In the skies above Sydney, CNET.com.au was given a hands-on sneak peak at Panasonic's new high-definition DVD camcorder, the AU$2,119 HDC-DX1. Sporting three 1/4-inch CCD sensors behind a Leica Dicomar 12x zoom lens, it is due to arrive in Australian shops in mid-March.
Equipped with optical image stabilisation -- as opposed to digital image stabilisation, which blurs and softens video in order to reduce the effects of hand shake -- the HDC-DX1 performed well at wider angles, delivering relatively shake-free pans and sweeps of Sydney's harbour and coastline. Unfortunately, we haven't yet had a chance to view our handiwork on anything but the camera's three-inch LCD. We did, however, view some handheld footage on a HD TV, shot by professional photographer Peter Eastway, which was impressively sharp and shake-free.
The camera's major controls were easy to handle and the menu system was simple and responsive. Unfortunately, the Panasonic lacked shooting priority -- so, if we were in the menu system we had to exit out before we could begin recording.
Given our brief time with the camera, we didn't get to test many of the HDC-DX1's features, such as its five microphone array, which records in 5.1-channel surround sound, or its zoom mic function, where the camera raises and lowers microphone sensitivity in relation to camera zoom.
The problem with DVD camcorders, especially high-definition ones, is the limited storage capacity. If you plan on recording a lot of footage -- say, you're going on holiday or shooting your kid's birthday party -- you'd better stock up on rewriteable 8cm DVDs because at "standard quality" we managed to fit a mere 21 minutes on one side of a DVD-RAM disc.
Additionally, the HDC-DX1 suffers from a slow start-up time -- 10 seconds or more in most situations we encountered -- which lead to several good shooting opportunities being missed. Panasonic claims that the HDC-DX1's sister model, the AU$2,499 HDC-SD1 which records to SD and SDHC cards, has a start-up time closer to one or two seconds.
While there are definite attractions to shooting in high-definition, we would only recommend it if you have, or are in the process of buying, an HD TV set and a high-def DVD player (either HD-DVD or BluRay). Until you upgrade these components, shooting in HD is a bit of a waste.
And as impressive as our first impressions of the Panasonic HDC-DX1 were, we are a little wary of the limited storage capacity offered by 8cm DVDs. The upcoming high-definition hard-drive models from other manufacturers or the HDC-SD1, along with some high capacity SDHC cards, are probably better bets.