Panasonic's entry and mainstream HD camcorders

With the exception of a couple models, for the most part Panasonic's entry-level and midrange HD camcorder models for 2011 look underwhelming, thanks to sensors with insufficient resolution for HD capture.

Originally published January 5, 2011; updated February 1, 2011: Pricing added to chart. Scroll to the bottom for additional comment.

LAS VEGAS--In 2011, Panasonic is expanding the number of models in its entry-level and mainstream HD camcorder lines; sadly, most of them follow the regrettable trend of using sub-HD resolution sensors, leaving only the top-end of the midrange HDC-TM90 and SD90 as the models likely to produce decent video.

Here's a summary of the lineup, with last year's SD60/TM55 for comparison:


 HDC-SD60/TM55 HDC-TM40/SD40 HDC-TM80/SD80 HDC-HS80 HDC-TM90/SD90
Sensor (effective resolution)3-megapixel CMOS1.2-megapixel CMOS1.3-megapixel CMOS1.3-megapixel CMOS2.6-megapixel CMOS
1/4.1 inch1/5.8 inch1/5.8 inch1/4.1 inch1/4.1 inch
Lens25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7 - 893mm (16:9)
16.8x
f1.8-2.6
42.9 - 721mm (16:9)
34x
f1.8-4
33.7 - 1240mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
21x
f1.8-3.5
28 - 729mm (16:9)
Min illumination (lux)standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1

EVF

NoNoNoNoNo
LCD2.7-inch 230,400-dot2.7-inch 230,400-dot2.7-inch 230,400-dot2.7-inch 230,400-dot3-inch 230,400-dot
Primary mediaSD/8GB flash; SDXC16GB/0GB flash; SDXC16GB/0GB flash; SDXC120GB hard disk; SDXC16GB/0GB flash; SDXC
HD recordingAVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
AVCHD: nonstandard 1080/60p 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speedYesYesYesYesYes
Manual irisYesYesYesYesYes
Accessory shoeNoNoYesYesYes
Audio2 channels
2 channels2 channels2 channels2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches)2.0 x 2.6 x 4.42.0 x 2.3 x 4.32.0 x 2.3 x 4.32.6 x 2.8 x 5.82.0 x 2.5 x 4.7
Operating weight (pounds)10.57.4 (est)8.2 (est)10.8 (est)10.1 (est)
Mfr. Price$499.95/$529.95$399.99/$349.99 $499.99/$449.99 $599.99 $599.99/$549.99
Ship dateMarch 2010March 2011March 2011March 2011March 2011

The SD90/TM90 will also support Panasonic's optional 3D lens, and all but the TM40/SD40 will incorporate Touch Zoom and Touch Shutter. Panasonic declined to provide pricing and availability information.Now Panasonic has a confusing 7 models in the $200 range between $400 and $600. My preliminary take (given that I haven't tested any of them yet): you should either consider the cheapest, with the caveat that it will likely deliver sub-par video quality because of the low-resolution sensor, or one of the x90 models. The rest are just confusing.

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