Panasonic currently has a strong position at the high end of the HD camcorder market, with recent models such as the HDC-TM700 offering an almost perfect blend of enthusiast features and image quality. But more budget-oriented models like the HDC-TM10 sacrificed a little too much to be similarly dominant in their respective price range. In particular, the choice of a 1/6in sensor meant low-light performance wasn't quite on par with the likes of Sony's Exmor-equipped HDR-CX105E or JVC's Everio GZ-HD300.
So, for its 2010 entry-level HD range, Panasonic has upgraded the CMOS sensor to a 1/4.1in unit. This week we look at the HDC-SD60, which was released alongside the TM60 and HS60. All three models offer nearly identical features, the main difference between them being the recording medium used. The HS60 captures video to a 120GB hard disk, so is a little larger than the other two, which are identical in dimensions. Of these, the TM60 incorporates 16GB of flash memory, whilst the SD60 only offers a single SD card slot, so you have to supply your own storage. Other than these differences, the video features are the same.
The larger sensor used in all three new models also has more than twice the resolution of Panasonic's previous generation, with 3.3-megapixels instead of 1.47-megapixels. So there is now ample resolution for Full HD, and a healthy dollop of interpolation has been added to provide digital stills up to 5-megapixels. Video recording options remain the same as before, however. The 1080/50p mode introduced with the TM700 and SD600 is not present, and Panasonic still hasn't added the top 24Mbits/sec data rate available for AVCHD, which both Canon and JVC already offer. So the highest-quality Full HD mode uses 17Mbits/sec, which means around an hour's footage will fit on an 8GB SDHC card.
Despite the larger sensor, which would usually be accompanied by a reduction in zoom for basic optical reasons, the SD60 actually provides an increase in this area. The optical telephoto has been boosted to a very respectable 25x, and Panasonic takes advantage of the excess pixels on the CMOS sensor to provide an additional iZoom function, which isn't accompanied by the usual loss in image quality associated with a regular digital zoom. This takes the factor to a whopping 35x, which we found very useful indeed for capturing footage of the aerial displays of the Red Arrows flying team, for example.