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Panasonic HDC-TM300 (Black) review: Panasonic HDC-TM300 (Black)

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Primary operation occurs through the touch-screen menus, which fly out from a small icon in the lower-left corner. In auto mode, there's spot AE and AF, backlight compensation, intelligent contrast, fade, soft skin mode, telemacro, and MagicPix night mode. In manual mode, you select via a scrolling menu on the left.

White balance offers the typical options, and shutter speed and iris are as broad and flexible as you'll get on an entry-level pro model. For instance, the iris opens as wide as 18dB in 3dB increments and closes to F16 in half stops. Although the shutter speeds start at a rather high 1/60 sec (in auto modes they'll drop lower and 24p mode drops to 1/48 sec), they go as high as 1/8,000.

At 2.7 inches, the LCD is a typical size for this class of camcorder; overall, it's fairly good. However, it's not very effective as a touch screen. There's visible feedback when you press one of the virtual buttons--it turns yellow--which helps when you're frustrated and pressing them repeatedly, attempting to get them to register your touch. I found the system in the HS100/SD100 awkward, but at least you could use it with the EVF. Since this model uses a touch screen, you can't change any of the manual settings while using it, which is a major drawback.

It performs relatively well, including booting quickly from a cold start. The EVF, while coarse and not particularly color accurate, is far better than nothing, which is what you get on most competitors. The zoom feels relatively precise and easy to control, and the camcorder focuses reasonably quickly in all but the lowest light. The audio sounds a tad thin, but acceptable. And Panasonic's optical stabilization works solidly out to the end of the zoom range.

The video quality is quite good, showing none of the artifacts that plagued the older models. Video looks sharp, though a tad softer than competing models from Canon and Sony, but color and exposure live up to what you'd expect for a camcorder in its price range. Low-light video looks a bit soft, though not nearly as soft as we've seen in previous models, and remains quite noise-free. The audio sounds the same, however, a bit thin but with adequate volume and microphone coverage. And while the stills look quite nice zoomed out and printed as large as 11 inches by 16 inches, you can see all the interpolation artifacts when viewed at 100 percent on screen--though Panasonic claims 10.6-megapixel resolution, the real resolution is only as high as any individual sensor.

The annoying touch-screen interface holds back a solid prosumer HD camcorder that otherwise effectively competes with models like the Canon Vixia HF S10. If you don't need the EVF, accessory shoe, or mic input, and you don't do a lot of manual focusing, the HS250 is the best value of the lot, and you should probably save yourself the $300 or so price difference. Between the TM300 and HS300, I favor the TM300; it's cheaper and most people don't really need the overwhelming storage capacity on the HS300's hard drive.

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