In both modes, the relevant options become available via a flyout set of icons on the touch screen. All provide manual shutter speed and iris controls similar to their higher-end counterparts--uncommon, but not unique at their price points. As with their siblings, I find the user interface relatively straightforward. There are also nice iris controls for their class, switching from f-stops to decibel display when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout.
Though it uses the same LCD as its high-end siblings, here that's not much of a problem; at these prices, the small, low-resolution LCD is typical. Panasonic leaves membrane switches for record, zoom, menu, video light, and delete on the LCD bezel. I prefer this approach, since touch-screen-based controls tend to introduce a slight operational delay; you have to wait for the preceding screen to time out, for example, before the menu or zoom controls appear. It's also a more-practical match for the LCD. The zoom switches are a lot harder to get a feel for and operate than the zoom rocker atop the camcorder, though. Overall, the LCD isn't bad, and is pretty usable in direct sunlight. But as with the x700 series, I found it cramped and especially difficult to use the onscreen manual focus controls (which are simply closer/farther buttons).
The most novel capability is face recognition, which seems to work similarly to the way it functions in the company's still cameras. You can register up to six faces in the camcorder's memory with names, priority (for AF and exposure), and a custom focus icon. It identifies them during recording, but not playback. (For a complete rundown on the camcorders' features and operation, download the PDF manual.)
|Canon HF M300 / M30 / M31||JVC Everio GZ-HM340||Panasonic HDC-SD60/TM55/ TM60||Sony Handycam HDR-CX110/CX150|
|Sensor||3-megapixel CMOS||1.37-megapixel CMOS||3-megapixel CMOS||3-megapixel Exmor R CMOS|
39.5 - 592.5mm (16:9)
46.4mm to 928mm (n/a)
37 - 1075mm (16:9)
|Min illumination (lux)||standard: 5.5
low light: 0.4
low light: 4
low light: 3
|LCD||2.7-inch 211,000-dot touch screen||2.7-inch 123,000-dot||2.7-inch 230,400-dot touch screen||2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen|
|Primary media||0GB/8GB/32GB flash; SDHC||16GB built in; SDHC||0GB/8GB/16GB built in; SDXC||None/16GB built in; SDHC|
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 12, 7, 5 Mbps
|AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24, 17, 12, 5 Mbps|| AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps
|Manual shutter speed and iris||Yes||No||Yes||No|
mic, headphone jacks
|2 channels||2 channels||2 channels|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.7 x 2.4 x 4.8||2.1 x 2.4 x 4.4||2.0 x 2.6 x 4.4||2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3|
|Operating weight (ounces)||12.9 (est)||9 (est)||10.5||9.3|
|Ship date||March 2010||February 2010||March 2010||February 2010|
One of the more-notable aspects of these camcorders is performance; it's very good, not just for its class but in general. The zoom switch has a nice feel, and it's pretty easy to maintain a steady rate with it. The autofocus is quite good, both fast and accurate; unlike many competitors, it almost always seemed to focus on the correct subject. Like most camcorders this year, these models also include a second image stabilization option, in this case Power OIS, optimized for shooting while walking. I found standard and Power OIS reasonably but not exceptionally effective at the camcorder's maximum optical zoom of 25x, but that's typical. The battery lasts a long time, though it's also larger than most (and juts unbecomingly off the back of the camcorder) so it's not that big of a surprise.
Video quality isn't quite as impressive, but it's about average for the price class. These models use just one of the small trio of sensors used by their higher-end siblings, and it shows. You'll definitely want to switch from the default 13Mbps mode to the highest quality 17Mbps mode. It's visibly sharper, especially in scenes with lots of activity, with better shadow detail. But it's still soft, with mushy detail in general. Exposures are good, though the video might not look saturated enough, especially if you're planning to edit it rather than just play back on a TV. The low-light video is very noisy, desaturated, and soft. With the video light it's much better, but there are limits to situations where you can use the light. The 640x480-pixel still photos actually look better than any of the other resolutions--quite bright and sharp--but the interpolated 5-megapixel photos look especially overprocessed.
Panasonic's quartet of entry-level HD camcorders--the HDC-HS60, TM60, TM55, and SD60--deliver a nice manual feature set and good performance, as well as solid video quality for their class. My standard take on hard-drive models: Unless you need enough capacity to record all-day sessions there's really no reason to opt for the overpriced hard-drive-based HS60. A hard drive full of video left in the camcorder is an accident waiting to happen. As long as you don't pay list price, or at least don't pay more than the price for the TM60, the SD60 is the best value of the bunch and generally a good buy.