The video format options and storage are also virtually the same as before. You can shoot Full HD at 50 frames per second, or AVCHD. The former runs at 28Mbits/sec and the latter tops out at 17Mbits/sec, which is one notch below the 24Mbits/sec maximum available from the AVCHD format. However, since 17Mbits/sec AVCHD works out at slightly more data per frame than the 50p option, since this records twice as many frames per second, it promises marginally better image quality at the expense of less smooth motion. The one addition is an iFrame shooting mode, which is essentially one quarter of Full HD, so records at 960 x 540, and promises Mac compatibility.
There’s 32GB of flash memory on board, which is enough for two and three quarter hours of 50p Full HD or four hours of top-end AVCHD. When this runs out, an SD card slot is on hand for expansion. This supports SDXC, so will accommodate media up to 64GB, although we haven’t been able to confirm whether the recently announced 128GB cards will be compatible.
The TM900 didn’t need any improvements in its manual features. Panasonic has continued its support for the lens ring, which is now a unique feature for its camcorders. Using the mode switch on the side, the ring can be used to configure focus, white balance, shutter, and iris. Otherwise, it provides another means of operating the zoom, supplementing the rocker on the top of the unit. The shutter can be varied from 1/8,000th to 1/50th sec, or 1/25th if auto slow shutter is enabled. The iris options range from F16 to F1.5, with the option to add up to 18dB of video gain on top of a fully open aperture.
Despite the touchscreen, the TM900 also offers discreet record and zoom controls on the edge of the LCD, which will make two-handed shooting extremely comfortable. Complementing the manual features are minijacks for an external microphone and headphones. As with the last few high-end flash memory Panasonic models, no accessory shoe is built in. Instead, there’s a bracket on the side for an accessory shoe attachment. The latter is standard sized, rather than proprietary, so will be compatible with third-party peripherals.
The HDC-TM900 offers no surprises when it comes to image quality. With an identical sensor array and lens specification to the TM700, video performance is the same. But this is no bad thing, as the TM700 was a leader in this area. Colours are extremely accurate, although perhaps not as vibrant as some manufacturers favour, particularly Sony. Sharpness and detail are also top of the pack. Colours remain accurate to a poor level of illumination, and the TM900 shows very little noise as well. Overall, the TM900 produces one of the best image qualities of any sub-£1,000 camcorder currently available.
Panasonic’s HDC-TM900 offers no revolutionary new features, now that 3D shooting has already started its journey to ubiquity. But like its predecessors it blends excellent enthusiast features, headlined by the lens ring, with supreme image quality. There’s also no significant premium being charged for this new model compared to the outgoing TM700, if you can still find it. So the TM900 takes over from its predecessor as our videomaking enthusiast camcorder of choice.