Panasonic SDR-H85 review: Panasonic SDR-H85

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
MSRP: $349.99

The Good Very good image stabilization; well-designed; manual controls.

The Bad Low-resolution LCD; dated user interface; poor low-light video; no external mic, headphone jacks.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic SDR-H85 standard-definition camcorder is worth considering for its manual controls and powerful zoom lens in a very compact body--not video quality.

Visit for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 6

The Panasonic SDR-H85 is like having a small telescope that's able to capture standard-definition video. With its 70x lens you'll have no problem getting closer to your subject, and its optical image stabilization is very good even if you're moving. (You'll still want to use a tripod or other support whenever possible; the O.I.S system is good, but not that good.) You get full manual controls, too, as well as an 80GB hard drive for storage and the ability to expand that with SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.

The H85's video quality is merely OK, but it's typical of what you can expect from any current standard-def consumer camcorder. Low-light movies are particularly poor, though, due to heavy noise. Also, those needing jacks for an external mic or headphones won't find them.

This camcorder is simply an inexpensive, easy-to-use option for capturing average standard-definition video with a megazoom lens. Don't expect the fine-quality SD video found before HD camcorders took over the market. At this point, you're money is going for the lens and the storage, not the video results.

If you're interested in this model but you don't need and/or want the hard drive, check out the SDR-T50 with its 4GB of internal flash memory and slightly smaller body. Those who want to save some money can pick up the SDR-S50 which has no internal storage, but records to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.

Key specs Panasonic SDR-H85
Price (MSRP) $349.95
Dimensions (HWD) 2.8 x 2.8 x 5.5
Weight (with battery and media) 8.3 ounces
Storage capacity, type 80GB hard drive; SD, SDHC, SDXC cards
Resolution, sensor size, type 800K pixels (total), 1/8-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution 2.7-inch LCD, 123K dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 70x, f1.9-5.7, 33-2,571mm (35mm equivalent)
Minimum illumination 5 lux
File format (video, audio) MPEG-2 (.MOD), AVC/H.264 (.MP4), Dolby Digital stereo
Resolution (video/photo) 704x480 / 640x480
Recording time at highest quality 18 hours, 30 minutes (80GB)
Image stabilization type Optical and electronic
Battery type, rated continuous life Lithium ion rechargeable, 2 hour 55 minutes

There's nothing out of the ordinary about the design of the H85 other than it being very small for having such a long zoom lens and an 80GB hard drive. The top and left sides are a mix of shiny black and chrome plastic, while the right side is matte black plastic. (It's available in blue and silver versions, too) The handstrap is attached low on the body, but with the camcorder being so small and lightweight it doesn't flop over to the left if you release your grip. The body is compact enough to slip in a large, coat pocket or handbag. However, the bump caused by the hard drive on the right side makes it a bit larger than the flash-memory-based T50 and S50 models.

Controls are pretty typical of this type of camcorder--at least of those without a touch screen--and everything is well positioned. Slip your right hand into the strap and your fingers will be in reach of the zoom rocker and shutter release on top, buttons for going between Intelligent Auto (iA) and Manual shooting modes and activating the optical image stabilization, and a slider on back for going from record to playback and back again. The movie record button is positioned under your thumb to the right of the battery pack, which juts from the back of the camcorder. There is no need to change to a photo mode to take a still picture--just press the shutter release.

Flip open the LCD and to the left of the screen you'll find a button for activating the tracking autofocus, a five-way joystick for navigation and making manual shooting adjustments, and a Menu button. Pressing in on the joystick brings up mode-specific shooting options like accessing focus, white balance, shutter speed, and aperture in Manual mode.

Inside the LCD cavity is where you'll find the SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot for additional video or photo storage, Mini-USB port, and an AV output. This is also where you'll find the power button, a delete button, and the Long Record button. That last one approximately doubles the amount of recording time you have at Standard quality (SP), but the video can only be played back on the camcorder.

Best Video and Action Cameras for 2020

All best video cameras
  • GoPro Hero5 Black

    Starting at: $350.00

    All the goodness of the Hero4 Black and Silver mixed in with a whole new bag of tricks.

  • YI 4K Action Cam

    Starting at: $225.95

    A follow-up to its surprisingly good sub-$100, full-HD action cam, the YI 4K might just...

  • 360fly 4K

    Starting at: $109.00

    An improved design and higher resolution make this better than the original 360fly, but...

  • Ricoh Theta S

    It might not be the absolute future of photography, but this point-and-shoot 360 camera...

  • GoPro Hero4 Silver

    With excellent video quality, a long list of video, still and time-lapse options and a...

More Best Products

All best products