The HDC-SD900 sits alongside the HDC-HS900 and HDC-TM900, which are effectively the same device with added storage, right at the top of Panasonic's consumer camcorder range. It offers 1080p high-definition video, manual controls and 3D capability.
At £650, the HDC-SD900 is expensive, but competitively priced compared with other similarly equipped models. So could this be the HD camcorder you've been holding out for?
Our initial reaction to the HDC-SD900's appearance was one of minor disappointment. The smart, solid, gunmetal body of the previous generation has given way to an overtly plastic, glossy black design, with shiny highlights only serving to cheapen the feel even further. But there's a very practical reason for this -- the fairly large HDC-SD900 is surprisingly light and comfortable to shoot with.
Panasonic has stuck with the traditional barrel-grip shape, incorporating a super-large, 3.5-inch, fold-out display. The resolution of the LCD panel is 460,000 pixels. It's bright, clear and renders scenes and graphics well. Panasonic's user interface could do with an update, though -- it looks rather blocky and unsophisticated at times.
The display is touch-sensitive and many of the camera's functions can be selected by tapping on-screen buttons. A semi-transparent menu overlays the far left edge of the screen, which displays up to four options at a time. Left and right arrow keys at the bottom allow you to scroll for more options. It's a reasonable system that works fairly well for most settings but we can't help feeling that a better, more intuitive multi-touch interface is due at some point.
In addition to Panasonic's easy-peasy 'iA' auto mode, the HDC-SD900 offers a superior manual experience, thanks to an electronic viewfinder and the lens ring, which can be used to control focus, white balance, shutter speed and iris -- pressing the 'camera function' button near the ring lets you select which operation the ring controls. This means it's quick and easy to make manual adjustments on the fly, instantly putting the HDC-SD900 streets ahead of most other consumer models.
Further high-end features include Panasonic's 3MOS image sensor, which actually comprises three separate, 2.53-megapixel sensors, combining for a total resolution of 7.59 megapixels. Red, green and blue are received and processed separately, potentially offering a better overall image than a single sensor can deliver.
The HDC-SD900 can also record 1080p video at a rate of 50 frames per second. A Leica Dicomar wide-angle 12x optical zoom lens, iFrame shooting mode, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, a socket for an external microphone, and a hybrid optical/sensor-based image stabiliser round out the camcorder's other high-end abilities.
There's no built-in storage at all, although this is easily remedied by adding a cheap memory card. It's a shame Panasonic hasn't adopted Canon's cunning wheeze of including two card bays for double the optional memory. If you really need more than 128GB of storage (the most you can currently get from an SDXC card), then you could consider paying a little more for either the HDC-TM900 or the HDC-HS900, which come with 32GB and 220GB of storage respectively.
For many, the HDC-SD900's most intriguing feature will be its 3D movie capability. In fact, it's not possible to shoot 3D video straight out of the box. A separate 3D conversion lens is required for this and it's not cheap -- the best price you're likely to find it for is around £200.