1st Place: Canon HF100
The top award goes to Canon's HF100 camcorder. In early 2008, Canon released two AVCHD camcorders, the HF10 and the HF100. Both have excellent specs that include a large 1/3.2in CMOS sensor which sports 3.3-megapixels, with 2.07-megapixels used for shooting video - enough for Full HD at 1,920 x 1,080.
However, the main reason why the HF100 walks away with our top award is down to price. It's cheaper, by some £100, than the HF10 because it has forgone the onboard memory and instead relies solely on SD/SDHC memory cards. And with those now hitting rock-bottom prices it simply makes greater economical sense.
Factor in excellent pin-sharp image quality, top-notch colour vibrancy, good low-light performance, a decent data rate, image stabilisation and a huge array of manual settings, as well as the ability to shoot in either 50i or 25PF progressive mode, it then becomes clear why the Canon HF100 is our camcorder of choice.
2nd Place: Panasonic HDC-SD100
Our second favourite camcorder is Panasonic's HDC-SD100. Before it was launched, no one had combined AVCHD with the same level of professional features. These include a microphone input and headphone jack, standard accessory shoe, viewfinder and lens ring - the latter two being rather rare features on an AVCHD camcorder at the time. We were also interested to see Panasonic make the move from CCD sensor technology to a three-CMOS array it termed 3MOS.
Like the Canon HF100, it also records at Full HD to SD/SDHC memory cards only, and with a top data rate of 17Mbits/sec, overall performance and image quality is very good, combining sharp footage with very vibrant colour. It also has image stabilisation and a pre-record function that buffers a few seconds of video, so you won't miss that all important moment before you hit the record button.
Most amazingly, Panasonic crammed all of this into a tiny body weighing just 382g. It's not perfect - the Canons beat it for overall image quality. But with a very intuitive and easy to use manual control system and that full gamut of professional features, the Panasonic HDC-SD100 makes for a great option.
3rd Place: Samsung VP-HMX20
We like it when companies aren't afraid of change and Samsung clearly demonstrated this with its VP-HMX0 camcorder. While its previous models were budget-focussed, Samsung stepped up its game by making a well-built, well-designed shooter with a massive 6.4-megapixel, 1/1.8in CMOS sensor at its heart.
As a result, visual quality is stunning, with high levels of detail and accurate colours even in low-light conditions, although there's a little more grain here than our winner. And if you have a penchant for capturing stills the large sensor and effective pop-up flash makes this a real prospect, with images measuring in at up to 3,264 x 2,448 pixels.
Of course, it can also record video at Full HD and 25 progressive frames or 50 interlaced fields per second, as well as in slow motion. Furthermore, you have the option to store the footage on the VP-HMX20's 8GB internal memory or to an SDHC memory card. All this for well under the £500 bracket that the others sit in, and it's plain to see why this camcorder is here.