Pansonic HDC 700 review: Pansonic HDC 700

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MSRP: $999.95
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars 2 user reviews

The Good Very good low-light video quality; full set of manual features; 1080/60p recording option.

The Bad Smallish, low-resolution LCD; coarse EVF; some edge artifacts in video; middling still photo quality.

The Bottom Line The flash-based Panasonic HDC-TM700 and its hard-disk sibling, the HDC-HS700, stand out for their low-light video quality and broad set of manual controls. However, while the TM700 is very attractively priced for its class, the HS700 is not, and not worth the price premium unless you absolutely need the hard disk.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 8.0

One of the least expensive and most compact camcorders available with a full manual feature set and electronic viewfinder, plus a 1080/60p recording mode, the Panasonic HDC-TM700 presents an attractive option for users dissatisfied by the quality and lack of controls of midrange HD camcorders but wary of paying $1,000 or more for the privilege. And though it falls short in a few aspects, for the most part it delivers what they're looking for.

The TM700 has an almost identical--but overpriced--sibling, the HDC-HS700, which costs about $400 more simply for the unnecessarily large 240GB hard disk. The body is also nearly identical to its predecessor, the TM300/HS300. It's similarly comfortable to hold, especially with the slight upward curve toward the back that makes the zoom switch and photo button easy to reach. As with competitors' designs, you pull out the EVF to enable it and turn on the power


Panasonic HDC-SD60/TM55 Panasonic HDC-HS60 Panasonic HDC-TM700 / HS700
Sensor 3-megapixel CMOS 3-megapixel CMOS 3 x 3-megapixel 3CMOS
1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch
Lens
(with Active SteadyShot disabled)
25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7 - 893mm (16:9)
25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7 - 893mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
Min illumination (lux) standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1

EVF

No No Yes
0.27 inch, 123,000 dots
LCD 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 3-inch 230,400-dot
Primary media SD/8GB flash; SDXC 120GB hard disk; SDXC 32GB flash/240GB hard disk; SDXC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17 , 13, 9 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17 , 13, 9 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 5 Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p 28Mbps; 1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris Yes Yes Yes
Accessory shoe No No Yes
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.0 x 2.6 x 4.4 2.2 x 2.6 x 4.4 2.6 x 2.7 x 5.4
Operating weight (ounces) 10.5/10.5 (est) 12.9 15.2/17.7
Mfr. Price $499.95/$529.95 $699.95 $999/$1,399.95
Ship date March 2010 March 2010 April 2010

Panasonic sticks with an old-fashioned dial on the side of the camcorder to switch among still, video, and playback modes; the company moved power from the dial to a button inside the LCD indentation. Along with the power, a full complement of ports and connectors live in the LCD recess: AV, component, and mini HDMI out, USB, and an SDXC card slot. Panasonic recommends a Class 4 card. I dislike the placement of the connectors inside the LCD, since that means it's got to be open while you're attached to other devices, which is just kind of awkward. I also think the battery release, also in the LCD enclosure, is in a bad spot; opening the LCD usually turns the camcorder on, which means in order to remove the battery you end up turning on the camcorder.

In the recess there's also a dedicated button for switching to 1080/60p mode. When you turn it on, an odd message appears: "Record in 1080/60p mode for best quality when playing back on this unit." What it should say is "Beware: you may not be able to play the video back properly on a computer or have software to edit it." Various playback software I tried (VLC, ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater and Splash Lite) had no trouble with the file format, but didn't play very smoothly on either my 32-bit or 64-bit systems. Adobe Premiere CS5 had no problems opening the files on the PC, and it's reported that ClipWrap will losslessly transcode them to work with Final Cut on the Mac.

Also, I'm getting tired of these warning messages popping up on camcorders every time you switch into a "nonstandard" mode: on Sony camcorders it's a warning about not being able to record 1080/60i video on an AVCHD disc. It introduces an unnecessary delay, and one warning is plenty. For the Panasonic, an easily spotted pink-on-white icon appears on the LCD so you're unlikely to get confused.

As with previous models, Panasonic puts the accessory shoe on the side of the lens barrel rather than the top. On top of the camcorder towards the front is the microphone. Like Sony, Panasonic offers dubiously useful 5.1-channel surround recording (in addition to stereo). However, at least Panasonic provides a decent set of volume controls to support the mic, including the option to set levels with or without automatic gain control.

You toggle between intelligent auto and manual via a button on top of the camcorder. The camera function button on the side of the lens barrel lets you cycle among focus, white balance, shutter speed and iris options; you can also pick them directly via the touch screen. You scroll through and select adjustment values via the ring on the lens barrel. (This is a change from its predecessor, which had a separate button for focus.) It does have the nicest iris controls, however, such as switching the readout from f-stops to decibels when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout in the center. When you're not in a selection mode, the ring zooms instead. The zoom switch has a nice feel, and it's pretty easy to maintain a steady rate with it.

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