Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (iA) function senses the conditions and sets the camcorder mode accordingly. So it toggles Intelligent Contrast in bright conditions, and will enable a selection of scene modes such as Low Light and Portrait. In the latter mode, face detection is also enabled, so exposure is set automatically to optimise human subjects. The Pre-REC mode buffers video continually. When you press Record this is tacked onto the beginning, in case you were a bit slow to react.
Everything else is operated with the touchscreen. In particular, this provides a one-touch AFAE mode, where you tap on the screen to indicate which part of the frame you want to be used as reference for focus and exposure. In auto mode, you also get onscreen buttons for backlight compensation, digital fade, and tele macro mode. Switching to manual mode adds more, including soft skin mode, colour night view, but most importantly the manual white balance, shutter, iris and focus options.
There are four white balance presets – sunny and cloudy outdoor settings, plus two different artificial light modes. Then there’s fully manual white balance. The shutter can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and the iris from F16 to F1.8. As usual, up to 18dB of video gain can be added on top of a fully open shutter. These are all usable if a little slow to operate via the touchscreen, but the manual focus is painful, despite the assist function which magnifies the centre of the frame to aid the process.
Heading for the menu provides the usual array of scene modes, although these can’t be used alongside AFAE or iA. Similarly the Digital Cinema colour mode, which records with x.v.Color, cancels these options. Most users will use AFAE mode instead, or leave the camcorder entirely on auto and let iA do the rest. The HDC-SD20 is primarily meant to do its best in auto mode. As such it has no lens ring like the HDC-HS300 or HDC-SD100. It also lacks minijacks for an external microphone or headphones. However, you can still set audio levels manually. Continuing the consumer orientation, Panasonic is spicing things up by offering the SD20 in three different colours – the black we have here, plus silver and red.