Tape and DVD camcorders are succumbing to the combined onslaught of solid state and flash memory capture. This is Panasonic's first hard disk model, and it's hoping that by wheeling out its 3CCD technology, it'll be able to compete with the offerings from Sony and JVC.
You'll be able to buy the SDR-H250 from May, and at the time of writing Panasonic hadn't decided on a price, but as a guide, rival products retails for between £500 and £600.
The petite, sexy H250 is clearly part of Panasonic's 'palmcorder' family. Its rounded silver plastic case is fronted by a Leica-branded 10x zoom lens, although anyone actually using the camcorder will spend most of their time gazing at the battery pack at the back. As usual with Panasonic, this chunky grey cube looks ugly and constantly gets in the way of your thumb.
Key controls fall under your right thumb and index finger. The zoom rocker on top is fast and silent, while the cluster of buttons and dials around the back has been well thought out. A mode dial circles a precise four-way, push-to-select joystick that makes short work of the H250's clear menus, the record button is nice and large, and even the delete key has been made tricky to reach to avoid accidental erasures.
There is, however, one notable omission from the back of the camera: a viewfinder. The 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD on the left is fine for daylight framing and playback, but anyone who's serious about movie-making will miss the ease of a viewfinder when shooting at night, or when power is running low.
Facing the fold-out display are a range of specialist buttons, including controls to boost screen brightness, activate the on-board LED and switch from fully automatic to manual modes.
As a hard disk camcorder, the H250 is smaller than MiniDV or DVD rivals, but it's not especially light, thanks to the shock-absorbing gel that surrounds its 30GB hard drive. There's also an SD slot for the bundled 512MB card. Usefully, the H250 can take the new high capacity (up to 4GB) SDHC cards.
While this is Panasonic's first hard drive camcorder, much of its technology has been lifted directly from tape and disc predecessors. The Leica Dicomar zoom is optically stabilised with Panasonic's ever-impressive OIS system, and feeds light to triple 800K CCDs. Having a separate CCD for each colour component (red, green and blue) should give brighter, cleaner hues, but can lack sharpness compared to a single, higher-resolution chip.
With such an up-to-date specification, it's bizarre that the H250's chips are 4:3 in shape: shoot in widescreen for modern TVs and you'll lose a whole chunk of resolution. Clips are recorded in MPEG-2 video (the same format as DVD), with a choice of qualities reflecting the bit rate. Top quality XP recordings are captured at 10Mbps, giving room for just six minutes of footage on the supplied 512MB card, or seven hours on the hard drive.