We were blown away by Panasonic's hard disk-based HDC-HS300, and now its price has dropped below £800 it's even more enticing. Although up against stiff competition from Canon and Sony, the HS300's combination of three 1/4.1in, 3.05Mpixel CMOS sensors with comprehensive manual features make it the best premium camcorder currently available.
Thanks to its trio of sensors, the HS300 shoots great-quality video in all but the darkest conditions, and even here it equals or exceeds any other consumer model. But what really gives the HS300 the edge is its lens ring. In auto mode, this provides another way of controlling the zoom, but toggle the function button and it operates the manual focus. Combined with an assist function, which magnifies the centre of the frame, the HS300's lens ring makes manual focusing a doddle. The HS300 also offers independent control of shutter and iris, with video gain up to +18dB available too, plus an accessory shoe and mini-jacks for an external microphone and headphones. For more point-and-shoot usage there's the Intelligent Auto system and touch-controlled AFAE.
If you want a lighter version of the same thing, the HS300's Flash memory-toting sibling the HDC-TM300 has identical features, except it sports 32GB of solid state storage instead of the HS300's 120GB hard disk. However, since the latter costs around the same and can store 15 hours of footage, it just pips its sibling as our premium camcorder of choice.
Read the full review of the Panasonic HDC-HS300
The Canon LEGRIA HF S10 offers another powerful combination of HD image quality and features. At launch its £1,299 price put it well out of the running. But it can now be found for under £800, and although the lens ring on Panasonic's HDC-HS300 beats the Canon's adjustment knob for ease of use, the HF S10 is now a very close second indeed.
Read the full review of the Canon LEGRIA HF S10
Sony launched the consumer HD camcorder revolution in Europe, but its more recent models have increasingly targeted the point-and-shoot user. So the HDR-X520 records excellent video, on par with our other two premium selections, but it doesn't offer the same level of manual features, and it's slightly more expensive than either, too. If you don't need manual control, the HDR-X520's whopping 240GB hard disk and built-in GPS could still swing your wallet in its favour, though.
Read the full review of the Sony HDR-X520