It sounds like the perfect holiday camcorder: it weighs 290g, it has three CCDs and a 10x zoom lens, takes 3-megapixel still photos, and offers optical image stabilisation and SD-card recording, all for less than £600. And that includes the 2GB SD card and the remote that come in the box. But while the Panasonic SDR-S150 might seem like the traveller's dream come true, it doesn't really live up to expectation, especially at its current price.
We have few complaints about its design, however. Light, compact, and comfortable to hold, the S150 even has a rubber nub at the bottom of its grip that allows you to quickly place your hand without accidentally putting your finger over the lens -- a big problem with units this small -- though we frequently find that we don't know where to put our index finger while shooting. It also feels surprisingly sturdy and well made.
An automatic sensor turns the S150 off when you fold down the LCD. The zoom and navigation controls are easy to operate with your thumb. You connect to a PC via the USB 2.0 port, and a single proprietary-connector multi-AV cable delivers composite or S-Video output plus audio.
It's slightly annoying that there are separate modes for each state: movie recording, movie playback, still-photo recording, still-photo playback, and one to tell the S150 there's a computer on the other end of the USB cable.
The SDR-S150's modest feature set makes the menus and manual controls easy to understand and navigate. You can activate the wind filter or enable zooming for the mic, or choose from among three different recording-quality options -- best quality (25 minutes on the bundled 2GB card), medium quality (50 minutes) and lowest quality (100 minutes). You can also jump between wide-screen and standard 4:3 aspect modes, enable the optical image stabilisation and digital zoom, and boost the sensor gain for low-light shooting (MagicPix).
When shooting in Auto mode, your options are limited to backlight compensation, Soft Skin mode and a zoom macro mode. The Soft Skin mode seems somewhat redundant, since the video is never sharp enough to show the kind of detail that makes a mode like this necessary.