Panasonic HDC-HS100

The Panasonic HDC-HS100 is a compact high-definition camcorder with a 60GB hard drive.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100
  • Panasonic HDC-HS100
  • Panasonic HDC-HS100
  • Panasonic HDC-HS100

Pros

  • Compact size, lots of manual controls, optical image stabiliser

Cons

  • Unwieldy joystick interface, sub-par image quality, too expensive for what it offers

Bottom Line

If the images from Panasonic's HDC-HS100 equalled its great handling and usability, this model would be a clear winner. The HS100 provides the best controls we've seen in a small HD camcorder, but the images lag behind those of AVCHD camcorders such as the Sony Handycam HDR-SR12 and Canon HF10 camcorders — and those models offer decent usability, to boot.

Would you buy this?

The Panasonic HDC-HS100 camcorder is a better camera than it's predecessor the Panasonic HDC-HS9, with improved image quality and greater usability. However, the $2089 HDC-HS100 has only narrowed — not closed — the image-quality gap between its own video and that of the top HD camcorders in its class. If you disregard image quality, the HS100 is a clear winner, but it's hard to ignore a "small" thing such as image quality, especially at this model's price.

The Panasonic HDC-HS100 records HD video as AVCHD files on to a 60GB hard drive at four quality settings. The highest-quality setting records 17mbps, 1920x1080 images at either 60 interlaced frames per second (60i, which definitely looks like video) or 24 progressive frames per second (24p, which looks more like film). The hard drive holds about 7.5 hours of 17mbps video.

The Panasonic HDC-HS100 can also record to user-supplied SD/SDHC cards. In our testing, we evaluated 17-mbps video files. While the HS9 had three underperforming 1/6-inch CCDs, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 HD senses images on three higher-quality 1/6-inch CMOS chips. Under typical lighting conditions, HD image quality looked good, with noticeably better contrast and resolution than what the HS9 produced. However, it also showed some extraneous noise.

Colours appeared oversaturated, a hyped-up look that may appeal to some users but not to those looking for accurate colour reproduction. The Panasonic HDC-HS100's low-light video was fair (about the same as the HS9's low-light performance), with a noticeable amount of visual noise and a lack of sharpness.

Still images lack the colour, exposure, and distortion performance of some other HD camcorders. Overall, video and stills from the Panasonic HDC-HS100 showed a bit less resolution and colour accuracy than imagery from top-rated HD camcorders, but the results remain acceptable.

Image drawbacks aside, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 is a pleasure to use. Beginners will quickly take to the automatic mode, which does an excellent job of optimising the camera settings for the shooting environment. The menus are also very helpful for novices, as they include concise explanations of how and when to use the camera's features.

Experienced users will enjoy the broad array of manual controls, including zoom, focus, white balance, shutter, and aperture settings. They'll probably also appreciate the manual-control ring encircling the lens; it's like a lens-focus ring that you can turn to adjust other settings, too. Sounds odd, but it works great. Those on the professional end of the spectrum will value the Panasonic HDC-HS100's viewfinder, headphone, and microphone jacks, as well as the accessory shoe.

Everyone will welcome the Panasonic HDC-HS100's 12x zoom lens, the smooth optical image stabiliser, the very good audio performance, the accurate (though sometimes slow) autofocus, the nearly 2-hour battery life (it lasted 1 hour, 59 minutes in tests), the bright 2.7in LCD, and the comprehensive 159-page printed user manual.

But few users will like the tiny control joystick stuck on the right side of the Panasonic HDC-HS100, which is placed too awkwardly to use effectively. And that's saying nothing of the poorly placed HDMI, USB, and DC power ports, which are all hidden behind the battery.

On the software side, Panasonic bundles HD Writer 2.6E, a limited but functional Windows-only editing application. Mac users can edit the Panasonic HDC-HS100's AVCHD video with iMovie '08. On either platform you'll want to use a computer built around a 2GHz Intel Core Duo or better processor, as well as at least a couple of gigabytes of RAM.

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