Panasonic's first attempt at a minicamcoder, the TA1, was a mess. The video quality was OK, but it offered no advantages over competing models, had mediocre editing and sharing software, and felt cheap considering its near-$170 price. That's not the case with the Panasonic HM-TA20.
A waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof update to the TA1, the TA20 fixes much of what was wrong with the first-gen model. Mainly it's just a better design with more-useful features and easier operation due in part to a large touch screen. The embedded software is still a bit lacking compared with what competitors like Kodak include, but it's no longer the worst I've seen. You're paying extra for the durability, too, so if you don't need it there's a nonrugged version, the TA2, available for about $30 less.
|Key specs||Panasonic HM-TA20|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.4 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.7 inch|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.5 ounces|
|Storage||SD/SDHC/SDXC up to 64GB|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/4.1-inch CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||3-inch touch-screen LCD, 230K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focal length, f2.8 49mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Resolution (highest)||1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (12Mbps; progressive)|
|Image stabilization type||Electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||Built-in lithium ion rechargeable, 80 minutes|
|Software||HD Writer PE 2.0 (Windows)|
The TA20 is waterproof to 10 feet (meeting IEC standard 60529 IPX8, so my guess would be that's only for up to 30 minutes) and dust-resistant (IEC standard 60529 IPX5). It's also shockproof (MIL-STD-810F, Method 516.5) meaning that it's capable of surviving a drop of up to 5 feet. However, this is for a drop onto plywood; just because something is rugged doesn't make it indestructible. In fact, there's nothing shielding the screen or lens from damage, so you still have to be careful about scratches.
There are three doors--two on the left, one on the bottom--concealing the TA20's ports and card slot. All of them have rubber seals on the inside to keep out dust and water, and they are bigger than I'm used to seeing on rugged cameras. Plus, the two doors protecting the headphone jack and Mini-HDMI port and the pop-out USB connector have double locks on them to prevent accidental opening. The card slot has just one lock, but since it's on the bottom, it's less prone to slipping open when you grip the device. The battery is sealed up inside, so although it's protected, it can't be swapped out.
Despite being slightly bigger than competing models, the TA20 is comfortable to use and easily slips into a pants pocket. The bumper around the outside edge adds some grip. The only physical controls are the large record button below the screen, and power and screen lock buttons on the right side. Everything else is handled with the 3-inch touch screen, which is fine because really there's not a lot to do.
You only get about the top third of the screen for framing your video, which is a shame given its size. The rest of the screen is taken up with a zoom slider for the digital zoom and playback, mode, and menu icons. The mode options are just videos, photos, and audio recording; there's a very good stereo microphone on top for linear PCM recording. Menu options are nearly as limited. For playback, you can view videos horizontally and when you do you actually get more options, such as tagging clips for uploading to Facebook and YouTube, grabbing stills from video, and trimming clips.
The TA20 can record at four different resolutions: 1080/30p, 720/30p, 480/30p, and 540/30p. That last one is the Apple-developed iFrame format created to simplify editing and online sharing, but the results are undesirable for anything else. The one resolution the competition offers that's not here is 720/60p for smoother video of fast-moving subjects, and it's really missed.