In Auto mode, you can use the joystick menu to turn on TeleMacro, Soft Skin mode and Backlight compensation. But switch to manual mode, and many more options emerge, more than you would normally expect for such a point-and-shoot oriented model. The SDR-S150’s manual mode offers white balance, shutter speed, aperture and gain control. White balance options are pretty standard, and include sunlight and tungsten lighting presets as well as the usual manual and automatic settings. Shutter speed and aperture can be varied independently, which is fairly unique amongst sub-£500 camcorders. Shutter speeds can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and aperture from F16 to F2. Even more unique is the SDR-S150’s ability to add up to 18dB of gain on top of a fully open iris.
A few more options are available from the full menu. Here you can find the Scene modes, which include the usual suspects of Sports, Portrait, Low light, Spotlight and Surf & snow. There’s a wind cut setting for the microphone that counteracts the effects of noisy airflow. The zoom mic setting ties the video zoom to circuitry which attempts to focus audio recording on the same subjects as the framing, although it is only partially successful.
As with the NV-GS230, the SDR-S150’s three-chip sensor system returns excellent colour fidelity in good lighting. Where many consumer camcorders bump up the saturation to compensate for a poor colour signal, the Panasonic’s image is much more naturalistic. It’s also very low on noise. This pushes the SDR-S150 beyond the single-chip SDR-S10, which shoots good video for its size, but doesn’t have the same vibrancy.
However, also like the NV-GS230, the excellent image quality drops off as the illumination decreases due to the small size of the trio of CCDs. In the kind of lighting you might find in an average living room lit with tungsten bulbs, the SDR-S150’s video is nowhere near as faithfully coloured, and noise is much greater. The overall tone is dark, too, although increasing the gain to maximum improves this at the sacrifice of more noise. Dropping illumination to the equivalent of candlelight makes for a heavy amount of noise and even less colour, although here the SD-S150 beat the NV-GS230.