It’s been ages since I was the proud owner of a decent HD camcorder. The last one I had was a 3ccd Panasonic that took DV tapes. At the time it was way too good for what I needed, so I sold it to upgrade my stills camera.
Ever since then I’ve been dabbling with pocket HD video recorders, in particular the Kodak Zi6. The Zi6 is a great little device for blogging and with it’s combination of AA batteries and additional SDHC memory, I always have one at the ready. Recently I was given a Kodak Zx1 to review but I’m thinking/hoping it is broken as there are some major issues when recording low frequency sound. Anyway.. the less said about that the better. The sooner manufacturers realise that decent audio is far more important than the video, the sooner we will have great devices we can really use.
With pocket HD cameras the market leader seems to be the Flip Mino HD.. I think this is because every blogger and his dog (apart from me) seemed to get one to try out and talk about. Not wanting internal memory or a weird battery, I opted for the Kodak Zi6..
The same seems to be with HD Camcorders.. Canon really seems to be on top of blogger advocacy and made sure a few decent video bloggers had access to their kit.. Once again, I missed out on these trials and although I know camcorders like the Canon Legria HF S10 are damn fine bits of kit.. when it came to go out and find one for myself I decided to enter the web with an open mind.
For me, any highly spec’d image capturing device has to have decent optics. This goes without saying. I know Canon have really proved themselves over the years but I have always been drawn to the fact Panasonic pride themselves in their electronics and partnered with perhaps one of the finest glass manufacturers in operation today. Leica make great lenses. Fact. I still have my Leica M6 and a selection of lenses even though i rarely shoot film.. I am yet to see optics as good as those that fit on my old M6.
So when i first saw Panasonic’s Leica lensed HDC-TM300 early this year.. I had a feeling this could be the camera for me. There is always lots of talk online around the HD format AVCHD, but I see it being used more and more to get as much data as possible into smaller memory space and to be honest.. I just can’t be bothered with any type of magnetic tape now, even if the quality is still better.
While saving up enough funds to purchase something decent I read more and more about different cameras and could see that the HDC-TM300 is a serious camcorder aimed at enthusiasts. It has more features that I will ever get round to using and with its twin flash-memory capability, it should be robust enough to rattle around in the bottom of my backpack with all my other gadgets.
The camera looks and feels like many other in the range. Smooth lines and solid in the hand. It has an EVF (electronic viewfinder) as well as a large flip out LCD touchscreen, an attachable accessory shoe and a great little manual focusing ring round it’s Leica lens.
It’s sister, the HDC-HS300 comes with a 120GB HDD (hard disc drive) and an SD/SDHC slot but I really wanted to put the moving parts aside and go for 32GB internal solid state and a removeable SD/SDHC memory card slot. It will take a Class 6 card up to 32GB but at the moment I am using a Class 6 16GB card bought for about £25.
So what’s it got..? Like said.. more than i’m ever likely to use. To be honest i had to read up on what it’s three MOS image sensors (“3MOS”) were capable of. Each sensor is dedicated to one of the red, green and blue primary colours. The total number of pixels available on each MOS image sensor is 2.07 million pixels (Full HD) for both video and stills. The sensor itself is a little bigger than normal at 1/4″. There is always a worry that camera upgrades include more pixels but less light gathering capability as these pixels are squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces. Not so here.
Amongst some of the many features these are a few that interest me:
~ Image Stabilisation
~ 3 second Pre-REC
~ 2.07 million pixels per video shot and 10.6 mega pixels when shooting stills
~ Leica Dicomer 12x optical zoom lens, with surrounding manual focus ring
~ Interval Recording – time lapse recording from 1 second through to 120 seconds
~ External Microphone input with manual level control (a must for any serious camera)
~ Face Detection – (scary but works really well. Even on the dog!)
~ 12x optical zoom (30x and 700x digital but i never turn this on for obvious reasons)
~ Touch Screen LCD (inc ‘Target Frame’ – Set a target ie face, focal point or object to lock on to even when it moves)
~ Headphone (as well as an AV output port)
~ iA Intelligent Auto – (kind of an idiotmode for when you have been drinking and don’t want to miss a shot)
~ Relay Recording – record seamlessly from the internal memory to the SDHC memory card
These are just a few that jumped out at me.. There are loads more that I could list.. (if i understood them 😉
Reading from the manual I can tell you the camera uses MPEG-4/AVC H.264 high definition video compression, saving 1920×1080 movies to either the internal solid state memory or the SDHC memory at the following sizes:
~ HA: 17 Mbps (1920 x 1080 VBR)
~ HG: 13 Mbps (1920 x 1080 VBR)
~ HX: 9 Mbps (1920 x 1080 VBR)
~ HE: 6 Mbps (1440 x 1080 VBR)
I know that the Canon cameras can capture data at 24Mbps but I like to be able to edit while mobile from a laptop using iMovie. I think files larger than the ones I already have to deal with may well crash my brain, not only my hardware/software. Besides I would happily offset the data rate and take the 2 extra MOS sensors that Panasonic has over the Canon’s one large one. I may change my mind when I get an 8 core laptop.
