The HS200 incorporates Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto system, which can be toggled using a discrete switch on the top left-side of the body. This detects conditions and sets the camcorder accordingly, and the possible modes are now quite extensive. In general shooting, Intelligent Contrast is turned on to bring out details in highlights and shadows. If human subjects are found within the frame, the camcorder will switch to portrait mode and turn on its face detection system, using any faces detected as reference for focus and exposure. There’s an outdoor option, which prevents expanses of sky being overexposed, and macro mode will be invoked when the subject matter is very close. There are also four different modes for low illumination, including spotlight, low light, night portrait and night scenery, although the latter only functions in still image mode.
There’s a healthy array of 10 manual scene modes to choose from, too, including all the usual suspects such as sports, portrait, low light, beach and snow. The white balance options include auto and manual modes, plus two presets each for indoor and outdoor conditions – cloudy, sunny, incandescent and fluorescent lighting. The shutter can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and the aperture from F1.8 to F16. The shutter and iris can be configured independently, as with most Panasonic camcorders. You can also add up to 18dB of video gain on top of a fully open aperture.
The HS200 is missing a few other features compared to its higher end siblings. It still incorporates the cross-shaped microphone array, allowing it to record 5.1-channel surround sound, but there’s no accessory shoe for attaching a higher-quality microphone or video light. The HS200 also lacks minijacks for an external microphone or headphones. So this is no camcorder for the enthusiast videomaker.
However, since it has the same optics and sensors as the HS300 and TM300, the HS200 unsurprisingly provides similar image quality, and that is to say some of the best video from any consumer-grade camcorder. Colours are vibrant, although not as saturated as with Sony camcorders. With the high-resolution CMOS sensors, the level of detail is also very high. Although the need to use the touchscreen for adjusting manual settings precludes really precise picture control, in auto mode the HS200 manages well, and with AFAE mode to hand you can bias focus and exposure as required. For the average user, this is perfectly sufficient.
Just like the HS300 and TM300, it’s the low light performance that singles the HS200 out. Colour is maintained down to very low levels of illumination, and remains quite faithful. There is little hint of grain, with areas of shadow showing detail and nuance. Overall, results are as good as any other consumer-grade camcorder on the market, with the exception of Canon’s LEGRIA HF S10, and even here it’s marginal. The HS200 will pick up usable footage in most environments.