Panasonic HM-TA20 £179.99
7th Jun 2011 | 11:19
The Flip pocket camcorder may be dead, but its legacy lives on in rival products
Panasonic HM-TA20: Overview and features
Despite the fact that Cisco recently killed off its Flip line of camcorders, other manufacturers are keeping the point-and-shoot video camera legacy alive.
Panasonic is doing its part with the Panasonic HM-TA20.
It's a waterproof and shockproof video camera capable of recording Full HD footage, as well as eight-megapixel still images.
With its bright, chunky design, it's intended as a kind of holiday camera you use anywhere and chuck in a bag with a wet towel and sandy shoes, without having to worry about it.
It can record footage in 1080p, 720p and 480p, all at 30fps. It records in H.264 MP4 files to an SD/SDHC/SDXC card, with audio in two-channel AAC, except for the lone audio recording function, which uses LPCM for maximum quality.
The waterproofing is rated for down to three metres, while you should also be able to drop it from 1.5 metres without incident.
There's an LED flash, which can also be used as a video light, but it's notable only really for being weak. It won't make much of a dent on a dim room, let along a black cave.
You start recording using the big red and silver button on the back, but almost all other functions are performed using the three-inch touchscreen. It's resistive, which means that it's nowhere near as responsive as the touch panels on mobile phones, but this is necessary trade-off - capacitive touchscreens don't work well (if at all) in water.
You have to hold the TA20 upright to record, which is a little annoying, since it restricts the screen to portrait orientation. This means that you're always viewing it in a portion of the screen, although this does mean Panasonic's been able to fit some controls below, including the zoom controls. When playing back, you can view in landscape or portrait, though.
Panasonic's intelligent auto (iA) system is in use here, which adjusts the exposure and white balance as you go. It's paired with a live facial recognition system, so whoever you're recording will be presented in the best light possible. It's also got a much-improved night mode to round it off.
The TA20 is about the size of a modern smartphone, though a fair bit thicker. It's light enough to stick in a pocket and carry around without really noticing.
In the box, you get a USB cable and a small tripod. The placement of the threaded hole right on the edge of the TA20 makes this little tripod a little delicate, but it's capable of doing a job.Oh, and it can be picked up for around £150.
Panasonic HM-TA20: Performance
Although smartphones are taking over the world of casual video recording to a certain degree, small video recorders can still carve a place for themselves by offering something unique.
The Panasonic HM-TA20 obviously does that with its waterproofing and dust-proofing, but we were also hoping for an improvement in video quality over what you get from smartphones, since it's a stand-alone device.
Overall, we'd say that's what we got. The TA20 is a decent performer for the kind of device it is, with the 1080p video capable of producing some decent detail under the right conditions.
Inevitably, it has its weak spots, though. The small size of the sensor means that footage is still a little soft when it comes to small, fiddly details, such as trees in the distance.
One of the more disappointing aspects is that there's not always that much of a noticeable improvement in quality in 1080p footage over scaled-up 720p. In close-ups of complex objects, it might be worth sticking with 1080p, but for wider shots, we'd say you could save some memory and stick with 720p without too much of a penalty.
The electronic image stabilisation system also seems to result in footage that looks a little off at time, as though mildly distorted, but it does to a good job of keeping judder to a minimum.
Colours are accurate, and it does a good job with them up even in overcast conditions. The iA control does its job well, with people picked up well and skin tones looking fairly natural.
There's not a huge amount of depth to the videos, but that's normal for this type of camera. There's a zoom, but it's only digital so there's a loss of quality, it's jerky and it's controlled by the imprecise touchscreen.
Movement is captured fairly well, and though there is some artefacting in the areas of motion blur, it's not as bad as on most if not all smartphones, so the image on the whole looks better. Swift panning can look a little juddery, but it's no worse than we'd expect.
The underwater footage was very strong, picking up detail from fairly still objects nicely. Motion underwater was much like out of the water; good, but not great.
Most importantly, the TA20 did survive several trips into both still water and a fast-flowing stream without any problems, and several drops from around its rated height. We couldn't test it down to the full three metres underwater, but it passed our shallow tests just fine.
You can take photos with the TA20, but we wouldn't really recommend it. The camera struggled to let in light, so pictures look quite dark. Detail is decent enough – on a par with many phone cameras – but with no optical zoom, zooming in will reduce quality, as you can see below.
The battery lasted us for a day of filming, but you'll want to be sure to have a way to charge it each night if you're going to be recording often.
Panasonic HM-TA20: Verdict
The Panasonic HM-TA20 reminds us why stand-alone devices still have a place, despite the ubiquity of smartphones as do-it-all wonders. By offering waterproofing, shockproofing and 1080p video for a quarter of the price of buying a high-end phone, this stands out as an obvious candidate to be a holiday video recorder.
The design of the TA20 is great, and we liked the metallic orange of our review unit. it's comfortable to hold, and though isn't super thin or light compared some modern electronics, it can still be carried around all day without weighing you down.
The ruggedness of the TA20 is a really strong feature, too. It feels totally safe and reliable in the water, and survived several drops without any complaint. For people who don't take such good care of their gadgets, this is the perfect camcorder.
The video quality is also quite strong, which is always a major plus for a camcorder. Panasonic's iA and face tracking make a great addition to a simple video device.
We understand why the screen has to be resistive, but then lumpings such like the zooming into it makes it awkward to work with. Of course, only having digital zoom is also a shame, and the fact that's jerks while zooming compounds the misery. What we're getting at is: stay away from the zoom.
There are some issues with the picture quality, including some artefacting and the odd wobble it can pick up while trying to stabilise shots, which we can't gloss over. They're not crippling problems, but they are there. It's also a shame that the 1080p footage didn't have more detail in wider shots.
As a knockabout, point-and-shoot video camera, we thoroughly recommend the HM-TA20. It's ideal for a family holiday where it might get dropped by the kids, or for a surfing trip where it'll get dumped in the water and thrown in with sandy clothes.
It's not the last word in picture quality, but this kind of device isn't supposed to be. It does its job, which is to take decent footage in any condition.