Recording full HD at 50 or 60fps has not been a realistic prospect for camcorder buyers on a budget, but it will be soon and at consumer prices, writes David Fox.
Panasonic has announced three new handheld, tapeless "semi-professional" three chip camcorders that will record 1080 50p/60p in AVCHD (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) at 28Mbps (variable bit rate) - Sony's new NXCAM and Panasonic's own professional AVCHD cameras (AG-HMC41E, HMC151E) record at 24Mbps for 1080 at 50i/60i (or 24/25/30p).
The small new 700 series camcorders could be of interest for professional use, especially for sports applications (such as a helmet cam or in-car camera) as 50/60p is better for fast motion recording. The cameras are also claimed to be particularly good in low light, and will be available from March 2010.
However, there are compromises. The 3MOS sensors are tiny (1/4.1-inch diagonal - packed with 3.05 megapixels each, with a total of 7.59 effective megapixels in 16:9 - they can also be used for higher-resolution still images). The new "wide-angle" 12x Leica lenses are anything but - when most professional, low-budget camcorders offer lenses of 24-28mm (35mm equivalent), this is 35mm, so will probably need a wide angle adapter for in-car use - although in low light it opens to F1.5 and has a manual focus/iris ring.
The cheapest version, the Panasonic HDC-SD700, is _799 (and only seems to be available in Europe). It records to SDHC/SDXC memory cards. The HDC-TM700 (_899), records both to cards and 32GB of internal memory. The slightly larger HDC-HS700 (_1099) records to a 240GB hard drive and the cards.
Other features include: Optical Image Stabilisation; an Intelligent Auto function with Face Recognition, which can track any of up to six registered faces in the picture and optimises the focus and exposure for them; Smile Shot, which automatically takes a still photo during video recording when it detects a smiling face; 5.1-Channel Surround Sound using five zooming (highly directional) built-in microphones (plus an external microphone mini jack); an improved Wind Noise Canceller for the microphones; Electronic Viewfinder; a 3-inch LCD that automatically adjusts its brightness according to the ambient light; and HDMI output.