Unless you want to make the leap to high-definition footage, the Panasonic VDR-D310 is the most high-end Panasonic DVD camcorder you can get. Considering that the company's high-def DVD camcorder, the HDC-DX1, retails for a good $300 more, the VDR-D310 clearly appears to be designed for users who want high-quality video without investing the significant money required for high-def.
On the outside, the D310 doesn't look much different from lower-end Panasonic DVD camcorders, such as the VDR-D210 and the D230. All three models share the same basic shape and simple, direct control scheme. Most of the camcorder's shooting options can be accessed directly through the joystick mounted on the mode dial. The joystick also navigates the D310's menu. Though the casual user probably won't use the menu for anything besides finalizing the disc, this camcorder also might attract some higher-end users who might be miffed to find that there are no dedicated buttons for functions such as backlight compensation or white balance, which can be helpful when trying to change shooting conditions on the fly. Also, given that this is a step-up model, we would've hoped to find some extra controls, such as the zoom and record start/stop buttons found on the LCD bezels of most Sony and Canon camcorders.
Looking past its simple design, the D310 proves itself to be pleasingly different than its 200-series siblings. Its three 800,000-pixel sensors and a 10x Leica lens give the VDR-D310 a significant edge over those more budget-priced models. Given that both sport a three-CCD design and a 10x lens, the D310 can be seen as a mini-DVD version of the miniDV Panasonic PV-GS320, which also offers a significant step up from its two budget-priced, single-chip little brothers.
The D310 produced very nice footage both indoors and out, with sharp details and saturated, accurate colors. With no video light, indoor footage looked predictably muted. Panasonic's MagicPix mode enhances indoor and low-light footage, making video more viewable, but since it slows the shutter speed, it also makes your video quite choppy in dim lighting. Like all Panasonic camcorders, the D310 uses Panasonic's Mega OIS optical image stabilization. It helps reduce shake and blur, but if you plan to zoom in a great deal, you should still invest in a tripod.
The Panasonic VDR-D310 takes good-looking home movies and burns them straight to easy-to-watch miniDVDs. It's a good choice if you want pleasing footage without spending over a grand on high-def video. If you're willing to do without the convenience of miniDVDs, however, the miniDV-based Panasonic PV-GS320 offers the same great video quality for several hundred dollars less.