If you like to stay one step ahead of the crowd, the Panasonic SDRS100 is a camcorder that will keep pace with you. Panasonic is blazing the trail towards solid-state video capture with this diminutive, three-chip camcorder. Ever since the company introduced its professional P2 system, which captures broadcast-quality video on SD cards encased in sturdy pro-style cartridges, the writing has been on the wall for the consumer market. JVC beat Panasonic to the punch with its Everio line of ultracompact camcorders that record to Microdrives as well as flash-memory cards, and this first MPEG-2 solid-state consumer model from Panasonic is set to go head-to-head with them, along with future models we can expect to see from these and other manufacturers.
The Panasonic SDRS100 is so small that you might confuse it with earlier models that recorded lower-quality MPEG-4 video on flash memory cards. But, as Panasonic is quick to point out, this is a real camcorder, equipped with all the features home-video shooters expect and intended to divert your attention from the MiniDV cameras that have dominated the camcorder market since the digital video era began.
One of the smallest three-chip camcorders on the market today, the Panasonic SDRS100 offers both portability and style to home video makers. It's a camcorder that you can carry around as easily as you would a compact still camera and Panasonic has been careful to omit the protrusions and dangling pieces that can make the whip-it-out-of-your-bag-and-shoot style of videography a clumsy proposition. There's a built-in shutter that protects the lens, dispensing with a separate lens cap. If you leave the camera set to On, the shutter will open as soon as you flip open the LCD viewfinder and then close when you fold the screen down.
We were able to leave the SDR-S100 on standby for days this way to capture short, spontaneous video clips when the moment arose without having to wait for the camera to power up and without draining the battery. The LCD itself provides a wide-screen view and folds down to cover almost an entire side of the camera. There's no eyepiece viewfinder to supplement it, which helps keep the model compact and streamlined.
The streamlined design extends to the Panasonic SDRS100's control layout, which places almost all buttons and switches on the back of the camera within reach of your thumb. The only exceptions are an LCD-brightening button, a release for the pop-up flash and the main Mode dial, which is also within reach of your right thumb, although it's on the side of the camera. From top to bottom, the camera-rear controls include the power switch, a swivelling zoom dial with the record button in the centre, a four-way controller, the menu-activation and delete buttons, and a switch that lets you select automatic operation, a manual mode and manual focus.