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Panasonic HDC-SD9 - Preview

Like its predecessor, the SD9 does not offer much for the serious videomaker. It doesn't have an accessory shoe, there is no microphone input, and no headphone output. Instead, Panasonic has added features to make the camcorder even more friendly for the novice. The Intelligent Shooting Guide system provides handy tips to improve your footage, but without actually forcing you to take its advice. For example, if you pan too fast a message will pop up warning you of this. It also detects backlit subjects and low lighting conditions, or when the Low Light mode has been enabled unnecessarily.

Another first is Panasonic's face detection system, although Sony is also introducing the facility in its new models. This should be familiar from the heavy TV advertising campaign Panasonic has engaged in for its Lumix digital camcorders. The system can detect faces, and will adjust exposure accordingly so the faces are properly exposed, rather than allowing a bright background to leave faces in darkness. With the SD9, however, it's available with video as well as stills. The Digital Cinema Colour recording mode produces even more vibrant colour by using the xvYCC colour space, although you will need a Panasonic TV which supports this as well to see the benefit.

Another new addition is 5.1 surround sound recording - not the first time we've seen this in a camcorder, but amazing in one as small as the SD9. This uses five microphones arranged in a cross and some clever calculations to position sound in front and behind. But it can also make the Zoom Microphone system function more effectively, cutting out peripheral background noise and recording more of the audio coming from the subjects in the frame. The Focus Mic system does something similar, but without the zoom facility, so makes audio recording more directional.

Despite its point-and-shoot user orientation, the SD9 still incorporates Panasonic's characteristically comprehensive range of manual settings. You can choose the usual array of Scene modes. But for ultimate control the aperture can be varied from F16 to F1.8 (fully open), and then up to 18dB of video gain can be added on top in 3dB increments. As with most Panasonic camcorders, the shutter can be configured independently, too, with settings ranging from 1/25th to 1/8000th of a second. This will probably daunt most casual shooters and remain unused, but it's handy to have available. Although there is no viewfinder, the SD9 does have an excellent 2.7in LCD monitor in compensation. This sports 300,000 pixels, making it relatively high resolution where many manufacturers only offer 123,000 pixels.

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