Panasonic SDR-S100 3CCD SD Card Camcorder Review

Small, But Not A Wimp

What happens when you make a 3CCD camcorder that is about the size of your fist and records onto SD memory cards? Panasonic's SDR-S100 has that and more with just the right amount of style to make any gadget freak salivate.

The SDR-S100 is a fun and inspiring camcorder. Consumer shooters who want a more stylish and unique camcorder have a serious consideration to make. Is this the beginning of a new revolution for all the tape-based consumer videographers out there? Probably not, but if you want to be the early adopter on your block, now is a good time to look into solid state recording.

Pint Size Fun

The SDR-S100 is definitely one of the smallest camcorders we've seen. At times, its size can be a little awkward if you have large hands. Without a side hand strap, it's rather cumbersome. Fortunately, the supplied wrist strap will help insure that a slip won't end in an expensive paper weight.

Each side of the camcorder is relatively sparse of features, except the back end where the controls are located. Underneath the 2.8" LCD, the SD card slot can be accessed. Panasonic is shipping this camcorder with a 2GB SD memory card. While a 2GB SD card might sound like more than necessary, consider that it can hold about 25 minutes of video at the highest quality. Additionally, the SDR-S100 captures sharp stills with its built in flash and 3.1 megapixel chip set.

On the opposite side of the camcorder, accessing the video and still playback/record modes is accomplished with a dial. Here is where you'll also find the door to the internal battery. The lithium ion battery can be swapped out if necessary by unsnapping the outer door. This type of battery design can't expand to larger and longer lasting batteries. If 90 minutes won't cut it for your video recording needs, be prepared to find a nearby outlet or have a couple spare batteries ready to go.

Most of the controls are located on the back of the camcorder and the SDR-S100 really shines with the simplified controls. Navigating the menu with the cursor button and switching between auto and manual control is a breeze.

The only real problem with having all the controls in one area is using the jacks while you're shooting. If you have a video monitor or the power adapter hooked up while shooting, the camcorder becomes even trickier to handle.

A Lookie at the Lens

The Leica Dicomar lens with a two step neutral density filter is a really nice touch. It's capable of an optical 10x zoom and up to 100x digital zoom. When first becoming acquainted with the camcorder, the zoom lever was difficult to work smoothly. After a little practice, zooming became a snap. Another nice touch is the optical image stabilizer, which is a strong necessity for such a small camcorder. We found that operating this camcorder induces jitter due to its small size. If you pay close attention and hold the camcorder carefully, you should be able to keep it steady even at the full length of the lens.

The auto focus performs fairly well. Our test footage revealed some focus hunting, but mostly in poor lighting conditions. In most situations where this is a problem, the manual focus can be activated. Although, we found that controlling the focal length manually is a near impossible task, because the controls are so touchy. We also found the another manual control setting to be a little bit of a hassle. The gain control can be manipulated manually, but any adjustment won't stick if you move away from the gain adjustment to another manual adjustment (i.e. shutter speed). This can be a real headache, as it forces you to rotate through the settings for several cycles before getting the exposure you want.

Listen Up!

The onboard microphone on the SDR-S100 is located on the top-rear of the camcorder, so it picks up a fair amount of operator noise. The mic's directional performance is not ideal, as it struggles to pick up sound beyond 10 feet in front of the camcorder. Meanwhile, if you're not careful with your hands or you chirp in some dialogue from behind the camcorder, you'll overpower the sound from in front of the mic.

These issues are not made any easier without a mic input, so you'll have to settle with a mediocre pick up range with the onboard mic. The SDR-S100 does, however, offer a headphone jack, via an adapter cable that plugs into the A/V jack, to help you make the best of what you've got. Overall, the playback of the audio sounds very clean and full.


Here's Looking At MPEG-2

At the highest recording mode there is very little if any visible compression artifacts and is comparable to Mini DV. The real contributor to this high quality mode is the ability to record at 10Mbps, which is a slightly higher than the maximum bit rate for a standard DVD disc. During playback of our footage we were able to see that a good amount of detail and the colors look mostly accurate, with a slightly cooler look than most consumer camcorders.

Conclusion

Having the convenience of a small, lightweight and easy to use camcorder makes the SDR-S100 a top candidate for any consumer shooter. While it's limited in its expandability of battery and audio options, its portability could make it useful for the casual shooter who is on the go. All this and you can look incredibly stylish, too.

TECH SPECS

Format: MPEG-2

Media Type: SD Memory Card

Number of CCDs: 3

Size of CCDs: 1/6"

Pixels on CCD: (k) 800

Video Effective Pixels (k): 640

Focus: Auto/Manual (using dial)

Shutter Speed: Auto/Manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/8000

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/60

Lens f Stop: 1.8-2.8

Program Exposure Modes: 5

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 3.0-30.0mm

Image Stabilization: Optical

Manual White Balance: Yes

Viewfinder: no

LCD Monitor: .8" wide, 21k pixels

Strengths

  • Good image quality
  • Small and lightweight
  • Some manual controls

Weaknesses

  • Non-expandable battery design
  • Awkward handling
  • Poor range with onboard mic

SUMMARY

Gadget freaks and celebrities agree, this camcorder is easy to use, small and stylish.

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