When we reviewed the Panasonic HDC-HS300 back in February, it already showed potential as a hot contender for 2009, perhaps even the year's best camcorder. But we had to reserve our judgement slightly until we'd seen the new models from Panasonic's competition, in particular Canon's LEGRIA HF S10 and Sony's HDR-XR520. Now we look at the HS300's sister product, the HDC-TM300, with the benefit of having put the alternatives thoroughly through their paces. So which one should you choose?
The TM300 has essentially the same optics and sensor as the HS300. There's a Leica Dicomar lens and a trio of 1/4.1in CMOS sensors, each with a gross 3.05-megapixels. So far, so similar. However, there are a few important differences. Previously, Panasonic has offered two options with its camcorders - SD models which use SDHC flash memory cards, and HS models with hard disks as well. The new TM models have flash memory built in. With the TM300, this is 32GB. So that's quite a bit less than the 120GB hard disk in the HS300, but still enough for over four hours of footage even at the top quality setting, which records 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD at 17Mbits/sec. There's also an SDHC card slot available if you need a little more.
Thanks to the lack of an internal hard disk, the TM300 is 85g lighter than the HS300 and Panasonic has been able to redesign the chassis slightly too. The base dimensions are almost identical, but the handgrip side has a smoother, rounder contour which is a little easier to hold. The wheel for switching the camcorder on into video, camera or playback mode has been moved to the side, and can now be operated one-handed with your thumb. But more significantly, the zoom-telephoto rocker is now on the top of the main body, allowing it to be a much more sensible size.
Presumably because of the relocation of this rocker, there is no accessory shoe on top of the body. Fortunately, Panasonic still sees this as an important option and hasn't left it off entirely. Sliding a door on the side reveals a bracket, into which can be slotted an adapter that comes included in the box. This provides a standard accessory shoe. The door then slides back to neaten things up. Given the slightly annoying flap covering the accessory shoe on the HS300, we actually like this aspect of the TM300 better. On the one hand, you will have to remember this adapter or leave it attached, if you want to use it on a shoot. But if you don't, you can leave it behind and have a sleeker camcorder. Either way, minijacks are ready for headphone and external microphone near the accessory shoe location.