Want to know a secret? Not all products are made to be the best. In fact, most are made to satisfy a specific target audience. In the case of Panasonic's VDR-D210, it looks like the company's aiming for people who primarily shoot video in auto mode but might feel the need to make an occasional tweak for special situations, such as backlighting. Given that audience, this camcorder should suffice, but if you wince when you see subpar viewer-submitted video on the news, you should know that you'll get better-quality video if you spend a bit more for a camcorder with more than this model's lone 680,000-pixel sensor.
Top among this camera's features is its 32x optical zoom lens, which sports a decent maximum aperture range of f/1.8 to f/3.7. That's not as fast as the lens in Panasonic's more-expensive
The D210 is on the smaller side for a DVD camcorder. Obviously there's a limit to how small you can make one, since the DVD assembly takes up a fair amount of space, but the lens barrel isn't very big compared to some other models. Most buttons are placed appropriately, though the Menu button is a bit of a stretch if you have small hands and you try to press it with your right thumb. It might have been better if Panasonic switched the Menu and Trash buttons, though the company may have been worried that people with larger hands might accidentally hit the Menu button. If you're rough with your equipment, you might want to look out for the D210's lens, because Panasonic doesn't include any sort of lens cover. Even a manually operated cover would've been nice. Other omissions include a video light (though most built-in lights aren't very useful anyway) and subtle niceties, such as a rubberized grip along the stop of the DVD assembly instead of the plastic one Panasonic includes.
Panasonic's menus might not be as intuitive as one might like, but they are convenient to use once you get to know them. In addition to Setup and Disc Setup sections there are also Basic and Advanced sections. We probably wouldn't call optical image stabilization an advanced feature, but by creating two categories, Panasonic effectively keeps most functions on one menu page, thus keeping scrolling and hunting to a minimum. You can also access commonly used functions, including white balance, iris, shutter speed, backlight compensation, fade on/off, soft skin mode, and the MagicPix low-light shooting mode, by pressing the joystick. Some videographers, especially more advanced shooters, like dedicated buttons for some functions, such as backlight compensation or white balance, but you can't expect such luxuries in a DVD camcorder at this price. Perhaps the most irksome thing about the D210's menus is the lack of text labels for the scene modes; you have to memorize the icons if you want to make an informed choice. If you're the type who only picks up your camcorder occasionally--for a kid's birthday or a vacation, as we suspect many of the target customers for this model would--this could become very annoying.