Panasonic takes a step sideways from its powerful triple CCD and hi-def shooters to deliver a quirky, all-weather flash memory camcorder with more than a touch of class. It's light on the pocket and the waistline (supposedly it's the world smallest SD camcorder), but image quality risks being equally frothy, thanks to a modest 800K sensor inside.
The S10 is available now, for around £300, including a 2GB SD card.
Panasonic has opted for a compact, black and silver design that can only be described as 'retro 80s electric shaver'. You'll suffer no nicks from the S10 though, as its round edges are all extremely touch-friendly, with just a zoom rocker and pair of shutter buttons visible in its closed configuration.
The record button at the back enables traditional palmcorder-style shooting, but the one on the right-hand side, at the front, baffled us for a while. We eventually discovered that it makes shooting at low angle or above head height a little easier, although it's main purpose will probably be to take accidental movies of the inside of your bag.
The 205g plastic case is waterproof (rain and dust, not full immersion) and can withstand falls from 1.2m. We gingerly confirmed this with drops on to a concrete floor -- but always with the screen shut, as we suspect even a modest drop might snap it. Note that you have to lock the connections and card/battery compartments manually each time for full waterproofing.
Flip open the generous 69mm widescreen and you'll see the main control deck -- and also turn the S10 on, in an impressively zippy two seconds. An excellent mode dial slips between video, still and playback modes, but the menu and nav-pad buttons are less impressive. These are almost flush with surface, making them difficult to use with the menu screen at right angles -- and almost impossible with gloves on. This is a key failing for an outdoor-focused device.
Luckily, both the zoom rocker and the shutter buttons are much easier to use, gloves or no gloves, and the screen is plenty bright enough for use outdoors. It does tend to wash out bright primary colours though, and struggle in lower light or indoors.
Fronting the S10 is a 10x lens that's smooth and silent when zooming. If that 10x telephoto sounds modest compared to rival 15x, 20x and 32x optics, it's actually more than enough on such a lightweight camcorder. The electronic stabiliser is only marginally effective, so invest in a small tripod or monopod for wobble-free use at full extension.
Use the S10 in Auto mode and you'll be forgiven for thinking it's an auto-everything camera aimed at unskilled extreme sports dudes: you don't even have access to scene modes. Flip into manual mode, though, and it's a different story. Here, you can manually adjust the iris, shutter speed and white balance, and even manually focus (albeit rather ineffectually as there are no magnification aids).