Overall most users will be impressed with the HDC-TM20's output despite the 1/6in MOS sensor.
By offering a choice of flash memory recording as well as a hard disk in its HD camcorders, Panasonic is helping users to make the transition from tape and DVD.
That’s important to those who still don’t trust several hours of home movies to a tiny hard disk drive in the camcorder, and for that reason alone the new Panasonic HDC-TM20 is one of several so-called ‘twin-memory’ camcorders that are grabbing a share of an increasingly difficult market.
At first glance, this AVCHD camcorder doesn’t differ much from last year’s SD9, which it effectively replaces in that its body styling and handling is very similar. The company is continuing its use of 1/6in image sensors in its HD camcorders at this price point, but it’s also working hard to bring us a whole range of interesting new features.
The so-called ‘1Mos’ sensor provides an effective 1,117,000 pixels resolution in both motion and still picture modes, and the HDC-TM20 uses the Mpeg-4/AVC H.264 high-definition video compression system to save 1920 x 1080/50i movies to either its 16GB built-in memory or to any Class 4 or Class 6 SDHC card using a choice of four compression settings, the highest of which employs 17Mbits/sec at variable bit rate. At that setting, it’s possible to save approximately two hours of full-specification AVCHD per 16GB of storage at the HA setting, increasing to two hours 40 minutes (HG), four hours (HX) and six hours (HE) respectively. Using a 32GB SDHC card (the maximum possible under the current AVCHD specification), it’s possible to record four hours at the highest-quality setting and 12 hours at the lowest. A 4GB card will give 30 minutes at the highest setting and an hour and a half at the lowest.
One feature new to Panasonic AVCHD camcorders is the touch-screen LCD, which, when combined with the frame-side Menu button and a new graphical menu system, makes changing functions easier. However, precise control of functions such as manual focusing is still fiddly. Of course, a touch screen is still a contentious issue with the purists, but it does make things easier. Simply point at a part of the screen and instantly teach the camcorder which part of the image to focus on.
Other useful features include Pre-Rec, which continually stores three seconds’ worth of video, and can be committed to storage the moment something unmissable happens. Shooting Guide provides a range of on-screen prompts and suggestions based on the way the camera is being used. And there’s also Panasonic’s excellent optical image stabilisation (OIS) technology. Added to that are a couple of other really useful features in the form of AF Tracking, which enables you to set the focus and exposure of a moving object (such as a person’s face) then track it as it moves around, while face detection is linked to this mode, in which the faces of up to 15 people can be identified and tracked.
There’s no viewfinder, but the 2.7in colour LCD screen is now accompanied by Menu and Trash buttons on the lower-right edge of the LCD frame. On the optical side, the impressive Leica Dicomar F1.8-F3.3 zoom lens provides 16x optical zoom, with a further 40x and a somewhat questionable 1000x digital zooms available. The 5.1 channel surround sound from the upward facing mic cluster works very well – as long as there’s not so much as a whisper of wind.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the Panasonic HDC-TM20 will impress many users. Despite the small 1/6in MOS sensor and slightly grainy images when recording images indoors in low light, its output is immensely pleasing, especially when displayed on a decent HD monitor. Its best feature? Fill up its internal memory while recording and it will seamlessly switch over to the memory card and vice versa without you even knowing. That means you have the potential for 48GB of flash memory storage at any one time.