Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- 3CCD sensor, 1920x1080 resolution, attractive looks
- SDHC memory cards are expensive, a few niggles in the design
As with the Sony HDR-CX7K, this is a solid product let down by the price of its recordable media. We'd therefore recommend it to people who already own a large collection of SD cards (or an even larger wallet).
Price$ 1,899.00 (AUD)
Along with rival manufacturer Sony, Panasonic is touting the AVCHD recording format as 'the next big thing' in high definition video. The main benefit of AVCHD is its superior compression rate over MPEG-2; an old video codec which is around 50 per cent less efficient. This helps to alleviate the memory demands made by HD video, allowing substantial amounts of footage to be stored on everything from hard disk drives to DVD discs. While still in its teething stage and marred by certain editing restrictions, it is easy to see why both vendors are championing this new format - simply put, it allows you to capture more movies onto your chosen media with no loss in image quality.
In an attempt to woo the plug-and-play crowd, the HDC-SD5 camcorder records data directly to SD/SDHC memory cards, which currently reach a maximum capacity of 8GB. In the past, we have been critical of camcorders that rely on flash memory due to their limited storage capacity, yet with 16GB and 32GB cards both on the horizon, it would appear this concern has largely diminished.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the price of SD media, which remains prohibitively expensive when compared to discs and DV tapes. Shoppers on a tight budget will have to make do with the 4GB card included in the sales package (which only allows a measly 40 minutes of high grade video). Despite this particular issue - and a few minor design flaws - the HDC-SD5 remains an impressive performer that excels in almost every area.
As if high-def cameras weren't small enough already, the HDC-SD5 sports the most compact dimensions yet. Weighing in at a barely-there 340g and measuring just 65x67x135mm, it can certainly lay claim to the 'world's smallest' title. It is therefore just as well that the unit possesses an advanced image stabiliser. As we have seen in the past, weightless cameras often suffer from jerky footage, but for the most part, our test shots remained relatively shake free.
In terms of aesthetics, the unit is remarkably similar to the HDR-CX7K; a Sony handycam that also utilises flash media technology. Like the HDR-CX7K, it sports an attractive ergonomic shape and professional glossy black finish that sets it apart from its traditional competitors. However, further inspection reveals a very different design which in some ways is notably inferior.
For example, the battery compartment and SD slot are both located directly beneath the camera. While this keeps them out of sight and makes for a more attractive appearance, it also means you cannot access them while the unit is mounted on a tripod. We were also left cold by the four-way directional stick, which is uncomfortably tiny and difficult to manoeuvre. Personally, we much prefer the touch-screen interface found on the HDR-CX7K. Having said that, the menu layout is easy to understand and simple to navigate - provided you can get to grips with the miniature stick.
Obviously, none of these points would matter much if the camera didn't perform in the one department that truly matters - video quality. Unlike the CMOS sensors found on Sony's assorted output, the HDC-SD5 has been built using superior 3CCD technology. This is the same imaging system found in professional broadcast cameras; producing advanced levels of colour reproduction via a trio of 1/6" individual charge-coupled devices. Subsequently, the HDC-SD5 is capable of producing stunningly crisp and vibrant imagery at a resolution of 1920x1080i. It gave a close-to-faultless performance throughout the majority of our testing; only exhibiting problems in low light conditions which is a common fault in most cameras.
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