To the right of the dial is a joystick for controlling the menus – pressing it in brings up virtual on-screen icons – which mimic what you do with the joystick. It’s a good control system but you still have to pay close attention to interpret the icons, though it becomes easier after some practice. You press the joystick in to bring up the virtual icon display and press it in again to remove it.
The dial and joystick fall under your right thumb, while the zoom control is a rocker switch that falls under your index finger – you still need to be delicate with it though so as to ensure you zoom smoothly. Just in front of the zoom is a button for taking still images – the SD1 will take 2.1-megapixel shots, even while filming. Meanwhile, at the other end of the barrel at the top, you’ll find the 5.1 microphone array.
On the inside of the camera, under the display, you’ll find a button for the backlight display and a switch to move between fully auto mode, a manual mode and a mode to manually focus. There’s also a shutter that covers the SDHC card slot, and beneath this is a flap that covers the DC input and a microphone socket for a compatible external mic. There are also ports for connecting the provided Component cable or as well as a composite video with audio cable. The latter would only be for hooking us to a standard def TV as this basic connection would not be able to output high definition images. What you really want to do is use is the HDMI output that’s located under a flap on the other side, along with the USB connection.
The battery is located on the underside of the unit, at the rear, covered by a hinged flap. This makes for a very neat look but means that there isn’t an extended battery available as you won’t be able to have something sticking out of the back. There’s also a thread for a tripod so you can properly mount the camera. What’s missing is a manual focus ring, and a hot-shoe accessory, which might put off the ‘prosumer’ crowd’.
The SD1 is supremely easy to use – a proper pick-up-and-play gadget. You stab the record button in the centre of the dial to record, and again to pause – easy. While the camera can be used one handed you’ll have to use the left hand to access the menu button, unless you shift the camera or really contort your thumb. The menu provides access to all the various options, which you navigate using the joystick. You can set picture quality, turn the image stabiliser on or offor set a fade option, which will fade each scene in or out to white or black when you stop and start recording – useful considering the difficulty of editing. For the more adventurous there is an advanced menu containing Zebra lines to indicate likely areas of over exposure. Naturally, Panasonic’s famed Optical Image Stabiliser is present and correct. It was demoed to me on the press launch in Milan and I pleased to report that it does an excellent job.