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Panasonic HDC 60 review: Panasonic HDC 60

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panasonic-hdc-sd60s-camcorder-high-definition-3-32-mpix-25-x-optical-zoom-flash-card-silver.jpg
7.5

Panasonic HDC 60

The Good

Manual shutter-speed and iris controls; comfortable size; smarter-than-average autofocus; lens focuses relatively closely; decent battery life.

The Bad

Soft video; cramped, low-resolution touch screen.

The Bottom Line

Panasonic's quartet of entry-level HD camcorders--the HDC-HS60, TM60, TM55, and SD60--delivers a nice manual feature set and good performance, as well as solid video quality for their class. As long as you don't pay list price, the SD60 is a great value, and if possible, avoid paying the unnecessary price premium for the hard drive in the HS60.

Is it just me, or are four nearly identical versions of the same product a wee bit much? Panasonic seems to be taking a carpet bomb approach to the entry-level HD camcorder market, with those four models in the slim range between $500 and $700. The HDC-SD60, TM55, and TM60 are all identical save the amount of built-in memory: none, 8GB, and 16GB respectively; the TM60 is an exclusive to Best Buy. The HS60 includes a 120GB hard disk, and because of that has a slightly different design. Reviews of all four products are based on testing of the SD60 and HS60.

Overall, the camcorders have a comfortable-to-grip design and feel well built. If your hands are large or you simply don't like the tubular design of the flash-memory models, the HS60's hard disk sticks up on the right side, giving you a little extra edge to grip. 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 the price class, the series includes an LED video light for shooting in dim environments. Though it's a nice touch, don't shine it directly at people--it's quite blinding.


  Panasonic HDC-SD60/TM55/ TM60 Panasonic HDC-HS60 Panasonic HDC-TM700/ HS700
Sensor 3-megapixel CMOS 3-megapixel CMOS 3x3-megapixel 3CMOS
1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch
Lens
25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7 - 893mm (16:9)
25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7 - 893mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
Min illumination (lux) standard: 1,400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1

EVF

No No Yes
0.27 inch, 123,000 dots
LCD 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 3-inch 230,400-dot
Primary media 0GB/8GB/16GB flash; SDXC 120GB hard disk; SDXC 32GB flash/240GB hard disk; SDXC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17 , 13, 9 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17 , 13, 9 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 5 Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p 28Mbps; 1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris Yes Yes Yes
Accessory shoe No No Yes
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.0 x 2.6 x 4.4 2.2 x 2.6 x 4.4 2.6 x 2.7 x 5.4
Operating weight (ounces) 10.5 12.9 15.2/17.7
Mfr. Price $499.95/$529.95/$499 $699.95 $999/$1,399.95
Ship date March 2010 March 2010 April 2010

Panasonic provides a switch on the back of the camcorder to select among still, video, and playback modes; it's much more convenient than having to go through the touch screen. Next to the switch is the power connector. Along with the power button, a full complement of ports and connectors live in the LCD recess: proprietary video and Mini-HDMI out, USB, and an SDXC card slot. Though everybody's doing 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 modes, the relevant options become available via a flyout set of icons on the touch screen. All provide manual shutter speed and iris controls similar to their higher-end counterparts--uncommon, but not unique at their price points. As with their siblings, I find the user interface relatively straightforward. There are also nice iris controls for their class, switching from f-stops to decibel display when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout.

Though it uses the same LCD as its high-end siblings, here that's not much of a problem; at these prices, the small, low-resolution LCD is typical. Panasonic leaves membrane switches for record, zoom, menu, video light, and delete 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 a more-practical match for the LCD. The zoom switches are a lot harder to get a feel for and operate than the zoom rocker atop the camcorder, though. Overall, the LCD isn't bad, and is pretty usable in direct sunlight. But as with the x700 series, I found it cramped and especially difficult to use the onscreen manual focus controls (which are simply closer/farther buttons).

The most novel capability is face recognition, which seems to work similarly to the way it functions in the company's still cameras. You can register up to six faces in the camcorder's memory with names, priority (for AF and exposure), and a custom focus icon. It identifies them during recording, but not playback. (For a complete rundown on the camcorders' features and operation, download the PDF manual.)


  Canon HF M300 / M30 / M31 JVC Everio GZ-HM340 Panasonic HDC-SD60/TM55/ TM60 Sony Handycam HDR-CX110/CX150
Sensor 3-megapixel CMOS 1.37-megapixel CMOS 3-megapixel CMOS 3-megapixel Exmor R CMOS
1/4-inch 1/5.8-inch 1/4.1-inch 1/4-inch
Lens 15x
f1.8-3.2
39.5 - 592.5mm (16:9)
20x
f1.8-3.5
46.4mm to 928mm (n/a)
25x
f1.8-3.3
35.7-893mm (16:9)
25x
f1.8-2.6
37 - 1075mm (16:9)
Min illumination (lux) standard: 5.5
low light: 0.4
n/a recommended:1400
low light: 4
night: 1
standard: 11
low light: 3

EVF

No No No No
LCD 2.7-inch 211,000-dot touch screen 2.7-inch 123,000-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot touch screen 2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen
Primary media 0GB/8GB/32GB flash; SDHC 16GB built in; SDHC 0GB/8GB/16GB built in; SDXC None/16GB built in; SDHC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 12, 7, 5 Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24, 17, 12, 5 Mbps AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris Yes No Yes No
Accessory shoe Yes No No No
Audio 2 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
2 channels 2 channels 2 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.7 x 2.4 x 4.8 2.1 x 2.4 x 4.4 2.0 x 2.6 x 4.4 2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3
Operating weight (ounces) 12.9 (est) 9 (est) 10.5 9.3
Mfr. Price $679.99/$699.99/$799.99 $499.95 $499.95/$529.95/$499 $499.99/$549.99
Ship date March 2010 February 2010 March 2010 February 2010

One of the more-notable aspects of these camcorders is 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, these models also include a second image stabilization option, in this case Power OIS, optimized for shooting while walking. I found standard and Power OIS reasonably but not exceptionally effective at the camcorder's maximum optical zoom of 25x, but that's typical. The battery lasts a long time, though it's also larger than most (and juts unbecomingly off the back of the camcorder) so it's not that big of a surprise.

Video quality isn't quite as impressive, but it's about average for the price class. These models use just one of the small trio of sensors used by their higher-end siblings, and it shows. You'll definitely want to switch from the default 13Mbps mode to the highest quality 17Mbps mode. It's visibly sharper, especially in scenes with lots of activity, with better shadow detail. But it's still soft, with mushy detail in general. Exposures are good, though the video might not look saturated enough, especially if you're planning to edit it rather than just play back on a TV. The low-light video is very noisy, desaturated, and soft. With the video light it's much better, but there are limits to situations where you can use the light. The 640x480-pixel still photos actually look better than any of the other resolutions--quite bright and sharp--but the interpolated 5-megapixel photos look especially overprocessed.

Panasonic's quartet of entry-level HD camcorders--the HDC-HS60, TM60, TM55, and SD60--deliver a nice manual feature set and good performance, as well as solid video quality for their class. My standard take on hard-drive models: Unless you need enough capacity to record all-day sessions there's really no reason to opt for the overpriced hard-drive-based HS60. A hard drive full of video left in the camcorder is an accident waiting to happen. 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.

panasonic-hdc-sd60s-camcorder-high-definition-3-32-mpix-25-x-optical-zoom-flash-card-silver.jpg
7.5

Panasonic HDC 60

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7