Camcorder manufacturers are continually hunting for new ways to entice you to shoot video. Most are currently trying to ride on the back of Internet sharing, but Panasonic took a different tack last year with its SDR-SW20. Drawing on its Toughbook expertise, this hardened pocket camcorder offered real waterproofing and drop survival.
The SW20 gained quite a lot of positive attention, so now Panasonic has released an updated version. Called the SDR-SW21, it has been improved in key areas. In particular, where the SW20 had all the looks of an engineering sample, the SW21 is far less industrial, and comes in a brighter selection of colours. Luminescent orange and yellow versions are available, plus a more sober silver, and all are metallic.
Inside, the SW21 is not significantly different from the SW20, or the SDR-S7 it was originally based on. It still uses a 1/6in CCD sensor with 800-kilopixels, and shoots standard definition video. So our request for a HD version when we reviewed the SW20 remains unanswered. The resolution is always 704 x 576, rather than the usual 720 x 576 of European Standard Definition video, but three data rates are available, ranging from 2.5Mbits/sec to 10Mbits/sec. Footage is recorded to SD or SDHC memory. No media is included in the box, but a 2GB card will be enough for around 25 minutes of footage at the top data rate.
Aside from the improved aesthetics of the SW21, Panasonic has also beefed up the mechanism for securing the watertight doors over the various ports. Instead of just a locking switch, a screw catch now keeps these firmly shut, further reducing any chance of accidental opening. But most importantly, the firmer mechanism also allows Panasonic to increase the waterproof depth to 2m, where the previous model just went to 1.5m. This is particularly welcome when you consider a lot of swimming pools are 2m at the deep end, so the SW21 will be perfectly safe in these environments.
However, the upgraded chassis design hasn't improved the ability to withstand knocks. The SW21 is still only rated for falls of 1.2m or less, which allegedly conforms to the MIL-STD-810F METHOD 516.5 SHOCK military standard.
Dropping the SW20 in deep water was allegedly a more significant problem. Not only could this mean the camcorder disappeared for good, if you did manage to find it and it had fallen well below 1.5m, its seals might have breached and damage been caused. The new model's bright colour options will help you find it if you happen to lose your grip. But it also comes with its own matching floatation device, which attaches to the wrist strap. Let go of the camcorder underwater, and this will buoy the SW21 up to the surface, out of harm's way.