With its eye-catching, compact body and relatively low price, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 seems to be quite an attractive buy for a flash-based AVCHD camcorder. At 275g without battery and SD card and only 126mm long, it's certainly one of the smallest and lightest full-size camcorders we've ever tested, and is pretty comfortable to shoot with. It's available now for around £450.
The zoom switch feels responsive, and all the controls are logically placed and fluid to operate. Many of the buttons, especially the face detection and Pre-rec (for 3-second pre-recording) are a tad small, but that's to be expected on a device this size.
Panasonic did make a few irritating design choices, however, especially regarding the battery. To remove it, you have to open the LCD cover, which is fine as long as you don't use Quick Start mode, which turns the power on when you open the door.
In that circumstance, when you open the LCD to remove the battery -- as you must do to charge it, since you can't do it in-camera -- the camcorder naturally turns on. That means the electronic lens cover will stay open if you remove the battery then.
Furthermore, to download the files to your computer you have to plug in the AC adaptor (a pretty common requirement), but since the connector is in the battery compartment you have to remove the battery to do so.
Panasonic offers an optional Shooting Guide which prompts you with 'Camera panning too fast', 'Use Intelligent Contrast', 'Use OIS' and 'Use Low Light Mode' messages. Unfortunately, each of these messages takes up a huge chunk of the already too-crowded 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD screen, blocking your view of the scene entirely. In the case of contrast and panning, the messages seem to appear more frequently than not.
Panasonic manages to cram an impressive number of features into the SD9's tiny chassis. It contains a trio of 1/6-inch, 560,000-pixel CCDs with effective resolutions of 520,000 pixels each, as well as an optically stabilised 10x zoom lens. In addition to a handful of scene modes, you can manually adjust iris (aperture) and shutter speed, which is uncommon in its price class.
There's also manual focus, but on the tiny LCD it's difficult to use. A face-detection mode optimises exposure for people and a Pre-rec toggle records continually in the background, then saves the previous three seconds after you press the record button.
It also includes a dubiously useful 5.1-channel microphone, though we'd swap that for stereo with a headphone jack and mic input. Still, you can adjust the volume for each of the five channels independently.
Like the and its nearly identical little brother, , the SD9 records 1080i HD video at a full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution with a maximum 17Mbps bit rate. That's about 2 hours of best-quality video on a 16GB card. Like the Canons, it requires a Class 4 or better SDHC card for highest-quality recording.
Overall, performance is good. The SD9 adjusts exposure and focus relatively quickly, though like many consumer models, focus slows as light decreases. The image stabilisation works fairly well, but there's still some shake when zoomed out to the 10x maximum. The LCD seems to be worse than usual, however, seriously misrepresenting the white balance and exposure.