEG-2 compression. The frame size is 704 x 576, rather than the more usual 720 x 576, and is widescreen 16:9 in aspect ratio by default, although the option to shoot in 4:3 mode is also buried within the menu system. Still images can only be captured at 640 x 480, however, so will be surpassed by many mobile phones these days at least in terms of resolution.
Even though the SDR-S7 is very short, there's still a 10x optical zoom available. You can add 25x or 700x digital zoom on the top - neither of which we would recommend due to the reduction in video quality entailed.
The feature that has primarily allowed the SDR-S7's incredible shrinking act is SD memory. Thanks to the small size of this format, there's no need for a hefty tape transport or space for a hard disk. The slot will accommodate SD and SDHC cards up to the current maximum of 32GB in capacity. Data rates for recording range from 10Mbits/sec in XP mode, down to 5Mbits/sec in SP mode and 2.5Mbits/sec in LP. With a 16GB SDHC card, which will set you back around £50, three hours 20 minutes of footage will fit, even in XP mode.
The S7's small size requires a slightly different shooting strategy to regular camcorders. A second record button is available on the side of the unit. This is a very good thing, because holding the SDR-S7 in the usual handycam fashion, with the thumb toggling recording, is actually a bit uncomfortable unless you have the hands of a seven-year-old.