My 16GB SDHC Class 6 memory card records just over 2 hours at the highest quality (AVCHD at the HA setting). It is possible to copy the clips from internal memory to external and visa versa. There is even limited editing available should you want to chop stuff up while traveling to save space.
In my opinion this is the perfect all round consumer level camcorder. It ticks all of the boxes I had in mind when I was looking for a camera for shooting video for web at the best quality costing under a grand. Saying that, playing it through my HDTV via HDMI, blew me away. The quality of picture and richness of colour was way beyond what I have previously experienced. I may need a little more practice exporting video for web (and a bigger home bandwidth) to get close to the quality I know this camera is capable of, but it is compact and feature packed. It has some really innovative use of it’s touchscreen and has all the inputs/outputs I could possibly need. With the options of manual control and of course it’s funky time lapse feature, I feel it is a camera I can grow into and learn from.
Just to force a gripe and pick on something.. Although I love it’s 5.1 built-in mic, it’s positioning on the top makes it prone to my heavy breathing and wind noise. Still I plan to upgrade the sound with a more directional mic for interview purposes.
Also at £800-£1000 It’s probably a little expensive for the average consumer but this is still a new camera and I imagine the price will come down soon enough.. When it does.. buy it. Or if you can afford it now.. buy it now.. I’m certainly glad I did.
UPDATE: Here are a few of the accessories I have found useful.
Lovely! 🙂 – welcome to the world of HD videoblogging! 🙂
You only got it to match the colour scheme of your blog you vain vain man 😉
I am afraid i have watched you long enough to realise a ‘Quadzilla’ under the table is what’s needed to get the content out there in a reasonable amount of time.. Not to mention the bandwidth.. I’ll be picking your brains for tips and tricks on how to speed up the process.. 🙂
Tim Difford says
Doh… I can stretch to a Zi6 on your recommend, but not this! Looks great though. Nice vid, esp poncey shots.
Helen Duffett says
Woar! That cinema mode is gorgeous.
Thanks for a good, comprehensive review.
Jake, My blog is white man.. what page are you on..? Or are you viewing the old documentally.blogspot.com? 🙂
It ticks many of my boxes too. I’ve not long had the Canon HF100 which I love for compactness and quality. But one MAJOR gripe is not having manual focus ring, instead you need to focus using twiddly joy stick with no measure or indicator. Ah well, still £550 was about my limit so happy for that. Will keep eye on this Panny price though. Cheers.
@Documentally Well, your palatte is mainly grey/black/red for most of your branding 😛
Regards the pocket camera debate: I’m still quite partial to the Vado HD when compared with MinoFlipHD & Kodak Zi6 (demo ~ http://tr.im/o5Yf). Plus that wideangle lens is highly desirable for me (feels much more natural for 16:9 videos).
Hi Jake, i have been trying to take a look at the creative Vado HD but they seem to be thin on the ground.
I also think that Chris Prillo’s review shows the sound of the Kodak to be a little better..
I will try and have a hands on with the Creative in New York.. 🙂
Christian I really like my zx1 but I haven’t fully tested the audio. I never expected the audio to be good. My reason for grabbing the little pocket cam was that it is weather resistant and a rational 720p for decent video “snapshots” to which sound may later be added. That said, I completely agree that camera builders must add better audio. The TM300 sounded fine. I like the lack of motor noise in solid state devices – and this camera was silent even when zooming. I love the Lumix you have used for some of your work. How well does Panasonic work with the Mac?
The camera works great with iMovie09.. My little Panasonic LX3 stills camera is a little less compatible with it’s Raw files but fine with everything else.. 🙂
What a great review. You’ve got quite a knack for this. Oh by the way….my dog thinks your dog is a hot piece.
Richard Arblaster says
Nice camera, how much did it cost?
Very nice I want. But will stick with my Zi6 for now 🙂
Hi Ernmander.. The Zi6 is still a force to be reckoned with.. 🙂
Hi Richard, They are about £800 to £1000 depending where you look.. £739 if you are really lucky.. 🙂 They will come down soon enough.
Tim Difford says
Like the update, love the add-ons… daren’t imagine the total bill 😉
Nice review. I also have the TM300 and would really like to know more about the battery extender that you show in the update. Do you have a manufacturer/model for it? Even better would be a uk distributor.
Also who makes the lens you had?
Can you please share the name/brand of the hotshoe adapter you purchased? looks handy!
Hi Edvins.. sorry, i have no idea of the brand name. I bought it from B H Photo in New York. It’s in their catalogue. @Barnstormed on twitter spotted it.. I bought it. 🙂
I bought a PAL version of the TM300, so its 50i rather than 60i. Page 68 of the manual specifies that Digital Cinema mode records as 50i irrespective of the digital cinema mode setting. You wrote that the movie you made with your dog and the dumper truck was recorded in Digital Cinema mode at 24P. Is your TM300 a 60i NTSC version? I must say I’d like to know that I’m going to be able to achieve similar quality YouTube videos – yours looks great! Am I going to have to deinterlace mine?
