Unfortunately, despite the larger body compared to the SD9, the HS9 doesn’t have any extra features for the enthusiast. There is no accessory shoe, no microphone input, and no headphone jack. And what looks like a manual focus ring merely unscrews the automatic lens cover. The HS9 also still has the function joystick around the side, rather than at the back as with most Panasonic camcorders. So you will need two hands to operate it, rather than one.
This makes manual focusing using the joystick a little trickier than it should be. But at least the HS9 sports Panasonic’s characteristically comprehensive set of manual controls. The iris can be varied between F16 and F1.8 (fully open), then up to 18dB of gain added on the top in 3dB increments. The shutter can be independently varied between 1/50th and 1/8000th of a sec. The joystick also provides speedy access to manual white balancing, plus indoor and outdoor presets, as well as Intelligent Contrast (which prevents overexposure in bright conditions). Colour Night View, a Soft Skin colour setting, Low Light and Tele Macro modes are all found here too.
Although some of the buttons are in a different place to the SD9, the HS9 still includes a separate control for the innovative face recognition system. This detects up to five faces and ensures they are correctly exposed. So if you are shooting people against a bright sky, their faces won’t come out dark. The Pre-rec feature also has its own button. This buffers a few seconds of footage all the time. If you hit record too slowly to catch an event, you won’t have missed it because Pre-rec will tack a few prior seconds on the front. The HDC-HS9 also sports Panasonic’s new Intelligent Shooting Guide, which offers handy context-sensitive tips on how you might improve your video, without forcing you to take its advice. The suggestions range from when to turn on Intelligent Contrast and Low Light modes, to informing you when your camera moves are too fast.
The HDC-HS9 includes a five-microphone system which can capture surround sound recorded as 5.1 Dolby Digital. The directional capability can also be used to improve the Zoom Mic facility, which attempts to concentrate audio capture on the same area as the video zoom. The Focus Mic facility goes even further, attempting to cut out all background noise except that coming from what is in the frame.