2009 Best Hard Drive Camcorder- Panasonic HDC-HS300 AVCHD Camcorder Review

View all of the best consumer video production products of 2009, selected by the editors of Videomaker

The Follow-Up

Following on the heels of last year’s HS100 (Videomaker‘s 2008 Best Hard Drive Camcorder winner), Panasonic has unleashed its HDC-HS300. This video camera is a beauty with the same user-friendly touch as the HS100 and offers a ton of impressive features, perfect for the consumer looking to move up in the world.

Are Looks Important?

Just like last year’s HS100, this HS300 is a very nice-looking, sleek camera. It fits right in the center of the palm and is very easy to shoot with. Weighing in at 1.14 pounds, the HS300 feels light enough to operate as a handheld, while still retaining enough weight to not feel loose and shaky. The battery pack attaches onto the back end, which is also where the AC adaptor plugs in, and it rests just below the viewfinder. Directly stage right, we have the operation dial, just above the Record button. The left side of the camera is home to a 2.7-inch touch screen LCD. Flip out the LCD and open a cover to reveal the camcorder’s outputs (HDMI, A/V component, USB) and the SD card slot.

The menu itself is easy to operate and does its job well with an icon-based interface. The accessory shoe is located on top. It is impossible not to notice the impressive, newly-developed and very large Leica Dicomer 12x optical zoom lens, with its surrounding trademark Panasonic Manual Focus Ring. The function has changed a bit from the HS100. Unfortunately, when the LCD is open, the lens ring works only with focus and zoom, which means that you have to use the viewfinder for the rest of the functions, and control of white balance, shutter speed and iris is through the touchscreen LCD. We see this as being a step back; however, it is still a very nice addition to a consumer camera. Finally, next to the lens lie the mic and headphone jacks.

Does It Have a Good Personality?

The Quick Power On of the camera was a surprise. We liked that, true to Panasonic’s claims, it took only .6 seconds to turn on and 1.9 seconds to power up be ready to record. Very nice in the never-prepared-for emergency shooting situation. One of the main differences between this model and last year’s HS100 is an improved version of Panasonic’s 3MOS chip system. Using three separate full-HD sensors, the camcorder yields 2.07 million pixels per shot. Needless to say, we were very impressed with the video quality.

The manual focus is extremely helpful in allowing shooters the freedom to customize their shots. The 30x digital zoom worked well – we didn’t notice any digital noise or artifacts until we hit that exact mark, which we liked. We found the magnifying focus assist function to be really helpful. This is essentially a small window that pops up inside the LCD and zooms in on your shots when you’re trying to focus up. It allows users to see if shots are truly in focus or not.

The HS300 can store up to 50 hours of video with its 120GB hard drive, which is double the capacity of the HS100. This means 15 hours of high-quality video. Shooters can also use an SD/SDHC card for an additional 32GB of storage. Another plus was that, if one destination fills up while in use, the other kicks in, which makes life easier if you’re in the midst of a stressful shooting situation.

As We See It

The Panasonic HDC-HS300 is the perfect all-around consumer-level camcorder. It packs a ton of bells and whistles to fit each shooter’s unique individual needs. The impressive Leica Dicomar 12x optical zoom lens and manual focus ring make shooting feel very professional. Panasonic truly has an innovative model here.

TECH SPECS

Recording Media: 120GB hard drive, 1 SD/SDHC card slot

Data Format: AVCHD (1080i)

Image Sensors: Three 1/4.1″ CMOS, 3.05 million pixels/sensor gross, 2.07 million pixels/sensor effective

Lens

Interchangeable Lenses: No

f-Stop: f/1.8

Optical Zoom Power: 12x

Focal Length: 4-48mm

Filter Diameter: 43mm

Focus: Auto/manual (lens ring)

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/8000

Image Stabilization: Optical

Internal ND Filter: No

Video Features

Manual Shutter Speed Control: Yes

White Balance Control: Auto, manual, preset

Direct Iris/Gain Control: Yes

Zebra Stripes: Yes

Viewfinder Color LCD Monitor: 2.7″, 16:9 aspect ratio

Frame Rate Modes: 60i

HD Focus Assist: Magnification

Color Bar Generator: No

Audio Features

Audio Modes: Dolby Digital 5.1

Standard Mic Input: 1/8″

VU Meters: Yes, on-screen display

Level Controls: In menu

Headphone Jack: Yes

Speaker: Yes

Video Input/Output

Analog Video In: No

Analog Video Out: Composite, component

FireWire In/Out: No

Analog to DV Conversion: N/A

USB (for Video File Transfer): Yes

Other Digital Video Out: HDMI

Miscellaneous

Wireless Remote: Yes

Battery Charging: On AC adaptor

Form Factor: Standard

Media Loading Orientation: Side

Onboard Video Light: No

Accessory Shoe: Yes, cold

Strengths

  • Manual focus ring
  • Intelligent auto
  • High-resolution stills

Weaknesses

  • Reliance of touchscreen interface

SUMMARY

Consumer camera at its best. Offers both manual customization and auto presets to conquer any shooting scenario.

Tom Skowronski is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor

Panasonic Corporation of North America

1 Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

www.panasonic.com

Price: $1400

Panasonic HDC-HS300 AVCHD Manual

View the Manual for the Panasonic HDC-HS300.

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