Pocket camcorders tend to compromise fairly drastically on features and image quality in order to provide ultra-portable dimensions. But the Panasonic HDC-SD10 doesn't make any concessions on the high-definition video front and offers a number of useful extras, despite keeping everything small and neat, including its asking price of £370 or thereabouts.
It's possible to find HD camcorders that are smaller and lighter than the HDC-SD10 -- take the recently reviewed Toshiba Camileo P30, for instance. But, while many models in the pocket-camcorder category end up taking quite a hit in the quality department, the HDC-SD10 aims high, with 1,920x1,080-pixel AVCHD video recorded at the same high bit rate (17Mbps) as the models at the top of Panasonic's consumer range.
Although the 1/6-inch CMOS image sensor is actually quite small and the effective resolution of 1.17 megapixels is relatively low for an HD model, the HDC-SD10's high-quality optics and image processing make for an extremely pleasing picture. Edges are crisp and colours are rich, with little in the way of unwanted artefacts or motion issues.
Panasonic has squeezed plenty of impressive technology into this little package. For example, a 'proper' optical image stabiliser is included, as opposed to the less effective electronic type that many diminutive camcorders get stuck with. The generous 16x optical zoom is another pleasant surprise.
There's no built-in memory, however. But, while you could consider spending roughly £50 more for the HDC-SD10's sister model, the HDC-TM10 (effectively the same camcorder but with 8GB of on-board storage), the HDC-SD10 is better value, since a 16GB SD card can easily be picked up for around £20 online.
The HDC-SD10 offers plenty of help for inexperienced users. In particular, the HDC-SD10's 'intelligent auto' mode combines autofocus, auto exposure, face detection, contrast control and an 'intelligent scene selector' without requiring any twiddling on the part of the user. That's not to say that your options are limited, though. An intuitive touchscreen menu system provides access to a number of advanced settings, including full manual controls. A built-in video lamp and 3-second pre-record function sprinkle yet more goodness on an already pretty sweet deal.
The HDC-SD10's relatively low pixel count is a more obvious handicap when it comes to the device's photo capabilities. Still snaps are merely acceptable, with noticeable compression artefacts and purplish haloing evident even when viewed on a computer screen at a size of less than 100 per cent. They look slightly better when printed, but the HDC-SD10 is no match for a dedicated camera. In fact, the photo quality is more comparable to that which you get at the better end of the camera-phone spectrum -- it's okay for occasional casual snaps, but it's not an ideal primary camera.
We had some minor issues with the white-balance settings, too. Auto white balance tends to offer a slightly blueish cast outdoors, while setting the white balance manually results in yellowish tones. Also, while the HDC-SD10's auto functions are, by and large, pretty impressive, we noticed that the autofocus occasionally seemed to become rather over-zealous, briefly sending itself out of focus as if to try and adjust itself on the fly, even when being held steady on a well-lit subject. It's a small point, but worth mentioning.
While we're nitpicking, there are some aspects of the HDC-SD10's build quality that we aren't particularly keen on. The battery pack, for example, rattles around unsteadily in its housing and the hinged flap that hides the SD card slot feels flimsy in the extreme. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that it's quite easy to accidentally tap, swipe or otherwise touch the top-mounted microphone with your little finger while gripping the unit, with potentially disastrous results for your sound recording.
The Panasonic HDC-SD10 isn't perfect by a long shot, but, overall, the good points outweigh the bad. Combining small size and convenience with decent performance, Panasonic's petite video star is simple enough for first timers, yet offers plenty of useful options for more experienced users.
Edited by Charles Kloet