A three-sensor, 1080p camcorder with 10.6-megapixel still-photo capability and a 12x optical zoom lens is something that's likely to pique the interest of many semi-professionals. Additional bonuses include 80GB of on-board storage and room for more via an SD/SDHC memory card slot. But can the Panasonic HDC-HS200 really justify its price tag of around £770?
Panasonic has, for many years, used a three-image sensor system to bolster picture quality in its higher-end consumer camcorders -- a trick once restricted to professional video equipment. The HDC-HS200 sees Panasonic swapping its usual CCD sensors for three 1/4.1-inch, high-resolution CMOS sensors, in a bid to improve image quality. Combined with the high-quality Leica Dicomar optics, the result is truly excellent video. Colours are deep and resonant but realistic, while levels of contrast are satisfying and detail is razor-sharp.
The HDC-HS200 also performs remarkably well in interior lighting conditions, retaining plenty of detail and colour fidelity without introducing too much grain. This camcorder handles motion well, too, partly thanks to the advanced optical image stabiliser employed to keep things steady.
Fast-reacting automatic functions (exposure and focus, for example) ensure that point-and-shoot users are rarely left with an unsightly blur. An 'intelligent auto' feature, meanwhile, cleverly switches to an appropriate exposure mode depending on what you point the lens at. Manual controls, should you wish to use them, are also available via the pleasantly simple and intuitive touchscreen interface.
Still photographs can be taken either during filming or in the dedicated photo mode. A number of picture sizes and ratios are available, although the highest-quality settings can only be selected when in photo mode. Interpolation helps boost the HDC-HS200's native resolution to 10.6-megapixels and the results aren't too far from those you might expect from a stand-alone digital camera.
Given that it features a whopping 80GB built-in hard drive, it's no surprise that the HDC-HS200 is on the bulky side. It's not massive or particularly uncomfortable to use, but it's certainly chubbier and heavier than many models that only use memory cards.