The SD600 also includes the new Power OIS image stabilisation system found on the HDC-TM700, which can iron out vibrations down to a frequency of 5Hz. This is primarily aimed at smoothing handheld recording at maximum zoom, but we found it was also more effective than the standard OIS when recording video whilst walking.
The lens provides a 12x optical zoom as standard, but like many recent camcorders also harnesses the extra pixels on its sensors to boost this factor. Panasonic calls this i.Zoom, and it increases the telephoto to 18x without loss of resolution, unlike the 30x and 700x digital zooms that are also available. The i.Zoom does reduce sensitivity slightly in low light, as it uses a smaller portion of the CMOS sensors when at full telephoto than the standard optical zoom. But otherwise this is a useful extension of the SD600's close-up capabilities.
Despite the lack of a lens ring, the SD600 still packs a comprehensive selection of manual options, but all of them are accessible exclusively through the touchscreen LCD. There are three menus that overlap in capabilities, including a function strip, a quick menu, and a full menu. In Intelligent Auto mode, the strip offers access to useful everyday features such as AFAE mode, Pre-Rec buffering, backlight compensation and tele macro, plus smile shutter when taking digital photos. The AFAE option is Panasonic's one-touch focus and exposure system, where you indicate a point in the frame to use as reference with a simple finger press. The point can then be tracked if it moves or the camera does.
Switch over to manual mode, and the function strip gains a few extra options. These include focus, white balance, shutter and iris. The manual focus uses onscreen buttons, so is a little fiddly to operate, but white balance options include four presets alongside manual and auto modes. Manual shutter ranges from 1/50th to 1/8,000th of a second, and iris from F16 to F1.5, with up to 18db of video gain available on top of a fully open aperture. Best of all, shutter and iris can be configured independently. Manual mode also enables a soft skin option and makes the colour night view low light mode available.
In Intelligent Auto mode, the Quick Menu lets you rapidly change recording format, set still image resolution, and shift autoexposure up or down a few notches. Switch to manual, and you gain the ability to toggle zebra, add AGC to the microphone levels, and turn on displays for histogram and brightness levels. Overall, it's a very strong range of settings. They're just more difficult to configure without the lens ring and associated mode switches.