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?
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    dave_c Ben's cred: 3715
    Posted 2:09 pm PDT 05/12/11

    ^ Well, this topic was from 2008, cameras have gotten better /cheaper since then.

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