Panasonic’s camcorders have topped our list for videomaking enthusiasts for a couple of years now, with the HDC-TM700 and HDC-TM300 before it. The progression hasn’t been a huge one between each step, but when the core features are all present, there’s not so much to improve. The HDC-TM900 is another incremental enhancement, but it does have features to make it worth choosing over its predecessors.
The most significant difference is the ability to shoot 3D. Whereas Panasonic’s first 3D-capable consumer camcorder, the HDC-SDT750, was a full package including the 3D converter, with this generation Panasonic has switched to selling the VW-CLT1 attachment separately, and merely built in compatibility to key models from its latest range. These include the HDC-SD90 we looked at recently, and the HDC-TM900 on review here. The lens attachment will set you back a fairly hefty £280, but this still makes the combination cost around £200 less than the HDC-SDT750 did when it was released.
The same drawbacks apply, though. Calibration is advisable each time you remove and reattach the adapter, and this takes around 30 seconds. Virtually all the manual features are disabled in this mode, too, including the zoom. So you’re left with a single framing option and automatic exposure. Video is recorded in the side-by-side format directly onto the sensor, effectively using half its area for each of the two stereoscopic portions, so low light sensitivity is halved as well. Nevertheless, in adequate lighting results are decent, with a clear sense of depth, and good colour fidelity, although the level of detail is slightly impaired over 2D footage.
Other than its compatibility with the 3D attachment, however, the HDC-TM900 is far more of a mild improvement to the HDC-TM700 than a groundbreaking new model. It is very slightly larger and heavier, but this is almost entirely due to the inclusion of a 3.5in LCD instead of a 3in one, which is a trade-off we’re quite willing to accept. Inside, the TM900 has identical specifications to the TM700. It’s built around a trio of 1/4.1in CMOS sensors, each with 3.05Mpixels. The lens has the same specification as well, providing a 12x optical zoom and 35mm equivalent wide angle, so you can capture more of the action at close quarters.
Panasonic has made slightly more use of the extra sensor pixels for its Intelligent Zoom system, however. This now extends the factor to 20x, rather than 18x. In theory, the Intelligent Zoom is better than a traditional digital zoom because it crops into the sensor rather than blowing up the picture electronically, and thereby preserves more detail. The image stabilisation system also takes advantage of the extra CMOS resolution. Now called Hybrid OIS, this combines optical and electronic systems for even greater vibration smoothing. We found this quite effective during testing, at least as good as competitor alternatives, and subjectively it seemed a little better.