Panasonic SDR-H40

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Panasonic SDR-H40
  • Panasonic SDR-H40
  • Panasonic SDR-H40
  • Panasonic SDR-H40
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Solid video performance for specs and asking price, 30GB hard drive, 42x optical zoom, records to both SD card and HDD

Cons

  • Image quality takes a significant hit under dim lighting

Bottom Line

With its 30GB hard drive, SD card slot and 42x optical zoom, the SDR-H40 is a versatile little performer. If you're on the lookout for an affordable standard-def camera for casual use, it is definitely one of the better buys on the market.

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The SDR-H40 is the entry-level model in Panasonic's new range of HDD/SD hybrid camcorders. Like the H60 and SDR-H280 , it records standard-definition video to either SD memory cards or an inbuilt hard disk drive (which in the H40's case, sports 40GB of memory for up to 36 hours of recording). While its video quality isn't anything to write home about, a bevy of user-friendly features – including a gigantic 42x optical zoom – lifts it head-and-shoulders above the majority of competitors. If you're not overly fussed by high-definition video, the SDR-H40 definitely represents good value for money.

Falling in line with its sub-$850 price tag, the SDR-H40 comes equipped with a single 1/6in CCD sensor with an effective pixel count of 400. In terms of image quality, it performed about as well as can be expected for a unit with these specifications; offering reasonable colour and contrast in optimum shooting conditions. It should certainly satisfy its intended user base of casual shooters, though as with most standard-def CCD cameras, bright lighting is an essential ingredient to attaining quality footage. While it can't compete with pricier models such as the SDR-H280 , most users will be satisfied with the majority of its video output.

By far the most impressive feature found on the SDR-H40 is its 42x optical zoom. This will prove incredibly useful for a variety of purposes, from zooming into your son as he scores the winning soccer goal to capturing distant bird-life without spooking it away. The advanced O.I.S really works a charm here, although shaky-handed individuals may want to invest in a tripod if they plan to frequently max out the zoom. A 2000x digital zoom is also included, though like all digital magnifications, this is essentially a pointless and unusable gimmick (it could prove useful for a B-grade spy movie though).

If you're a fashion aficionado who prefers flashy good looks over functionality, the SDR-H40 probably won't be your bag. With its squat, boxy design and old school silver finish, it almost resembles a throwback to the previous generation of camcorders (no doubt this was a conscious decision on Panasonic's part to make its premium 'high-def' models look cooler). While it certainly won't win any points for style, the H40 is pleasingly compact for a HDD camera, making it an ideal, if ugly, travel companion.

The SDR-H40 sports the usual array of advanced camera settings, including four white balance modes, six programmable AE modes, 16:9 and 4:3 recording ratios, auto and manual focus and adjustable shutter speeds. As with the H60 and H280, the miniature directional stick is located at the back of the unit in easy reach of the thumb. Personally, we find this makes menu navigation easier, though this is obviously in the eye of the beholder, as some users will doubtlessly prefer the LCD-mounted stick found on the JVC Everio range. At the risk of committing the greatest of reviewing sins, we'd have to advise you to try before you buy.

Like most standard-def HDD camcorders, the H40 records video in the MPEG2 format. For those who would prefer to bypass the editing process altogether, the H40 is fully compatible with Panasonic's VW-BN1E disc burner, which offers one-touch copying to DVD without the need for a computer. Once again though, you'll need to use an AC power adapter to gain access to your footage. (At $329, it's also a bit on the steep side, though the device remains entirely optional.)

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

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