Review: Panasonic HDC-SD100

You’ve longed to document your fascinating life for some time now, but you just haven’t found the right lightweight HD camcorder. Well, here’s the perfect tool for it: The Panasonic HDC-SD100 3CMOS camcorder can shoot 1080i HD video or 2.1-megapixel stills, all in a light, easily toted package.

Banking on the availability of cheap SD cards, Panasonic’s SD100 records to (surprise!) SD media (an 8-GB card is included). As a result, the camera weighs far less than hard-drive tapeless camcorders. While SDs currently max out at 32 GB, this format has an edge over the hard drives: secure digital cards are immune to magnetism and can’t crash — even if some butterfingers drops your camera into the Grand Canyon (which would be some cool footage, after you retrieve the wreck).

The SD100 is roughly the same price as its predecessor, the SD5, but it corrects some of the shortcomings of the earlier model. It has a manual focus ring, perfect for those up close shots of your iris or the end of a cigarette, a la Requiem for a Dream. The unit comes with a remote that operates both TV playback and filing — perfect for zooming in from a tripod for your low-budget porno or the family touch-football game. Panasonic also bumps the audio from stereo up to 5.1 surround — a little hi-def audio to go with the viddies.

But all is not well with the SD100. We had some gripes with the awkward, temperamental joystick and the somewhat clunky video-editing program. More serious disappointments showed up in the ports and powering scheme: To save space, Panasonic hides some of the power, USB and HDMI ports behind the battery — you have to remove the battery and switch to AC in order to play directly on a TV or transfer video to your PC. (Granted, you can just pop out the SD card if you have a reader or a slot.) What’s worse, you can’t charge the battery while you are running the cam on AC. Puzzling? Yes Dumb? Definitely.

The resulting video looks pretty good, but not perfect. Dark parts of the image has some lattice-like effects, but outdoor shots look clean and sharp, as long as you don’t pan too quickly (and a popup on the LCD will remind you if you do). The camera can shoot for about two hours on a charge, but you’ll run out of space on the SD after an hour unless you buy up or lower the resolution. All drawbacks aside, if you want a light, sharp, compact HD camcorder, the Panasonic’s a safe bet. Just be careful with it on that trip to the Grand Canyon.

  • Optical Zoom:12x Variable Speed
  • Lens Type: Leica Dicomar
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