There's a separate button for the built-in LED video light on the Panasonic HDC-SD40, but all other settings must be configured via the D-pad. Manual shutter and aperture control are available, the latter also including gain. Shutter settings range from 1/8000th to 1/50th, although the camcorder can drop to 1/25th automatically with auto slow shutter enabled. The iris can be set between F16 and F1.8, with up to 18dB video gain available on top of a fully open shutter. Despite the SD40's budget orientation, shutter and iris can be configured separately - an unique feature at this price.
There's a Zoom Mic and Wind Noise Cancellation, and it's even possible to control microphone levels manually, although no minijacks for an external microphone or accessory shoe for attaching it are available. There's no headphone jack either. Outputs include mini-HDMI and a proprietary AV Multi port which supplies both composite and component analog video alongside stereo RCA audio connections, all on one cable. Naturally, there's a mini USB port for taking files off the camcorder.
Photographic features aren't tremendously extensive, with just a quality setting, self timer, and shutter sound available. Still images are grabbed at 2.1-megapixels, which most camera phones now exceed, although they won't offer the SD40's quality lens and optical zoom.
Sensor and image processing technology has clearly moved on over the last few years, because the SD40 squeezes very respectable performance out of its small CMOS, even in low light. Colour fidelity in good light is commendable, although if you look closely it is possible to detect the lack of detail compared to camcorders with Full-HD sensor resolutions, with some softening of edge sharpness. Low-light conditions produce a little more grain than higher-end models such as the HDC-SD90, but the image is surprisingly bright. Overall, the SD40 produces video performance to match or exceed other camcorders at this price.
It has been a few years now since the Flip and its ilk threw a spanner in the works for the budget end of the traditional camcorder market. Pure point-and-shoot users will still find this class of camcorder, such as Panasonic's own HM-TA20 offers the most for their money. But if you do want a little more control and an optical zoom, Panasonic's HDC-SD40 makes a decent choice. JVC's Everio GZ-HM445 gives a little more for the money overall, but with its independent control over shutter and aperture the SD40 offers the most shooting flexibility at this price.