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Panasonic HDC 40 review: 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 Panasonic HDC-SD40, TM40 and TM41.

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.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 6

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.

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.

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