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Panasonic's dynamic camcorder duo for fall '07

Don't blink--the company is already replacing its new HDC-SD1 with the HDC-SD5. Plus, the hybrid HDC-SX5 rounds out the line.

Panasonic Consumer Electronics

With the HDC-SD1 barely out of diapers--it was only released in February--and the ink on my review barely dry, Panasonic already plans to ship its replacement in September. Given some of the issues I had with the SD1 I won't be sorry to see it go, but it's not clear that the SD5 addresses some of the problems.

On one hand, it's smaller--always a plus--and Panasonic adds an upsweep toward the back of the unit to improve its grippability over the tube-shaped SD1. I got a chance to shoot with the SD5 at the press briefing, and it really is more comfortable to use. The location of the joystick hasn't changed, though, and it's still quite difficult to keep the camcorder steady while making manual adjustments. And speaking of manual adjustments, it also looks like Panasonic has dropped the minimum manual shutter speed down to 1/30 of a second from 1/60.

Furthermore, though the SD5 uses the same trio of low-resolution CCDs, which strained to produce reasonable 1,440x1080 in the SD1, the SD5 pushes them to 1,920x1080. I suspect it will exhibit the same artifacts, and more so.

HDC-SD5 artifacts
Though the SD5 I shot with may have been a preproduction unit, it displays the same interlace and interpolation problems as the HDC-SD1. Lori Grunin

Panasonic claims it has improved the optical stabilization by increasing the frequency of motion samples and compensation, for a more precise response. However, you won't get to stress that new OIS as much since the SD5 uses a 10X zoom lens compared with the 12X lens in the SD1. In addition, after only a brief foray by Panasonic into Sony novelty territory, the new model loses Dolby 5.1-surround support in favor of stereo, which I doubt anyone will miss.

Other enhancements include Pre-Rec, which captures the 3 seconds of video preceding your push on the Record button; Intelligent Contrast Control, which does dynamic tonal adjustment based on ambient light; and the HD Advanced Pure Color Engine with improved noise reduction.

HDC-SX5 Panasonic

The new HDC-SX5 is essentially a bigger, clunkier version of the SD5, which can also record to 3-inch DVD-RAM and DVD-R/RW discs like the HDC-DX1.

Panasonic has also beefed up its DVD dubbing capabilities. The SX5 can copy from the SD card to a DVD with a single button press, and the SD5's firmware now allows it to communicate directly with a standalone DVD burner, such as Panasonic's just-announced VW-BN1.

    Key specs:
  • 3 1/6-inch CCDs with 520,000-pixel effective resolution each
  • Records 1080i HD video in 1,920x1080 AVCDH format
  • Recording modes: highest quality approx. 13 Mbps CBR, 10 minutes per 1GB storage; medium-quality approx. 9 Mbps VBR, 15 minutes per 1GB storage; lowest-quality approx. 6 Mbps VBR, 22 minutes per 1GB storage
  • 10X zoom lens, 42.9 to 429 mm-equivalent
  • 2.7-inch LCD
  • Stereo

Both camcorders will ship in September. Prices run $999.95 for the HDC-SD5 and $899.95 for the HDC-SX5. And the fact that the hybrid model is cheaper than the SD-only model shows you the price we pay to shave off the inches and ounces.