Panasonic HDC-HS60 £599
8th Feb 2010 | 15:11
Compact Full HD camcorder offering over 50 hours of movie storage
Panasonic HDC-HS60: Overview
The Panasonic HDC-HS60 is a brand new full HD camcorder which packs internal storage galore as well as many other nifty features.
However, when less than £200 gets you a pocket-sized, YouTube-friendly movie camera like the Flip or even Apple's iPod nano, why would you want to spend over £500 on a camcorder – even one as crafty and compact as Panasonic's HDC-HS60?
Welcome to a conundrum facing not just consumers but camcorder developers as well …
The crux of the problem is that as established camcorder manufacturers make their conventional models smaller – though still rammed with features – they're asking buyers to make a decision on products that while not much bigger than pocket-shooters can often be more than twice the price.
Entering this fray is the HS60, a spec'd-up, Full HD (1,920x1,080) camcorder, which doles out the type of modes a Toshiba Camileo or Samsung HMX-U10 can only dream of, and which forms part of a three-pronged '60' series that includes the TM60 and SD60.
Movie clips are recorded, using the AVCHD format, to an impressive 120GB HDD.
With four recording settings this means there's the potential to record between 15 and 51 hours of video.
And the inclusion of an SD card slot increases this storage, as if you fill the hard drive the cam will automatically continue recording to any installed SD card.
The HS60 is the successor to last year's HDC-HS20 and Panasonic has grabbed the opportunity to upgrade some elements.
Chief among them is the ability to use SDXC, the latest version of SD card-recording technology. SDXC promises faster access and more reliability, as well as the increased capacity of 48GB and 64GB cards.
An already advanced optical image stabilisation system receives the boost of Power OIS with Active mode, and this eliminates low-frequency hand shake. There are also additions including a wind cut feature to further reduce interference on the microphone and a 25x optical zoom.
Panasonic HDC-HS60: Performance
One of the HS60's many positive elements is its ability to make you feel comfortable straightaway.
Despite a bulging feature list that mixes manual modes with face recognition technology, it's amazingly simple to shoot with.
Menus can be navigated quickly thanks to the combination of buttons and the touchscreen 2.7" LCD display. It's not quite as responsive as the iPhone or HTC's interfaces but it's a neat way to move around the menu.
Panasonic's decision to include a 35.7mm wide-angle lens on the HS60 really pays dividends as you can shoot at close distances while still fitting plenty into the frame.
Often with camcorders this compact you can find yourself constantly moving backwards to get what you need into the shot, but not here.
The footage produced is of the kind that got people excited about HD in the first place. It's crisp, sharp and packed with fine detail that shows up the subtle nuances of shots, whether that's a weave in fabric or ripples on a pool of water.
Admittedly there is jitter on complicated scenes (for example on fences, railings or grilles) but it only detracts a little from the impressive overall performance.
Colours are accurate – the red of a London bus is perfect on our test footage, when it can so often be reproduced too vibrantly or with too much orange on other models.
What the HS60 does lack – and in doing so highlights its difference from pocket-sized shooters – is the immediacy of a one-touch YouTube upload function.
These are common on the Flip, Vado and Kodak-type cams and enable you to share footage, via the net, incredibly quickly. The HS60 does, however, come with (PC only) software for copying, transferring and editing clips, and iMovie 09 is supported so Mac users are able to edit movies too.
There are also a couple of notable absentees from a connections list that does include a (mini) HDMI port, USB out and composite/component output.
Those 'lost in action' include a microphone input and headphone socket but these are often seen as the preserve of enthusiast/semi-pro models The HS60 does offer an excellent mic level adjustment though that gives you a little more control over audio.
Minus marks are chalked up for a video light that covers no real distance, but this is nit-picking stuff for a camcorder that can be marked excellent most of the time.
Even the 5MP stills performance, though hardly an exceptional resolution, is creditable and there's enough flexibility with flash, flash level, self-timer and red-eye reduction modes to get properly creative.
Panasonic HDC-HS60: Verdict
If we return to our original conundrum, we can now add a few answers.
Yes, it is possible to envisage spending this much on a camcorder, as the HS60 admirably demonstrates what the extra outlay delivers.
A zoom as smooth and extended as the HS60's 25x isn't available on pocket-shooters, nor is the flexibility of its manual modes.
And, the quality and capacity of the wide-angle lens not only allows you to cram more in the frame from shorter distances but also helps produce high-definition images worthy of the name.
The wide-angle lens, 25x optical zoom and Power optical image stabiliser deliver the platform for the HS60's superb imaging but the real wow factor comes from the images – and that's as it should be.
The 120GB HDD is a fantastic storage solution with the SD-card option providing the backup to ensure you won't be left looking to record but unable to.
Easy to use and comfortable to shoot with, the HS60 never makes you feel like you're struggling to know how best to utilise it. There's even an alternative record button on the frame of the LCD, which is often easier and quicker to access than the main button.
Aside from the weedy video light and the odd extra-press needed on the touchscreen LCD, grumbles are kept to a minimum.
A boost in still image resolution would, perhaps, add a touch of pizzazz to the spec shoot but it's debatable.
An enjoyable, practical and creative camcorder, and one that proves it is possible to make a mid-range product with wide-ranging appeal and sparkle.
Yes, it is expensive compared to YouTube-style cams but the reality is that it's so much more powerful and versatile than those models that it merits the extra investment – if high-quality images lie at the heart of your movie ambitions.