Panasonic HDC-HS20-K high-definition camcorder

A Full HD Panasonic camcorder with Intelligent Auto and an 80GB hard drive

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Panasonic HDC-HS20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS20-K
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Attractive and sturdy design, beginner-friendly modes and features, optical image stabiliser

Cons

  • Components could be of higher quality, outclassed by some of its rivals

Bottom Line

The Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is a reasonable high-definition camcorder with some very user-friendly features. If you're new to video and want the Full HD treatment, this model mostly delivers.

Would you buy this?

The Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is a Full HD video camera with 80GB of inbuilt memory. It shares many similarities with the Panasonic HDC-SD20-K (RRP: $1099), including an effective pixel count of 1.47-megapixels, a 1/6in CMOS sensor and an identical feature set. Even its name sounds confusingly similar. In fact, the only thing separating this camcorder from its cheaper sibling is the addition of the afore-mentioned hard drive (the HDC-SD20-K is SD card-only).

Despite the inclusion of a hard drive, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is not much bigger than the HDC-DS20-K. With dimensions of 69x64x128mm, it’s only a few centimetres larger than its flash memory–based cousin. It is significantly heavier, however. At 360g, it weighs almost 100g more than the DS20-K, though we found this didn’t detract from its usability (some users may even prefer the extra weight, as it helps to keep the camera properly centred).

In terms of design, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is a handsomely crafted camcorder. The robust casing is finished in a subtle black glitter, while an assortment of technical logos and badges lend it a prestigious air. We remain violently opposed to the protruding back battery, however; something that has blighted more Panasonic camcorders than we can count. On the plus side, at least it blends in with the HDC-HS20-K’s black finish, unlike the silver HS20-K. Apart from this small quibble, it is one of the better looking camcorders we’ve seen in this price range.

The Panasonic HDC-HS20-K device fits well in the palm and has a good sense of heft. The added weight, combined with Panasonic’s optical image stabiliser, should ensure your handheld footage remains smooth and shake-free. Unfortunately, no external audio options are included with this camcorder, which means you’re stuck with the 5.1ch zoom microphone. Thankfully, it acquits itself well in all but the windiest conditions. It would've been nice to have an accessory hot shoe though — instead, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K comes with nothing.

Alongside its SD20-K sibling, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is the first camcorder from Panasonic to feature an LCD touch screen, as opposed to a directional joystick. This is sure to go down a treat with mainstream consumers, who can’t seem to get enough of touch-based technology. For a debut effort, it’s not half bad either, with large and responsive icons that are easy to understand. We found it compared favourably to Sony's handycam range, which has included models with touch screens for years.

There’s a decent array of modes and features tucked away on this camera, including adjustable shutter speed and exposure, manual focus (via touch-screen prompts), a Soft Skin mode, AF/AE Tracking, face detection, a selection of scene modes and Intelligent Auto (Ai). As its name implies, Intelligent Auto is an advanced automatic/easy mode geared towards novice users. It automatically adjusts exposure levels, prioritises human faces and swaps between scene modes to suit the shooting situation. In addition, it also alerts you with handy onscreen prompts when you do something wrong (such as panning the camera too quickly.) If you’ve never touched a camcorder before, or are planning to buy one for your granny, the HS20-K’s iA mode is an enticing proposition.

We’re almost at the end of the review and we haven’t even mentioned image quality yet. Well, there’s not much we can add that wasn’t already said in our Panasonic HDC-SD20-K review — both camcorders produced identical results. In short, its scant pixel count and undersized sensor cannot hope to match the likes of the Canon HF11 or Sony HDR-CX12, two similarly priced camcorders with superior optics. That said, most users will be satisfied by the HDC-SD20-K’s output, which remains sharp and colourful in optimum lighting.

With an RRP of $1649, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K costs $549 more than the HDC-SD20-K. This may seem like an unacceptable mark-up, given how cheap HDD technology is these days. However, it’s important to note that removable flash memory is a far costlier alternative — amassing 80GB of SD cards for the HDC-SD20-K will cost you around $1500. This makes the HDC-HS20-K a comparatively better buy, regardless of how overpriced its hard drive might be. With a maximum bitrate of 17 megabits per second, the HDC-HS20-K will store around 10 hours of AVCHD video on its 80GB hard drive.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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