Over the last couple of years, Panasonic has retaken the high ground for enthusiast camcorders, and its recently released HDC-TM700 is our current semi-professional or enthusiast favourite. But not everyone wants the ultimate in manual control, instead preferring similar quality video automatically. Sony's consumer camcorders primarily aim at this market these days, and Panasonic also offers models for more point-and-shoot usage, the latest of which is the HDC-SD600.
This model is built around the same sensors and optics as the TM700, so its foundations are good. These comprise a trio of 1/4in CMOS chips with 3.05-megapixels apiece, plus a Leica Dicomar lens offering a 35mm wide aspect. The latter allows you to pick up more of the contents of a small room, which is likely to be useful for a camcorder intended for general consumer usage.
However, the camcorder body is a little smaller than the TM700's, mostly due to the absence of some key physical features. Chief amongst these is the excellent lens ring, which makes the TM700 so very easy to adjust manually. But the bracket for an accessory shoe attachment is also missing, as are minijacks for connecting an external microphone or headphones. The final omission is the cross lattice of microphones the TM700 has that enable it to record 5.1 surround sound. The SD600 only offers stereo microphones, although it does still provide the new wind cancellation setting introduced with the TM700, which we have found to be remarkably effective.
Despite these omissions, some of the top new features of the TM700 have been carried forward to the SD600. In particular, its highest quality setting is still Full HD at 50 frames/second, which is recorded at 28Mbits/sec. This mode has a special button to enable it, which also pops up a message implying that it won’t be so compatible with editing software or external devices. The highest quality setting at 25 frames/sec records 17Mbits/sec, but there are no standard definition options, unlike HD camcorders from some other manufacturers, such as Sony.
Since this model doesn’t contain any flash memory, it relies entirely on SD cards. The recently introduced SDXC format is also supported, which allows capacities above the 32GB limit of SDHC. A 16GB card is enough for around one hour and 20 minutes of 50p footage or two hours of regular 25 frames/second Full HD at the top quality setting.