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Panasonic SDR-S7 review: Panasonic SDR-S7

Good things can come in small packages, and Panasonic's SDR-S7 camcorder certainly proves this point. This standard definition shooter uses flash-based memory to keep things tiny but still sports a huge LCD screen. With great portability and an affordable price tag, what's not to love?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films | TV | Movies | Television | Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read

High definition is the buzzword in television and video, but not everybody is on board the HD bus. Even if you do have an HD TV, standard definition can still give you a cracking bargain: take the Panasonic SDR-S7, which will set you back a stonking £200. It's also absolutely tiny: good for the pockets, or too hard to handle?

6.5

Panasonic SDR-S7

The Good

Peerless portability; decent standard definition video.

The Bad

Fiddly controls.

The Bottom Line

If camcorder purists can get past the fact that it's not high definition, and open their minds to the size, they'll see what the YouTube generation already knows: the Panasonic SDR-S7 is well worth a look. It gives decent video, fits in a pocket, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg

Design
The first remark from anyone laying eyes on the S7 is about its size. It sits in the palm of the hand, all extraneous fat stripped away. The big question is whether that portability will impact on performance. We don't think it does. In fact, where larger camcorders need a strap to keep the camcorder pressed to your hand, and even then your fingers have to stretch uncomfortably, the S7 can actually be gripped. Our fingers curled easily around the body, while the zoom rocker and record button were in easy reach of fingers and thumb.


Connections are limited to USB and AV in/out

Using the other controls is less easy, unfortunately. The lack of real estate at the rear has forced the menu buttons into the screen well. This is fine, except it necessitates turning the camera constantly to look between the menus on the screen and the buttons you're using to navigate, and back again. This is fiddly when altering aperture, white balance and especially focus.

The S7 may be a bargain but it doesn't look or feel cheap. It comes in silver and black, in the standard camcorder form factor. The screen folds out and rotates. There's no accessory shoe, but we do like the second record button placed at the front. This means the camcorder can be gripped with the thumb forward for waist-level shooting, and in either hand.

In a frame this size, an undersized screen might be expected. But the S7 sports a giant 69mm (2.7-inch) 16:9 LCD. Connections available are a multi-way analogue video/stereo audio socket, USB connection and DC in, all of which have cables supplied.

Features
After a 0.6-second quick start, you get manual control over aperture and shutter speed, and a 10x optical zoom. Options include backlight compensation, night mode and soft skin portrait mode. It also has a proper manual, instead of a faffy quick start guide.

Footage is standard-definition DVD quality MPEG-2, in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. The biggest advantage of standard def is the smaller file sizes, which is important because this camera records to SD and SDHC memory cards. A 4GB card will hold 3 hours 30 minutes on long play. SDHC Class 6 cards allow up to 13 hours 20 minutes' MPEG-2 recording in LP mode on a 16GB SDHC card.


One of our favourite features is the pre-record option, which buffers footage in the memory even if you're not recording, and when you do press record, the last saved frames are added to your video. This means that if you're pointing the camcorder at something -- say, sports -- and you're just too slow on the trigger to catch a particular part of action, the camera will still have captured it.


The camcorder's controls are in the screen recess

Audio features include a zoom mic and wind cut feature to reduce wind noise. In playback mode, videos can be trimmed.

Performance
We were pleased with the performance of the S7, within the limits of standard definition. From standby, it will start up in less than a second, although this will penalise the battery. Battery life was good, though, and we filled the best part of a 4GB card without needing to recharge.

Image quality is crisp in decent lighting. There's a slight tendency to overexpose, especially when moving from one set of lighting conditions to another and when zoomed in. The option to manually adjust settings is useful here, but not as much as it could be -- unless you're careful, button pushing when you're rolling causes slight jitters.

We found that it was better to lay off the zoom to get best results from the autofocus, which would frequently have to stop and think if zooming was too quick. Otherwise, focus was pleasingly responsive.

In automatic mode in low light, results weren't great, with noise creeping in. Still, despite not getting on with the controls, we were impressed with the range of tweakability available and passable results were possible.

Conclusion
The size of the Panasonic SDR-S7 might give camcorder purists pause, but we love it. The fact that it's standard definition may also put some people off, but even if you do have an HD TV there's no denying the portability and affordability of the S7. It's possible to go hi-def for a similar price with cameras like the Aiptek AHD200, but the S7 has superior manual control.

Edited by Shannon Doubleday