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.