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Panasonic HDC-SD60As long as you don't pay list price, the Panasonic HDC-SD60 is a great value, and if possible, avoid paying the unnecessary price premium for the hard drive in the HS60.
Hi. I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET, here to introduce you to my top camcorder gift pick, the Panasonic HDC-SD60. Just to put this pick in context, it's not the best HD camcorder out there nor the cheapest. It is the best value, though. A real HD camcorder with useful manual controls that will please most recipients, but in a relatively same price that leaves a little gift money over for others. The SD60 is one of a few similar offerings from Panasonic. They include the SD60, the TM55, and the TM60, which are all identical save the amount of built-in memory. The HS60 includes a 120-gigabyte hard disk and, because of that, it has a slightly different design than the others. Overall, the camcorder has a comfortable-to-grip design and feels well built. None of them have an accessory shoe, so the top of the camcorder simply has a zoom switch and shutter button for still photos. Unusual for its price class, the series includes an LED video light for shooting in dim environments. Panasonic provides a switch on the back of the camcorder to select amongst still, video, and playback modes. It's much more convenient than having to go through the touch screen. Along with the power button, a full compliment of ports and connectors live in the LCD recess. There's a proprietary video and mini HDMI out, USB, and an SDXC card slot. Though everybody does it, 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. You toggle between intelligent auto and manual via a button on top of the camcorder. In both of those modes, the relevant options become available via a fly out set of icons on the touchscreen. I find the user interface relatively straightforward and there are also nice iris controls for its class. One of the more notable aspects of the camcorder is its performance. It's very good, not just for its class but in general. The zoom switch has a nice feel and it's pretty easy to maintain a steady rate with it. The autofocus is quite good, both fast and accurate. Unlike many competitors, it almost always seemed to focus on the correct subject. Like most camcorders this year, it also includes a second image stabilization option, in this case, Power OIS which is optimized for shooting while walking. The battery lasts a long time, though it's also larger than most. Video quality is typical for its price class. Its exposures are good, though the video might not look quite as saturated as you like, especially if you're planning to edit it rather than just play back on the TV. The low light video is noisy. It's desaturated and soft. As long as you don't pay list price, or at least don't pay more than the price for the TM60, the SD60 is the best value of the bunch and generally a good buy. If it's still too expensive, or if you've got a pickier videographer on your gift list, check out the rest of our holiday picks. We've got something for everybody. I'm Lori Grunin, and this is the Panasonic HDC-SD60.