Product: Panasonic HDC-SD5
Manufacturer: Panasonic
MSRP: $999.99 [BizRate]
Lowest Historical Price: $648 [History]

Introduction
I was looking for a digital camcorder for some time, but I was unwilling to fork over the dough because I felt that the entire industry was in a transition period with various intermediary and soon-to-be obsolete formats. The future of digital video is in solid state recording and HD video, and the Panasonic Palmcorder HDC-SD5 seemed on paper to fit the bill quite nicely.

It is Panasonic's first consumer HDTV camcorder that boasts a full 1920 x 1080 resolution, the maximum resolution supported by HDTV standards. Moreover, it records to industry standard Secure Digital High Capacity cards. As of this writing, 8GB SDHC cards can be had for as little as $34 and can store 120 minutes of full resolution video. It sports a Leica Dicomar lens with 10x optical zoom and a 2.7" LCD monitor. The folks at Panasonic have also thrown in their VW-BN1 DVD burner, which allows you to directly burn your videos from the SD5 to DVD without using a PC.

Ergonomics
One of the enticing aspects of going to media as small as SD is that the design is no longer constrained around the size and shape of the media, as is the case with tape, HDD, and DVD recorders. The SD5 fits comfortably in your right palm, and the strap can be adjusted for a secure grip. All of the main controls are easily reached with just your right hand, and the main switches (record, zoom) are prominent enough that new users will be able to figure it out on the fly.

Operation
The most interesting feature that was new to me is the pre-record feature. By enabling pre-recording, the camera keeps a 3-second rolling recording of what has come through the lens. This cache is committed to the SD card when you actually start recording. This feature is definitely useful if you are expecting some action but don't quite know when it will start.

One issue with the battery is that it cannot be charged within the camcorder. The battery must be removed and docked to the dedicated charging base. The same charging base also supplies DC power to operate your camera in plugged-in mode, and it does not charge your battery while the camera is in use. Furthermore, the DC cable plugs into the SD5 where the battery would be (with a battery shaped plug), requiring the user to route the cable out of a little keyhole in the battery cover. It would have been far preferable if the SD5 power cord used a mini connector and supported in-camcorder charging.

Connectivity
Users familiar with earlier DV cameras will immediately notice the lack of FireWire on the SD5. FireWire was useful for analog media, but the SD5 is no longer limited to “dubbing" from tape to your hard drive. You can simply connect it via USB to transfer any or all clips that you've taken. You can eschew the camcorder entirely by removing the SDHC card and dealing directly with the files on the SDHC card.

Your playback options with the SD5 are fairly versatile, as it has both analog outputs as well as HDMI for fully digital HDTV playback. The SD5 lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as any external microphone connectivity. It also lacks a shoe for attaching additional lighting options. These shortcomings are sacrifices that Panasonic made to cut costs for the general consumer market.

Video Quality
When the lighting conditions are good (outside during the day) the picture quality is incredible. I saw some fungus growing on a rotten log and the resulting video looks as good as anything I've seen on Discovery HD. The image stabilization works wonders when you are on high zoom, allowing for passable handheld video at the highest zoom setting.

Indoors and in less than optimal conditions, the video quality is good. You can tell that the camera struggles when the lights go down, and I would say that this is probably the weakest aspect of this camcorder's performance. Even so, you will be getting HD video that for most people will be better than anything they've seen before from such a compact device.

The digital camera snapshot mode takes terrible pictures, but you already knew that right?

Screen Caps (Links to full resolution ~3MB files)

1. The donkey from Shrek. Really, the real donkey model for the movie.
2. My attempt at documenting some funky fungi a la Discovery HD.
3. Full digital zoom of some base jumpers in downtown San Francisco.
4. Indoor shot under flourescent lightning only.
5. Vegetarian's nightmare.

Software
The Panasonic HDC-SD5 records in the new AVCHD format being pushed by both Sony and Panasonic, which is compatible with Blu-Ray disc players when burned to standard DVDs. It is also compatible with the Playstation 3 both through burned DVDs and also by simply plugging in the SD card to your PS3 (the PS3 seems to be the optimal companion player). The camera also sports a direct HDMI output, so you can hook up anything to the other end that can handle the HDMI signal.

The software included with the SD5 is woefully inadequate. It comes with HD-Writer which will give you extremely basic AVCHD-DVD authoring functionality, but you could probably achieve the same by using the camera's internal editing with the included DVD burner, and not have to use the HD-Writer software at all. It also includes a trial edition Pinnacle Studio 11, which offers more complete functionality that you'd expect in a DV editing suite, but it requires you to purchase something extra.

Conclusion
I initially decided to buy this camera because it seemed to fulfill most of the criteria I had for selecting my first personal camcorder. After a couple weeks of use, I can report that I am still impressed by the Panasonic HDC-SD5. The daytime shots are nothing short of astonishing, while the low light performance is acceptable but not great. The SD format is a huge advantage that makes the videos extremely portable and convenient to work with. The competition in this ultracompact solid-state camcorder segment is heating up though, with the imminent introduction of the Canon Vixia HF10 and HF100 in March of 2008.

Image Gallery

The last images show a 37mm 0.45x Wide Angle Lens that is not included, but recommended if you are taking shots indoors.