I’ve just downloaded the manual for the TM300K, which appears to be the NTSC 60i version. The Digital Cinema mode section on page 72 states that in this mode, images are recorded at 24 fps, so I guess this is the model you are using. I don’t see the point of Digital Cinema mode on my PAL TM300 if it records at 50i regardless of this setting. Will this prevent me getting the same sharpness and smooth YouTube video playback that you are getting?
Hi Charles, I guess the only way to find out is to give it a go. I am not a videophile. Just playing really. I think mine is the NTSC version as i figured it would not matter if i was shooting for the web.
Thanks for your fast reply Documentally. If I find settings that produce similar YouTube quality to yours, I’ll post them here for other TM300 PAL 50i owners.
If anyone else has already found good settings for this camcorder, I’d be grateful for advice beyond the YouTube recommendations for HD, e.g. TM300 PAL Recording mode (HA, HG, HX, HE, Digital Cinema)? Deinterlace? CBR or VBR? Data rate? Fixed frequency of key frames or leave unspecified? Exported format for HD – either 1280×720 (YouTube recommendation) or 960×540 (exact halving of horiz. and vert. resolution)?
Who’s a videophile? 😉
Oh if only I could afford one of those … but way way way above my budget ;o(
Hi all, new to this forum. I should be receiving the TM300 and was wondering how I could tell whether the cam is pal or ntsc. Bought it online from simply electronics and am worried about this being a japan import.
I have seen all the youtube footage re TM300 and I was not that impressed with picture quality due to a greenish cast on the video. Now that is at neutral saturation. I downloaded a user manual and it tell that you have control over saturation but not contrast.
Basically my question is. Is there a way to note if the cam is Pal or NTSC.
Thanks guys and happy shooting
Hello Modds. There are probably a number of indications in the manual when you receive this, but one would be the Hi-speed burst shooting PHOTO function. The PAL version offers 25 and 50 frames/sec (page 74), while the NTSC version offers 24 and 60 frames/sec (page 78).
Great review! I would be very happy to have name of the wide angle 43 mm you bought and the name of the plug special battery too (my dream!!). I never saw that in shops.
thanks a lot
I really wish you could find out the brand name/model of that hot shoe adapter. I’m exhausting myself trying to find it lol.
Any help would be appreciated.
Hi Brandon, I am not even sure thet B & H had it in their catalogue. They just grabbed it from behind the counter. Sorry I can’t be of more assistance.
What make/model is the wide angle lens you have there?
The hot shoe adapter/extension is made by Rycote
Here’s a link that will assist you in your search:
Hi. Can i get that battery adapter on ebay? I both same camera week ago. And i unhappy about battery and your solution looks great. Can you tell me how can i get it. And one more thing im not from america so if you will say go to the shop somewhere in LA i dont think i can make it. But anyway thanks a lot for your answer. And how much did you pay for a lens?
Hi Mindo, Sorry, i don’t know where in the uk this adapter is available. If you took a trip to Tottenham Court Road you may find one. I bought it on a trip to the US.
Hello Mindo, here’s the extender battery:
I’m not sure if they deliver worldwide.
Charles, & Mindo,
the extender battery you refer to in your link has had some bad reviews from users. Also, I believe, it’s only good with the original VBG260 battery (the larger 2640mAH batt pack) and NOT the VBG130 batt pack (smaller 1320mAH batt pack).
B&H used to have the extender battery for the VBG130 – no longer sell it.
I retrack my last comment. 🙂
It may be the same product as this one – http://www.expandsale.com/dicobepavwvw.html
and it looks like it should work with an original VBG130.
I bought 2 of the Impact battery extenders in Sep 09 from B&H. The product packaging states “Replaces PANASONIC VW-VBG260” (not strictly true because the VBG260 is not an extender – it doesn’t require another ‘piggy-backed’ battery), “7.4V 2000mAh”. These are similar but not identical to the extenders you linked to. The only criticism I read before buying them was that they were slow to charge. B&H still appear to be selling them – I did notice they had withdrawn a different brand from their site when I first found these. I’m using them with the ‘piggy-backed’ original VW-VBG130 battery supplied with the camera: they don’t function on their own. I can’t say how reliable they are yet because I’ve only recharged them once. The instructions state “For the first time combine (extender with original battery) & wait for one hour before usage. This enables battery balance, time display more accurate”. I didn’t have time to do this so the initial indication of charge remaining was only slightly increased. However, the display corrected itself as I continued to use the camera, indicating considerably more charge than for the original VBG130 on its own. I can’t say what the combined duration was because I didn’t time it and couldn’t rely on the display. I guess the combination was at least 2 hours. One minor concern is that the connection to the camera is not quite as tight as the original battery but I haven’t had any power loss yet (it’s secure but there is a little movement). I don’t know what Impact (excuse the pun) this cheap extender (7.4V) might have on the life-expectancy of the expensive original battery (7.2V). Hopefully none. Perhaps the life-expectancy of the extender is less than a Panasonic VBG260, but you can buy about 10 of these extenders for the same price…
Happy Holiday Greetings!
Thank you for your detailed explanation on this battery extender~ Good to know this information.
Do give us a progress report with your continued use of the extender. 🙂
Thanks Franko – happy holiday greetings to you too! I’ll check the fully charged battery combination usage time and will report back.