Panasonic's HDC range is growing rapidly in 2009, especially considering previous models remain available. After the revelation of the HDC-HS300, we now have a more mid-range new entry in the form of the HDC-HS20. Where the HS300 sports three CMOS sensors, the HS20 has just one. Where the HS300's sensors are 1/4.1in apiece, the HS20's is a mere 1/6in. It also has around half the gross resolution, 1.47-megapixels. So despite shooting Full HD, the HS20 is unlikely to be in the same league for image quality.
Being a Panasonic HS camcorder, the HS20 uses a hard disk for recording, with a slot for SD memory also available. The hard disk has a healthy 80GB capacity, and uses the AVCHD format for recording. The same compression options are available as other recent Panasonic HD camcorders, with the top HA mode using 17Mbits/sec. So the hard disk is enough for over 10 hours of footage.
The HS20's overall chassis design is reminiscent of the high-end HS300, but it is missing a few key features, aside from just being smaller. No accessory shoe is integrated, and neither are minijacks for headphones or microphone, indicating this camcorder's lower-end orientation. The electronic viewfinder is missing too. However, the small sensor allows the HS20 to sport a healthy 16x optical zoom, so you won't need to bother with resolution-depleting digital zoom.
Unfortunately, what looks like a lens ring is actually just a textured grip. There is still an automated cover for the optics, and another thing the HS20 has in common with the HS300 is that it also sports a touchscreen. So the majority of options are configured using this, although there are separate buttons for enabling manual mode and turning off the optical image stabilisation. Panasonic has given low light situations a boost by integrating an LED video light, which also has a separate button.
Apart from the top buttons to enable Intelligent Auto and PRE-REC modes, everything else is configured through the touchscreen. This includes the AFAE mode introduced with the HS300. So you can touch a point in the screen and the camcorder will automatically adjust focus and exposure around your selection. Sony touchscreen camcorders provide a similar facility, but focus and exposure must be set separately.