Since the SW20 has the same sensor and optics as the SDR-S7, its video performance is very similar. In most daylight conditions, the colour reproduction is reasonable, although the image is a little fuzzier than the S7, possibly due to the extra piece of glass in the way of the lens. Unfortunately, the SW20 also has the SDR-S7’s major limitation – low light performance. With its 1/6in sensor, the image quality dies a death below the level of a room lit with 100W bulb. Even in the latter conditions, the picture is very grainy, although colour reproduction is still reasonable. This is the result of having to push the gain all the way to +18dB.
The poor performance in low illumination will be a hindrance to the SW20’s headline act of underwater shooting, preventing you from going very deep where things get dark, although 1.5m is the official limitation anyway. But in most conditions the results will be acceptable to the average consumer, and we found in shallow water the video quality was just as good as it was above.
When it’s time to watch your clips, the SW20 provides a proprietary A/V connection beneath one of its watertight flaps. A cable sporting composite analogue video and stereo RCA audio is supplied, but there is no S-Video option. A mini USB 2.0 plug is also incorporated under the same flap, for downloading your footage to a PC. The SW20’s slightly non-standard recording resolution didn’t cause any incompatibilities with any of the editing applications we tried.
The SDR-SW20 has few competitors. In fact, its main opposition will be a regular camcorder with a waterproof casing accessory, which is unlikely to be as small and convenient. Even FlipVideo’s Ultra is around the same size with its watertight attachment, albeit lighter. So this is a unique product. Its image quality is far from perfect, particularly in low light, but at under £250 the SDR-SW20 could even be considered as a second camcorder for more adventurous shoots. It’s great value, and we hope Panasonic also considers one of its more high-end models for the tough treatment – a waterproof HDC-SD9 would be pretty awesome.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7