High-end models make the most headlines in the camcorder market, but the majority of buyers are looking for something more affordable. Panasonic's HDC-SD40 is the entry-level model in Panasonic's 1MOS HD camcorder range, offering more features than pocket Internet devices, but fewer than its premium 3MOS units. Costing under £250, though, it's also somewhere in-between in price. Its size is also the smallest in its class, weighing just 211g with battery and memory card.
The SD40 is based around a 1/5.8in CMOS with 1.5 megapixels, the same as Panasonic's HDC-SD80. However, just 1.19Mpixels are employed when shooting video, where the SD80 uses 1.3 megapixels. This is considerably less than the native resolution of the 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD video format used for recording. So the SD40 won't be able to offer the level of detail provided by its higher-end siblings, such as the HDC-SD90. Panasonic still also eschews the top 24Mbits/sec data rate available from the AVCHD format, offering 17Mbits/sec instead. The SD40 has no internal storage, relying on its single SDHC slot instead. At the top quality setting, about an hour of footage will fit on a 8GB card. The slot supports SDXC, so you can use cards up to 64GB in capacity.
Panasonic hasn't economised so much when it comes to the SD40's shooting features though. Image stabilisation is of the company's optical Power OIS variety, which proved remarkably effective during testing, with no obvious drop in image quality. It's not as effective as the Hybrid OIS provided with Panasonic's current models above this one, but still very capable at this price. The optical zoom is a healthy 16.8x, too, although Panasonic's more expensive HDC-SD80 offers an even more impressive 34x. Also, as the SD40 has no extra CMOS pixels available there's no intelligent or dynamic zoom to boost the range, just 50x and 1200x digital zooms, the latter being patently ridiculous.