Footage is captured to removable SD cards, with support for SDXC. So capacities up to 64GB can be used. The top AVCHD mode operates at 17Mbits/sec, and the 1080/50p option pushes this to 28Mbits/sec. But as this uses twice the frame rate, the per-frame compression is actually slightly greater than with AVCHD. You get under 40 minutes of 1080/50p on an 8GB card, but slightly over an hour with the top AVCHD option.
We’re generally pleased with the level of manual control on Panasonic camcorders, and the SD90 goes marginally beyond our expectations in this respect. Most functions are operated via the 3in widescreen TFT LCD, and the menu is quite different from previous models, with a rolling list of icons down the left-hand side of the display. In Intelligent Auto mode, you can use the touchscreen to specify a reference point for autofocus, which can also be tracked during camera moves.
But switch to manual mode, and the full complement of controls becomes available. Since manual focusing uses the touchscreen, it’s a little fiddly to operate, and techniques like rack focusing will be impossible. Shutter and iris can be operated entirely independently, which few other manufacturers offer, especially at this price. The shutter can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8,000th, and if you turn on auto slow shutter, you can drop the shutter to 1/25th for even brighter images in low light. The iris offers settings from F16 to F1.8, and when the aperture is fully open you can add up to 18dB of video gain on the top – a feature unique to Panasonic at the consumer level of the market.
If you really are serious about your video-making, the SD90 has most of the requisite physical features as well. There’s no accessory shoe built in, but inspiration has been taken from Panasonic’s recent high-end models and includes an adapter that slots on the rear to provide a standard-sized shoe when required. There’s a 3.5mm minijack for hooking up an external microphone, and delve into the menu and you will find manual audio level control. The one omission is a minijack for headphones, with just a proprietary plug for line-level audio and analogue video available, alongside mini HDMI and the USB connection for data connectivity.