Panasonic HM-TA20 review:

Panasonic HM-TA20

The video quality and overall performance are very good from the TA20, but not exceptional and no competition for a full-fledged camcorder. At 1080p and 720p resolutions, the movies are enjoyable to watch at small sizes on a computer screen, but at larger sizes you'll notice they're somewhat soft and lacking in fine detail. However, colors are bright and vivid and exposure is good. The electronic image stabilization seems to help with hand shake some, but don't expect it to be rock-steady if there's a lot of movement. As is typical for minicamcorders, you'll also see judder when panning as well as motion blur with fast-moving subjects.

Low-light video isn't as good, with a lot of noise and artifacting. A built-in LED light in front can help illuminate dimly lit scenes, but it's really only OK for about 2 feet in front of the camera despite being blindingly bright. There is a 4x digital zoom should you want to use it, but it does degrade video quality and it's a bit jerky; use it sparingly. Panasonic includes the capability to shoot in black and white and sepia, and to apply skin softening with nice-looking results.

Lastly, as with most pocket video cameras, still photos are not great. They're on par with camera phone photos, so suitable for the Web, but not as good as photos from a good point-and-shoot.

HD Writer PE 2.0 software
Though it's not the easiest piece of software to work with, the embedded HD Writer PE 2.0 is sufficient for getting your videos off the camera and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook.

A big part of why pocket video cameras are popular is the embedded editing and sharing software that makes getting clips off the device and onto video-sharing sites easy. Panasonic's Windows-only software is called HD Writer PE 2.0 and is basically an off-the-shelf package. It does the bare minimum of things such as organizing and simple editing, and playback and sharing is limited to YouTube or Facebook. (However, once a clip is uploaded, you can choose to attach the link to an e-mail.) The interface is boring and uses words like "Execute" instead of "Start upload." It seems improved over the previous generation of the software, but it's still nothing that's going to make you buy a Panasonic over another brand.

One thing that might sway you to the TA20 is that it can be used as a Webcam. Once it's connected to a computer, you have a choice of accessing its files or using it for something like Skype. The TA20 can stand on its own (the TA1 couldn't), but Panasonic also includes a mini-tripod.

The Panasonic HM-TA20 is a huge improvement over the company's first-gen minicamcorder. The video quality was already decent and that stays the same for the most part; it could be better with moving subjects, but it's otherwise average for this class of minicamcorder. The real improvements are in design and usability, so if you're looking for a simple shoot-and-share minicamcorder that can take some abuse, the TA20 is worth considering.

Find out more about how we test camcorders.

What you'll pay

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