Panasonic HDC-HS200-K high-definition camcorder

Full HD Panasonic camcorder with 80GB hard drive and advanced 3MOS sensor

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Panasonic HDC-HS200-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS200-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS200-K
  • Panasonic HDC-HS200-K

Pros

  • Superb 1080p image quality, 10.6-megapixel stills mode, huge array of modes and features

Cons

  • No external audio, too expensive, manual modes are let down by user interface

Bottom Line

When judged on video quality alone, the Panasonic HDC-HS200-K is an excellent camcorder that can match almost anything on the market. Unfortunately, its high price tag coupled with certain hardware omissions has slightly diminished its appeal. Nevertheless, it remains a top-drawer choice for (wealthy) novices.

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Panasonic’s HDC-HS200-K is the new top dog in the company's crowded camcorder kennel. With all-new imaging components and an 80GB hard drive, it stands head and shoulders above its high-def stable mates, including the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K, Panasonic HDC-HS100 and Panasonic HDC-SD20-K.

Its advanced 3MOS chipset is capable of matching the best offerings from Canon; a feat that has eluded Panasonic until now. Unfortunately, the lack of a manual lens ring or external audio has taken some of the wind from its sails. It’s still a great camcorder, but serious users will find these omissions difficult to overlook.

The HDC-HS200-K is unquestionably the best consumer-level camcorder that Panasonic has ever produced; at least as far as image quality goes. In place of the lowly 1/6in sensor found on its siblings, it utilises a trio of 1/4in CMOS sensors with a combined effective pixel count of 6210k. (By contrast, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K made do with an effective pixel count of 1470k.) This naturally translates to cleaner and more colourful video, with a maximum video resolution of 1920x1080p.

Its low-light performance is up there with the best camcorders on the market. Noise was a non-issue for the most part, with minimal grain in dim environments. We were also impressed by the realism in colours. We found it struck a good balance between natural and saturated tones, something that many models forego in the pursuit of ultra-vibrancy. All up, the Panasonic HDC-HS20-K is definitely a winner in the imaging stakes; it may even give Canon’s elite status a run for its money.

For recording, the Panasonic HDC-HS200-K sticks to a 17Mbps bitrate, which is significantly lower than the 24Mbps offered by some of its rivals, such as the Canon HF11. On paper, a higher bitrate translates to superior video quality, though in the HDC-HS200-K’s case we doubt the difference would be perceptible (i.e. it’s already exceptional).

The 80GB inbuilt hard drive will store between 7.5 and 23 hours of video, depending on the quality selected. However, unlike some HD camcorders, the Panasonic HDC-HS200-K does not offer a standard-definition mode. This arguably makes it less suitable for Web uploads and the like. In the unlikely event that you run out of recording space while on the road, the HDC-HS200-K also comes equipped with an SD slot. This allows you to boost the camcorder’s capacity by an additional 64GB, though you’ll need to purchase the memory cards separately (32GB cards currently cost around $600).

For audio, the HDC-HS200-K comes with Panasonic’s standard 5.1ch zoom microphone — and that’s it. There’s no 3.5mm jack and no hot shoe for audio accessories. This means you’re stuck with the inbuilt microphone, which is functional at best. This is a major oversight on Panasonic’s behalf and is sure to turn off many users. To be fair, this seems to be an emerging trend among camcorder manufacturers. The Sony HDR-XR200 also lacked external audio (though it was also a bit cheaper), for example. Could this feature be going the way of the electronic viewfinder? Curiously, Panasonic has released an upgraded version of the HDC-HS200-K in North America and Europe that comes with a 3.5mm microphone jack, an electronic viewfinder and a manual servo ring. Why Australia misses out on all these features remains a mystery.

Panasonic camcorders have always handled well and the HDC-HS200-K is thankfully no exception. With dimensions of 128x69x73mm, the device is beefy enough to justify the high cost, yet small enough to be portable. Once again, Panasonic’s excellent optical image stabiliser has returned, which will help to keep your footage smooth and shake-free without compromising the quality. The HDC-HS200-K also benefits from Panasonic’s new touch-screen menu interface; a feature nicked from the Sony handycam range. Touch-screen LCDs are a popular choice amongst mainstream consumers, but serious videographers will be less impressed. The addition of a manual servo ring would have helped to satisfy both parties. On the plus side, the HDC-HS200-K has one of the better touch screens we’ve encountered, with large, responsive icons.

The Panasonic HDC-HS200-K comes with a wealth of modes and features which are mainly skewed towards the novice. Highlights include an Intelligent Auto mode (which adjusts exposure on-the-fly), Shooting Guide (which acts like an inbuilt coach) and AF/AE Tracking (which attempts to keep moving subjects permanently in focus), face detection and a plethora of scene modes.

As befits a $2309 camcorder, you also get the usual array of manual options, though the LCD touch screen makes precise adjustments next to impossible. The HDC-HS200-K also comes with an impressive 10.6-megapixel stills mode, which easily trumps most camcorders.

We remain somewhat undecided about the Panasonic HDC-HS200-K. On the one hand, the video it produces is truly exceptional; among the best we’ve encountered from a camcorder in this price range. But on the other hand, it lacks some of the high-end features demanded by serious videographers, most notably external audio. It is consequently condemned to a purgatory of its own making, hovering between both camps but belonging to neither.

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