Panasonic HDC-SD600 review
3x 1/4.1in CMOS sensor, 1,920x1,080, 12.0x zoom, 325g
Back in June we looked at Panasonic’s flagship camcorder models, and concluded that the memory card based HDC-SD700 was the camcorder to buy if you were feeling flush – on release it was nearly £700, though you can pick it up now for £650. Here we’re looking at its little sibling, the SD600, and despite its significantly lower price, surprisingly little has changed.
At its heart is an identical triple-CMOS sensor array to that in the SD700. Also the same is the image processing technology and the wide angle F1.5-2.8 lens. Simply put, you get identical video to the stunning SD700. Colours are accurate, though still a little oversaturated for our tastes, and the detail levels are stunning. In addition, there’s little noise apparent in all but the worst lighting conditions.
Other advantages it has in common with its more expensive sibling include excellent optical image stabilisation, the aforementioned lens with an equivalent 35-420mm zoom range, and it even takes decent stills too. Most users will be more than happy with video quality using the 1080i 17Mbit/s mode. You can switch to full progressive 50fps, but the resulting 28Mbit/s files eat up memory card space and are incredibly unwieldy to edit.
There are differences between the two camcorders, but they won’t bother most users. The display is very slightly smaller, at 2.7in rather than 3.0in, but it has the same 230,400 dots. More notable is the removal of the viewfinder, which is handy when shooting in bright conditions. This helps make the SD600 a touch more compact, though once you’ve included the large battery hanging out the back, the differences are minimal. Speaking of battery life, the SD600 is excellent, with an hour and three-quarters of continuous shooting from a full charge.
It’s in the audio department that the real compromises have been made. The microphone on the top of the camcorder captures Dolby Digital stereo audio, rather than the 5.1 audio on the SD700. Gone are both the microphone and headphone sockets, along with the accessory shoe for mounting external microphones or camera lights. For serious users, high-quality audio is a big deal, and these changes are a major issue – but casual point-and-shoot users will be untroubled. The range of manual controls is also reduced, confirming that this isn’t the best model for enthusiasts.
There are no flash memory or hard disk variants of this camcorder, but then we haven’t seen any such camcorders recently that are worth buying over the memory card-only models. The SD600 can take the new SDXC cards, with capacities currently running up to 64GB. However, 16GB SDHC cards can be had for under £20, and each one will hold up to two hours of 17Mbit/s 1080i video.
DSLRs and Micro-Four-Thirds cameras are now a serious challenge to traditional camcorders when it comes to shooting high-quality video. However they aren’t as easy to use, or as compact, as the HDC-SD600. It’s a great camcorder for those who want to shoot the best holiday videos, and we narrowly prefer it over Canon’s slightly more expensive Legria HF M306 – both in audio quality and low-light performance. More serious users should spend the extra money on the SD700, however.