Pros: Very small size. Relatively high-quality video.
Cons: Few manual controls. No pro audio inputs. Limited editing support in major video applications.
We were sceptical about a camcorder that records high-definition video onto an SD Card. The Panasonic HDC-SD1, however, captures (and stores) video of exceptional quality for a sub-£1,000 model. Yet, the compression format it uses introduces a different problem: an inability to edit footage in some applications.
At its best quality setting, the HDC-SD1 records 40 minutes of 1080i video to the included 4GB SD Card, using the AVCHD format developed by Panasonic and Sony. Currently Final Cut Pro 6, and Sony Vegas support AVCHD, but Premiere Pro CS3 and Avid Xpress Pro don’t.
Forget about using the software included with the camcorder; though you can use it to export standard-definition video to a DVD, it’s nearly useless beyond that. You can’t even use it to watch your footage full-screen on your computer. Since the camcorder has component outputs and an HDMI port, however, you can play back the unedited footage in high-definition on an HDTV.
Video I captured in well-lit settings looked gorgeous, and even video taken in dim, indoor rooms looked surprisingly good – and much better than that from the standard-definition camcorders I’ve seen. The HDC-SD1’s microphone captures 5.1-channel audio, too – but being a consumer-focused camcorder, there’s no pro inputs.
Panasonic says the HDC-SD1 is the smallest HD camcorder yet, and it’s certainly smaller than many standard-definition models, despite its larger-than-average, 3-inch LCD. The tube-shaped body measures roughly 6.5cm in diameter and 14cm long; it’s very comfortable to hold. The device’s few manual controls could be easier to use, however. To adjust the shutter speed, for example, you have to press a tiny joystick on the back once for each step in speed.
The current editing limitations are significant; but considering the small size, the SD1 can be considered the first take-anywhere HD camcorder – though we wouldn’t recommend trading in your pro-level camera for it.