Panasonic’s camcorder tree has quickly grown into a healthy, blooming oak, and sat right at the top is the new flagship HS100.
It packs a 60GB hard drive and Panny's brand new 3MOS system that whips out the CCD sensors used in most of its 'corders and replaces them with three of the now in vogue CMOS variety. Others have done the same but the HS100 is the only camcorder to use three of the blighters – one for each colour.
Like others decent cams, it’s laced with manual controls, but the HS100 adds a unique rotating lens barrel to control the manual zoom and focus, just like a DSLR camera. It even gets a streak of eighties red around the ring and a proper viewfinder to compliment the 2.7in LCD. Old-school.
The viewfinder and lens ring keeps it one step ahead of the Canon HF10 on features. That cam uses flash memory for its 16GB of storage but, like the HS100, has an SD card slot for adding more, plus all the usual hot shoe, headphone and mic inputs for fully tooling up your wedding shooter.
Pan and zoom
So how does it actually perform? Well, forget the 3MOS hype because without doubt the killer feature is the tactile lens ring. You can pan and zoom like a pro with one turn of its silky smooth bearings – or switch it to manual focus duty. If there's one feature that will improve the quality of your filming, it's this.
Which makes it all the more annoying that the picture isn't quite as perfect as the 3MOS billing might have led us to believe. Colours pack the punch of an Opal Fruits commercial, but once again Panasonic's three small sensors (as opposed to one big one) are undone in low light, making the picture seriously gloomy at times.
Our ears are kept happy with the 5.1 surround sound that whips Canon's stereo effort but overall the picture seems a tad grainy. Not terrible by any means, but not quite the clinical sharpness we might have hoped for, especially when compared to Canon's HF10.
While we're on things to grumble about – that four-way nudge controller Panasonic's seen fit to stick inside the LCD cavity. It's flat as a pancake with all the precision of a bingo dabber. Where are those lovely thumb sticks it used to stick on the back? At least the menus themselves are organised.
So, a disappointment? Not really. The picture isn't quite there (it's not far off) and the menu controller may be from the comedy props department, but the rest of the camcorder is sublime. It's the lens ring that makes it and we can forgive the odd spot of grain for the sweet pan and zooms it lets us perform.
The twirling lens ring and footage are a triumph. Only disappointing low light performance lets it down