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Panasonic HDC 40 review: Panasonic HDC 40

Panasonic HDC 40

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read

Like their cheap competitors from Sony and Canon, Panasonic's budget-priced HDR-SD40, TM40 and TM41 are only nominally high-definition; where HD requires a minimum of 2.07-megapixel resolution, these and their ilk use lower-resolution sensors and algorithmically bulk up the video so the output has the requisite number of pixels. The result is generally poor video quality, though how bad it looks depends upon how you view it. And the trade-off is that you can get a zoom lens, and in this case, manual exposure controls for less than $250.


Panasonic HDC 40

The Good

They're compact and have manual controls, a zoom lens, and a video light, which is nice for the price of the <b>Panasonic HDC-SD40, TM40 and TM41</b>.

The Bad

When it comes to video quality, you're getting what you pay for.

The Bottom Line

Panasonic's HDC-TM40, TM41 and SD40 are some of the cheapest camcorders you can buy with a zoom lens and manual controls. If you care about video quality, spend a little more money on another model; if you don't, buy the cheapest one of these you can find, adjusting for the cost of memory for the SD40.

The SD40 version differs from the TM models only by built-in memory--it has none, while the other two have 16GB built in. The TM40 and TM41 are, essentially, identical; the TM41 is Sam's Club-specific model, which seems to have the option of increased digital zoom. But you shouldn't use digital zoom to start with, and in conjunction with such a low-resolution sensor, it becomes even more of a no-no-NO.

  Panasonic HDC-SD40/TM40/TM41 HDC-SD80/TM80 HDC-HS80 HDC-TM90/SD90
Sensor (effective resolution) 1.2-megapixel CMOS 1.3-megapixel CMOS 1.3-megapixel CMOS 2.6-megapixel CMOS
1/5.8 inch 1/5.8 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch
Lens 16.8x
42.9 - 721mm
33.7 - 1240mm
35 - 420mm
28 - 729mm
Min illumination (lux) standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1


None No No No
LCD 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 3-inch 230,400-dot
Primary media 0GB/16GB/16GB flash; 1 x SDXC 0GB/16GB flash; SDXC 120GB hard disk; SDXC 16GB/0GB flash; SDXC
HD recording AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 Mbps
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
AVCHD: nonstandard 1080/60p 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed Yes Yes Yes Yes
Manual iris Yes Yes Yes Yes
Accessory shoe No No No Yes
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3 2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3 2.6 x 2.8 x 5.8 2.0 x 2.5 x 4.7
Operating weight (pounds) 7.9 8.3 10.8 (est) 10.1 (est)
Mfr. Price $296.99/$359.99 /$339.99 $349.99/$379.99 $549.99 $479.99/$499.99
Ship date March 2011 March 2011 March 2011 March 2011

There are some circumstances under which the video looks OK. When it's shot in good light and displayed on a midsize screen (say, under 40 inches), or scaled down to half size, it's perfectly acceptable. Low-light video may also be acceptable when viewed like that. But when watching it on a big TV screen or even at full size on a 24-inch monitor, picky videographers will note the smeary detail rendering and compression artifacts in good light and even more of a loss of sharpness and color noise in low light. It also has the dynamic range of a budget model, with a lot of clipping in the highlights.

It performs pretty typically for its class as well. That means pretty good but occasionally frustrating autofocus; I frequently had to "nudge" it to focus on the right subject rather than the background by focusing on something completely different, then moving it back to the desired subject. In auto mode, you have to enable backlight compensation or even shots that aren't really backlit will underexpose, but you don't always want that setting applied universally. For exposure, though, as long as you know how to use them the camcorder really benefits from the manual settings, which include shutter speed and iris control, as long as you know how to use them. You can also turn automatic gain control for the audio on or off.

  Canon Vixia HF R200/R20/R21 Panasonic HDC-SD40/TM40/TM41 Sony Handycam HDR-CX110
Sensor (effective video resolution) 1.47 - 2.07-megapixel CMOS (depends on IS)
1.2-megapixel CMOS 1.35 megapixels
1/4.85 inch 1/5.8 inch 1/4-inch
Lens 20x
(depends on IS)
42.9 - 721mm
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 1.6 n/a
Min illumination (lux) recommended: 100
standard: 5
low light: 0.4
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
recommended: n/a
standard: n/a
low light: 5


None None None
LCD 3-inch 230,000 dots 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,000 pixels
Primary media 0GB/8GB/ 32GB internal; 2 x SDXC 0GB/16GB/16GB flash; 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
HD recording AVCHD: 1080/60i @ n/a Mbps; 1440 x 1080/60i @ n/a Mbps
(also encodes 30p as 60i)
AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed No Yes No
Manual iris No Yes No
Accessory shoe No No No
Audio 2 channels; mic, headphone jacks 2 channels 2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.4 x 2.4 x 4.8 2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3 2 x 2.3 x 4.5
Operating weight (pounds) 10.9 (est) 7.9 9.3
Mfr. Price $329.99/ $349.99/ $449.99/ $296.99/$359.99 /$339.99 $399.99
Ship date March 2011 March 2011 January 2010

The problem there, however, is that the screen and the controls on the bezel--menu, enter and four navigation buttons--are so small that it can be awkward using the menus or manual controls. Otherwise, it's easy enough to use. It's got a typical design; record button falls under your right thumb (when you hold it at eye level via the grip), and there's a zoom switch and photo button on top. A big switch on the right toggles between record and playback modes. Inside the LCD recess are the auto/manual, image stabilization, video light and power buttons, along with the SD card slot and USB, AV/Multi and HDMI connectors. There's also a manual switch for a lens cover.

The camcorder itself feels a little plasticky, but it doesn't feel fragile and that makes it quite light.

For a cheap camcorder with advanced features but nominally HD video, the price of the Panasonic HDR-SD40 can't be beat. If you can find the TM40 or TM41 for less than the cost of the SD40 plus a memory card, they're fine, too. But if you want decent HD video quality, you're still going to have to spend at least a couple hundred more.


Panasonic HDC 40

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Image quality 6