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Most compact

With a nearly identical body to its predecessor, the TM300, Panasonic's top-of-its line flash-based camcorder offers a full set of manual features. Though it's about the same size as its hard-drive-based sibling, the HS700, it's a couple ounces lighter. It's also the most compact in its class.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET
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Manual controls

To use the camcorder in manual, 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.) When you're not in a selection mode, the ring zooms instead.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET
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Connectors

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. However, it's also quite a common location. 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.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET
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Controls

Panasonic sticks with an old-fashioned dial on the side of the camcorder to switch among still, video and playback modes. As with previous models, Panasonic puts the accessory shoe on the side of the lens barrel rather than the top.

the zoom switch has a nice feel and its pretty easy to maintain a steady rate with it.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET
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Menu on the bezel

Panasonic is the last manufacturer to leave buttons on the LCD bezel. I prefer this approach, since touch-screen based controls tend to introduce a slight operational delay--you have to wait for the preceding screen to time out, for example, before the menu or zoom controls appear. It's also more practical here, since Panasonic also has the smallest, lowest-resolution LCD in its class.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Sarah Tew/CNET
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Interface

As you can see, the screen can get pretty crowded (top), though you can make much of it disappear while recording (middle). It does have the nicest (most professional) iris controls, however, switching from decibels to f-stops when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout. The bottom screen shows the quick menu.

I'm conflicted about the camcorder's design and interface. It's generally well-designed; you can easily access most frequently needed settings, the menu structure is pretty straightforward, and the touch screen reasonably responsive. But the smallish screen quickly gets cluttered with the icons and readouts, and the coarse screen and clunky icons are just unattractive.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Lori Grunin/CNET
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Color

The camcorder renders accurate but quite saturated colors.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Lori Grunin/CNET
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Photos

This shows why 3 3-megapixel sensors do not equal a single 14.2-megapixel sensor; you get big, mushy images rather than more detail. Even Panasonic's 8-megapixel stills push it.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Lori Grunin/CNET
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Low-light video

This video frame grab shows how well the camcorder handles noise and white balance in low light. (The video is a lot sharper than the grab.)

Updated:Caption:Photo:Lori Grunin/CNET
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