High definition is the buzzword in television and video, but not everybody is on board the HD bus. Even if you do have an HD TV, standard definition can still give you a cracking bargain: take the Panasonic SDR-S7, which will set you back a stonking £200. It's also absolutely tiny: good for the pockets, or too hard to handle?
The first remark from anyone laying eyes on the S7 is about its size. It sits in the palm of the hand, all extraneous fat stripped away. The big question is whether that portability will impact on performance. We don't think it does. In fact, where larger camcorders need a strap to keep the camcorder pressed to your hand, and even then your fingers have to stretch uncomfortably, the S7 can actually be gripped. Our fingers curled easily around the body, while the zoom rocker and record button were in easy reach of fingers and thumb.
Using the other controls is less easy, unfortunately. The lack of real estate at the rear has forced the menu buttons into the screen well. This is fine, except it necessitates turning the camera constantly to look between the menus on the screen and the buttons you're using to navigate, and back again. This is fiddly when altering aperture, white balance and especially focus.
The S7 may be a bargain but it doesn't look or feel cheap. It comes in silver and black, in the standard camcorder form factor. The screen folds out and rotates. There's no accessory shoe, but we do like the second record button placed at the front. This means the camcorder can be gripped with the thumb forward for waist-level shooting, and in either hand.
In a frame this size, an undersized screen might be expected. But the S7 sports a giant 69mm (2.7-inch) 16:9 LCD. Connections available are a multi-way analogue video/stereo audio socket, USB connection and DC in, all of which have cables supplied.
After a 0.6-second quick start, you get manual control over aperture and shutter speed, and a 10x optical zoom. Options include backlight compensation, night mode and soft skin portrait mode. It also has a proper manual, instead of a faffy quick start guide.
Footage is standard-definition DVD quality MPEG-2, in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. The biggest advantage of standard def is the smaller file sizes, which is important because this camera records to SD and SDHC memory cards. A 4GB card will hold 3 hours 30 minutes on long play. SDHC Class 6 cards allow up to 13 hours 20 minutes' MPEG-2 recording in LP mode on a 16GB SDHC card.