Panasonic SDR-S7

Pintsized camcorder that punches above its weight

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Panasonic SDR-S7
  • Panasonic SDR-S7
  • Panasonic SDR-S7
  • Panasonic SDR-S7

Pros

  • Affordable price, super-small design, convenience of SD/SDHC format

Cons

  • Occasional image issues, design may prove awkward for some users

Bottom Line

The Panasonic SDR-S7 is clearly not for everyone, but if you're looking for a cheap, user-friendly and highly portable camera, this is one of the better buys on the market. (It looks ferociously cute, too.)

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The SDR-S7 is an ultra-compact, flash-memory-based camcorder that records video in standard definition. Aimed squarely at the entry-level demographic, it prioritises ease-of-use and affordability over video quality. Nevertheless, it should prove sufficient for capturing family movies, and is just about the cutest gadget you're ever likely to use.

The SDR-S7 shares a lot in common with its underwater cousin, the SDR-SW20. Both models sport similar designs and identical specifications, including a 1/6in CCD sensor, 10x optical zoom lens and 800k effective pixel count. However, whereas the SDR-SW20 is dust-proof, shock-proof and waterproof, the SDR-S7 is a standard camcorder (which is to say, it's fairly fragile). Dropping this baby in the water will result in instant destruction; whatever you do, don't get the two models mixed up!

As with the SDR-SW20, the SDR-S7 records standard definition video to SD/SDHC memory cards. The SDHC format is the rising star of Panasonic's camcorder range, with no fewer than eight models currently using this technology. The benefits of SDHC-based camcorders are numerous. They include playback convenience, prolonged battery life, the ability to hot-swap your data between compatible devices and greatly reduced camera size. This last point is especially salient in the SDR-S7's case — size (or rather, the lack of it) is arguably its strongest selling point.

They say that good things come in small packages, and they certainly don't get much smaller than this. The SDR-S7 is the tiniest fully-functional camcorder we've ever laid eyes on. Its minuscule 102x41x59mm dimensions lend the device an adorable appearance guaranteed to garner double-takes from passing strangers. Indeed, when we first pulled it out of the box, our entire office gathered around to make delighted cooing noises in a manner usually reserved for babies (and we don't eat quiche or anything). On the cute-o-meter, it would probably fall somewhere between a basket of fluffy kittens and the precocious dwarf from Webster. Naturally, this makes the SD7 a perfect travel companion, and suitable for carrying around in a jacket pocket. If you're into short film-making, it will also assist in capturing avant-garde shots (for instance, the interior of a car glove box).

Unfortunately, the SDR-S7's pintsized dimensions have forced Panasonic to make a few design concessions. Chief among these is the absence of a hand strap — instead, a loop of fabric must be worn around the wrist during operation. This forces you to firmly grasp the camera at all times. It also encourages the habit of 'going commando', sans wristband (which leads to a higher likelihood of dropping and breaking it). On the plus side, the camcorder's unconventional design allows you to hold it in a variety of ways. We found the most effective method was to grasp the camcorder like a battery-operated torch. (Panasonic has thoughtfully included an additional record button near the lens for this purpose.)

Another design oversight is the location of the battery and memory card slots beneath the camera. If you're the type of user who favours tripods for silky smooth pans and tilts, this may prove to be a headache: it forces you to remove the camera from the tripod whenever you need to swap batteries or SD cards. With that being said, the SDR-S7 was never designed for capturing award-winning videos, so it might be best to ignore your tripod altogether.

We were mostly satisfied with the video performance of this camcorder. It performed adequately for an entry-level model. As with most standard-def cameras, bright lighting is essential for attaining attractive footage. One other caveat is that compression artefacts were quite noticeable in our test footage, with occasional glitches marring sections of the frame. The SDR-S7 is also capable of capturing 640x480 JPEG still images. As one would expect, the results are rather rudimentary.

The SDR-S7 will record around 3.5 hours of standard-definition video onto the included 4GB SD card, which should see you through a day or two's worth of shooting. Naturally, higher capacity cards will net you more recording hours, though you will need to factor the additional cost into your purchase (32GB cards from Panasonic currently retail for $899).

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