As we hinted at the beginning of this review, the 3D shooting facility is optional. You need to purchase the VW-CLT1 adapter, and this costs a whopping £280, lifting the SD90 well out of the budget category, although support is built into the camcorder already. The VW-CLT1 screws onto the SD90 via a filter adapter included with the 3D lens, which is not a rapid job. The adapter contains two lenses side-by-side, which project the two images for the stereoscopic image onto the CMOS sensor next to each other within the HD frame. These are squashed horizontally (using an anamorphic system where pixels are considered rectangular rather than square), and as only half the area of the sensor is used for each side, low light sensitivity is notably reduced.
In good lighting, though, 3D video is effective, with a clear sense of depth. The SD90 can output a 3D signal over HDMI to a compatible TV. However, as the 3D lens is an attachment, zooming is not possible and most camcorder settings are disabled when it’s connected, so creative potential is considerably reduced.
In regular 2D mode, the SD90 is capable of impressive video quality in most conditions. Colours are faithful, although Panasonic doesn’t emphasise the vibrancy as much as some manufacturers, and there’s a high level of detail with very little sign of noise. Most notably, although Panasonic hasn’t switched to back-side illumination yet, the abilities in low light are quite impressive. Noise levels remain acceptable to relatively low lighting intensities, with good saturation and a decent dynamic range.
The 3D compatibility may be the biggest headline for the HDC-SD90, but at its core this is essentially a very well featured midrange HD camcorder. If your budget can’t quite stretch to a high-end model, this model would make a very acceptable compromise. With more enthusiast features than similarly priced competitors, and equal or better image quality, the HDC-SD90 gives you plenty for your money, with the added bonus of 3D if you’re feeling a bit more flush.