Perhaps you're a closet Kubrick. Maybe you like to drive a manual rather than an automatic? Or perhaps you just have to have the best of the best, even if that means paying a rather large sum of money for the privilege. In any of these cases, the Panasonic HDC-HS700 camcorder should be at the top of your wish list. It costs a frankly alarming amount of cash (£840), but your investment will get you one of the finest consumer video products money can buy.
Okay, let's quickly get all the bad things out of the way first. The Panasonic HDC-HS700 is quite heavy and very expensive. There, that wasn't too hard, was it?
In fact, even the weight aspect isn't that much of a negative issue. Sure, 450g is certainly much heavier than the average modern camcorder, but the HS700 is solidly built and not overbalanced in any way. It's actually very comfortable to hold and, if anything, the extra weight helps to reduce shakiness during recording. On the flip side, you won't be slipping this one snugly into your pocket anytime soon, unless you happen to be endowed with unfeasibly large pockets, of course. As for the other bad thing -- well, you'll need pretty deep pockets for that too.
The HS700 is the jewel in Panasonic's camcorder crown -- or at least it was until the pesky 3D-capablecame along and usurped it. For those who are happy to stick with two dimensions, however, the HS700 has a spec list that would give even the most high-functioning of camcorders deep inadequacy issues.
At the front end, you'll find a high-quality wide-angle Leica Dicomar lens. Somewhere in the HS700's innards lurk three of Panasonic's 1/4-inch MOS image sensors, providing a total of 9 million pixels between them to play with. The camcorder offers two types of filming mode. 'Normal' video can be recorded at 1080i, 50 frames per second (fps) in AVCHD-standard high definition, with a top bit rate of 17Mbps.
Pressing a button on the side of the unit sets the device to a completely separate video mode that can deliver 1080p recordings at 50fps with a bit rate of 28Mbps. The reason you can't just select the 1080p mode from the normal picture-settings menu is that, while Panasonic's implementation of progressive 1080-line/50fps video is based on the AVCHD specification, it effectively exceeds the limitations imposed by the AVCHD standard, and is therefore not truly compliant with it. What this means in practical terms is that you might run into compatibility problems if you try to play back raw HS700 1080p files on other AVCHD devices. Play the files straight off the camera or edit them first and you should be fine.
The icing on the cake for many enthusiasts will be the HS700's manual options. Not only are there lots of settings to choose from, they're also supremely easy to access and manipulate due to the combination of the touchscreen and lens-ring controls. With a couple of button presses, it's possible to take precise control over focus, shutter, iris, and more using the lens ring. Models likeprovide a similar option in the shape of a separate manual dial that sits just under the lens. But for anybody who's ever used an SLR or a professional video or film camera, 'proper' lens-ring control just feels so right.
Sprinkled on top of all that, you have yet more high-end goodness in the shape of built-in Dolby 5.1-channel audio recording, external microphone input, headphone monitoring, a 12x optical zoom, 14-megapixel still photos, HDMI output, a highly effective optical image stabiliser, accessory shoe, 3-inch LCD display and a separate viewfinder.