- Compact, incredibly easy to use
- Poor night shot mode, short optical zoom, expensive
A fun, compact and easy to use camera but with an expensive price tag
Price$ 2,199.00 (AUD)
Positioned at the high end of Panasonic's new range of video camcorders is the SDR-S100, billed as the the smallest video camera of its type in the world. The SDR-S100 is one of the new wave of video cameras that write data to SD cards, hence its reduced size. However, not only is the camcorder minute, it's attractively designed and easy to use.
The camera is well designed and using the SDR-S100 is a joy. Its lightweight and compact frame makes it easy to hold and a pleasure to carry. Despite the camera's sleek lines, Panasonic has placed the controls in an intuitive fashion making the S100 easy to control. The widescreen 2.8 inch LCD is clear and bright, even in direct sunlight. The SD card slot is conveniently placed behind a flap on the underside of the unit and the front of the unit conceals a convenient pop up flash. Throughout our extensive testing of the camera we could not find one fault with its design and the SDR-S100 is perhaps the most intuitive video camera we have ever used.
This ease of use is carried through to the on-screen menu system. The SDR-S100 offers a fairly basic set of functions and as such, controlling them through the menu is simple. All the essential options such as wind reduction for the microphone, digital zoom and night shot modes are included, though we found night shot to be disappointing. The enhanced colour mode made the picture much brighter at low light levels but the resulting reduction in frame rate made it all but useless. The digital zoom was extremely useful as the SDR-S100 is only equipped with a 10x optical. The camera offers two digital zoom modes, one of which is rated up to 25x zoom and the other up to 700x. The 700x is definitely overkill, with such a distorted image as to make the picture indecipherable, but the 25x zoom mode was much better, and we found it useful.
The video quality, while not up to the standard of the best Mini DV or DVD camcorders, is definitely acceptable. The SDR-S100 ships with a 2GB Panasonic SD card, which is good for still picture standards but less so for video. At the highest quality available on the camera 2GB equates to approximately half an hour of video. The video is encoded in MPEG-2 format and can then be transferred to PC or displayed on a television. Although the camera records in widescreen the videos are actually encoded in standard 4:3 format, which is slightly disappointing. Video footage generally appeared smooth, crisp and bright, but there was definite evidence of compression across large blocks of colour, particular darker shades.
The SDR-S100 also has the advantage of 3.1 megapixel still picture recording. Though the quality lags behind still cameras which generally include 5 megapixel sensors and above, for a video camera it's pretty good. If you wanted to leave behind your separate digital still camera and purely use the SDR-S100, it would cope. With a built in flash, red eye reduction, macro modes and manual focus, the camera is also fairly well equipped.
Overall the SDR-S100 is an impressive package. Its small size combined with decent performance and intuitive controls makes it an ideal purchase for anyone seeking a compact camcorder. However, we feel its high cost is a major factor to consider. At this price we would usually expect a camera with far better quality video recording and a longer optical zoom. This is the trade off that is made for size and if you want the smallest size around then this is a great buy.
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