Panasonic HDC-HS9

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Panasonic HDC-HS9
  • Panasonic HDC-HS9
  • Panasonic HDC-HS9
  • Panasonic HDC-HS9

Pros

  • 60GB of inbuilt memory, lightweight design, stunning 'full HD' video resolution, solid still images mode

Cons

  • No 3.5mm microphone or headphone jacks, directional stick requires two-handed operation, occasional noise issues

Bottom Line

The HDC-HS9 is arguably the best high-definition camcorder in its price range; with the possible exception of its stablemate; the HDC-SD9. For our money, the HDC-HS9 comes out slightly on top due to its 60GB hard drive. Highly recommended.

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The HDC-HS9 is Panasonic's second flagship high-def camcorder for 2008; launching alongside the nearly identical-sounding HDC-SD9. (A note to store owners: expect some confused customers in your foreseeable future.) Unlike its SDHC-flavoured sibling, the HDC-HS9 comes equipped with its own 60GB hard drive, in addition to an SDHC card slot. This makes it a versatile choice for savvy users who like to mix and match their media, depending on the situation at hand.

With consumers' wallets moving steadily away from disc-based camcorders, the HDC-HS9 can be viewed as a replacement for Panasonic's hybrid HDC-SX5, a similar device that recorded footage to DVD. As you would expect from a top tier consumer-level camcorder, the HDC-SD9 bristles with an assortment of premium bells-and-whistles; not the least of which is its support for 'full' 1080p HD. With three 1/6-inch CCD sensors, a LEICA DICOMAR 10x optical zoom lens and Panasonic's excellent O.I.S image stabiliser; the HS9 is capable of producing incredible looking video, even if you've never picked up a camcorder before. Other noteworthy features include a high-speed burst mode for still photos, Face Detection (which automatically adjusts the exposure to present faces in the best possible light), and Intelligent Shooting Guide.

Intelligent Shooting Guide is a new shooting mode aimed squarely at entry-level users. It's basically a built-in camera coach which lets you know when you're doing something wrong. To make things even easier, the mode also fires up the relevant submenu when it makes a suggestion, saving you the trouble of having to hunt it down yourself. During testing however, we found its advice to be a bit hit and miss. At times it chastised us for panning too quickly, while on other occasions it happily allowed us to vigorously shake the camera like a misbehaving cat. Nevertheless, it remains a unique and interesting selling point that is sure to be 'borrowed' by competing brands in the future.

When it comes to video quality, the HS9 is a difficult camcorder to fault. The ability to record footage in 'full' 1080p HD is its main claim to fame, with most other high-def cameras only offering a maximum resolution of 1080i or 720p. Dubbed '25P Cinema Mode', this advanced recording option offers rich, true-to-life colours that mimic the feel of celluloid; handy if you're an aspiring Tropfest finalist. During our testing, it gave a nigh-on flawless performance, exhibiting ultra-vibrant images enhanced with razor sharp detail. When we moved the camcorder to a darker environment, the spike in noise levels was immediately obvious; though this is a common issue that we have yet to see a consumer-level camcorder overcome. All up, we were hugely impressed with the quality of our output, including still images which were suitable for printing.

In terms of its specifications, the HS9 is almost identical to the SD9, with the exception of its built-in hard drive. This naturally makes for a significantly bulkier unit, yet it is still surprisingly lightweight when compared to other HDD models (such as the Sony HDR-SR7E). Combined with a 16GB memory card, the HDC-HS9 can record up to 30 hours of video in one hit. If you're the type of user who shoots everything that crosses your path, the HS9's huge storage capacity should definitely prove very handy.

Like the rest of Panasonic's new camcorder range, the HS9 sports a directional stick on the inner recess of the LCD (as opposed to a more traditional rear-mounted placement). There are pros and cons to this arrangement. On the one hand, the stick's close proximity to the menu screen feels more intuitive, but on the other hand, you need to make your selections using both, er, hands. This can be especially problematic when adjusting manual settings, such as exposure, focus or aperture, which requires you to constantly nudge the stick around. Otherwise, we found the overall interface to be quite user-friendly, with an intelligent menu arrangement complemented by responsive controls.

For your audio requirements, the HS9 comes equipped with a 5.1 channel sound system which can be downgraded to Dolby Digital 2-channel stereo if your system doesn't support surround sound. Unfortunately, the HS9 lacks an external microphone port or headphone jack, which will limit your abilities to record crystal clear audio. This is a common omission in consumer-level camcorders, yet we still think that it's something Panasonic could have squeezed in. (The Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA), for example, managed to include this option despite being almost $800 cheaper.) Thankfully, the inbuilt microphone does a good job of capturing quality audio; provided you aren't filming on an excessively windy day.

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