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>> Lori Grunin: Hi, I'm Lori Grunin [phonetic], Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Panasonic HDC-TM700. One of the least expensive and most compact camcorders available with a full manual feature set and electronic view finder plus a 1080 60p recording mode, the Panasonic TM700 presents an attractive option for users dissatisfied by the quality and lack of controls of mid-ranged HD camcorders but wary of paying $1,000 or more for the privilege.
The TM700 has an almost identical but overpriced sibling, the HDC-HS700, which costs about $400 more simply for the unnecessarily large 240 gigabyte hard disk. The body is also nearly identical to its predecessor, the TM300 HS300. It's similarly comfortable to hold especially with a slight upward curve towards the back but make the zoom switch and photo button easy to reach.
As with competitor's designs, you pull out the EVF to enable it and turn on the power. Panasonic sticks with an old-fashioned dial on the side of the camcorder to switch among still video and playback modes. Along with the power, a full complement of ports and connectors live in the LCD recess; AV component and many HTMI out, USB and an SDXC card slot.
The battery release, also in the LCD enclosure, is in a bad spot. Opening the LCD usually turns the camcorder on, which means in order to remove the battery you often end up turning the camcorder on first. As with previous models, Panasonic puts the accessory shoe on the side of the lens barrel rather than on the top. On the top towards the front is the microphone. Like Sony, Panasonic offers the dubiously useful 5.1 channel surround recording in addition to stereo; however, at least Panasonic provides a decent set of volume controls to support the mic, you toggle between intelligent auto and manual via a button on top of the camcorder. The camera function button on the side of the lens barrel lets you cycle among focus, wide balance, shutter speed and iris options. You can also pick them directly via the touch screen.
You scroll through and select adjustment values via the ring on the lens. When you're not in the selection mode, the ring zooms instead. The zoom switch has a nice feel, and it's pretty easy to maintain the steady rate with it. You can tell where Panasonic cut corners to beat the price of the most similarly equipped competitor, Sony CX550V. Primarily it's with the small, low-resolution LCD. Panasonic's glass manufacturer to leave buttons on the LCD [inaudible]. I prefer this approach since touch-screen based controls tend to introduce a slight operational delay. You have to wait for the preceding screen to timeout, for example, before the menu or zoom controls appear. It's also more practical here since Panasonic has the smallest, lowest resolution LCD in its class. Overall it's not bad and it's relatively useable in direct sunlight, but during manual focus and exposure I ended up relying a bit too much on the peaking or luminescence level readouts.
I also have mixed feelings about the interface. It's generally well-designed. You can easily access most frequently needed settings, the menu structure is pretty straightforward and the touch screen is reasonably responsive, but the smallest screen quickly gets cluttered with the icons and readouts and the course screen and clunky icons are simply unattractive.
In addition to the slightly better set of manual controls, the camcorder offers a somewhat expanded set of automatic options including intelligent contrast and exposure. The most novel capability is face recognition, which seems to work similarly to the way it functions in the company's still cameras.
The most notable aspect of the camcorder's performance is battery life. The bundled battery lasts far longer than its competitors, which seems to be partly due to its [inaudible] capacity. The auto focus system operates reasonably well, too, though it took a few missteps when deciding what was subject and what was background the tracking auto focus did a nice job and overall the video quality is quite good. It's better in low light than the rest with lower noise and accurate but slightly more saturated colors.
The automatic metering delivers better exposures especially in backlit situations. Because of the small, low resolution trio of sensors the still photo quality doesn't match the competition's, and I think the 700 series has the best audio quality of its peers with a warmer sound as opposed to tinny [phonetic] and an effective wind filter. Unless you need enough capacity to record all-day sessions, there's really no reason to opt for the overpriced, hard-drive based HS700 especially since the TM700 is so attractively priced compared to its competitors. If you don't mind the functional but homely interface and design, it's a solid choice. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Panasonic HDC-TM700.
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