Price History [History]


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  • Was this useful?
    Voting ...
    +1 0
    CompWiz17 Ben's cred: 516
    Posted 7:00 pm PST 01/29/08

    I have Pinnacle studio 11 Professional, and it's a pretty nice video editing suite. It doesn't have all the capabilities of some of the higher end video editing software(limited to 2 tracks of video plus an overlay track), but it does have a lot of nice features, and I've used it for a few short movies, with chroma keying.

    Also, if you plan to film shots while moving around, and want that nice professional smooth movement look, check out this guide on how to build a "steadycam" for $14. These usually cost hundreds of dollars if you just buy one.
    here is the link to the guide: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~johnny/steadycam/
    and here is an example video, being filmed by someone sprinting down a hallway: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~johnny/steadycam/test2.mov

  • Was this useful?
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    billy_bob Ben's cred: 62
    Posted 8:03 am PST 01/30/08

    haha, I looked at the site w/ the steady cam and was like "Hmm, that guy looks familiar..."

    Suffice to say, Johnny Chung Lee is a pretty smart guy with a new claim to fame that is probably a little more interesting to most than his steadycam: http://www.wiimoteproject.com/

  • Was this useful?
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    mqtpaladon Ben's cred: 7
    Posted 10:24 am PST 01/30/08

    HV20 is better

  • Was this useful?
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    CompWiz17 Ben's cred: 516
    Posted 12:32 pm PST 01/30/08

    #2: yeah, he has developed some really interesting things that work with just a wiimote. It's about time Nintendo got around to hiring him. Smile

  • Was this useful?
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    CompWiz17 Ben's cred: 516
    Posted 1:39 pm PST 01/30/08

    Ben, is there any chance you could try a bit of chroma-keying with this camcorder, and see how it works for that?

  • Was this useful?
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    leo Ben's cred: 95
    Posted 2:40 pm PST 01/30/08

    I'm more interested in the Sony HDR-SR7 AVCHD High Definition HDD Camcorder. It has 60GB. $1200. Kinda of pricey. I'm looking for a good deal on it.

  • Was this useful?
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    cadaver Ben's cred: 305
    Posted 10:07 am PST 01/31/08

    Sony sucky. I have a Panasonic camcorder (3ccd). It rocks.

  • Was this useful?
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    GB123 Ben's cred: 39
    Posted 6:41 pm PST 02/2/08

    Does anyone know anything about this merchant? The price seems to low to be true. $599.00 and free shipping.

    http://www.bestpricecameras.com/prodetails.asp?prodid=902392

  • Was this useful?
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    poorman Ben's cred: 0
    Posted 1:28 am PST 02/3/08

    Stay away from nj/ny merchants with bargain prices. They use different names but same tactics. http://www.epinions.com/msg/show_~threads/cat_id_~22/id_~13369/forum_id_~145

  • Was this useful?
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    jakoub Ben's cred: 1
    Posted 10:08 am PST 02/3/08

    should I wait for the panasonice SD9 or HS9 that's coming out late March?

  • Was this useful?
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    jackenigma Ben's cred: 2
    Posted 5:02 pm PST 02/4/08

    It should be worth it to wait. Not unless you need it now.

  • Was this useful?
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    VinZant Ben's cred: 5
    Posted 2:19 pm PST 02/6/08

    Hey Ben... when you scroll over the image on the main page it says Canon HDC-SD5... FYI

  • Was this useful?
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    robek204 Ben's cred: 1
    Posted 7:53 am PST 02/8/08

    Ben, that is incorrect you said "It is Panasonic's first consumer HDTV", this is a second model, it is a cheaper version of the original HDV camcorder "HDC-SD1", it is much better it had bigger 3CCD system, making it a much better quality images, the "HDC-SD5" is actually a cheaper version of the original camera, although it looks better, which I prefer a better image quality than a pimped-up version

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    brownman Ben's cred: 3
    Posted 10:11 am PST 02/9/08

    lol looks nice

  • Was this useful?
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    jewsance Ben's cred: 26
    Posted 9:12 pm PST 02/9/08

    Hey everyone. bacon is a child coach.

  • Was this useful?
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    azam91 Ben's cred: 2
    Posted 8:15 pm PDT 05/12/08

    Thats a good review.(Lots of picture) and of course camera is great too.

  • Was this useful?
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    cechmaster Ben's cred: 2
    Posted 12:01 pm PDT 05/17/08

    billy_bob wrote:
    haha, I looked at the site w/ the steady cam and was like "Hmm, that guy looks familiar..."

    Suffice to say, Johnny Chung Lee is a pretty smart guy with a new claim to fame that is probably a little more interesting to most than his steadycam: http://www.wiimoteproject.com/



    That wiimote project looks really cool, i cant believe some people pay thousands of dollars for a touchscreen when you can build this wiimote touchscreen for like 50 bucks.

  • Was this useful?
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    MKL Ben's cred: 2
    Posted 1:10 pm PDT 08/7/08

    I recently bought a camcorder -- MINIDV and it also has a slot for a memory card. So, How many people like me just assume that you can record video on the memory card as opposed to just taking pictures?

    Do many people really take pictures with their camcorders? What's the point?

  • Was this useful?
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    Seung Ben's cred: 5
    Posted 7:12 pm PDT 09/15/08

    HD camcorder for $650?
    can't beat that

  • Was this useful?
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    nutzo Ben's cred: 84
    Posted 1:53 pm PDT 05/12/11

    Just picked up a Sony HX9v camera, 16x zoom, and takes full 1080p 60fps video (not just 1080i like most), for only $349.
    Seems like a better deal to me.

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