Panasonic reveals a drop-jaw,
eye-opening, not physically possible, yet-here-it-is, High Definition CamCorder, the HDC-SD9!
Here's one of those rare products that transcend the status-quo by such a giant step that the world has to take notice, realign its maps of what is and what is not probable or possible, and move on, forever altered.
This time, Panasonic is the mover/shaker. And to them, it just seemed like the natural next step in a continuous process.
Here's the deal: In March '08, this HD CamCorder will be in your local camera store. Where it blazes new trails is in its size and weight. But that's the tip of an iceberg of features that you WILL want, and eventually insist on from all future camcorders.
Specs on the size are officially 2.56 x 2.64 x 4.96 inches, or for the more metrically oriented, 65 x 67 x 126 mm.
That's so small that a slight of hand magician could keep it in his hand right in front of you and have it suddenly appear out of thin air at arm's length.
That's so small, that you can keep it in a generous jacket pocket.
That's so small that you can lose it in a purse.
That's so small that you can hide it on a bookcase.
The picture on top is deceptive. In the shot, it looks about as big as everybody else's small hand-held HD camcorder. But it's not. Its cylindrical contour, rounded edges and tight curves give it about half the volume of the HV20, an HDV camcorder from Canon. Sony has some small ones, but in volume they're about 30% larger, something difficult to appreciate until you look at them side by side, or at PMA, a few booths apart.
It's light, too. No tape transport at all. Everything with this model goes into an SD card formatted as AVCHD video. At the best of four selectable image qualities, that means technically, the data is arriving on the card at 17Mbps (with VBR AVCHD), or about half the data rate of DV and HDV signals in those tape formats.
That means 2 hours of superb HD on a 16GB SD card. A fully-charged battery will record for up to eight hours on a charge. Two batteries fit it, the rechargeable lithium ion VW-VBG130 with 1320 mAh, and the VW-VBG260 with 2640 mAh. The camera draws a measly 5.8 watts during recording.
It's not the best image quality you can acquire in a small HD camcorder, but it is true 1920 x 1080 output. You can shoot in compromised definition, too with as low as 6Mbpsstill high definitionextending the life of the same 16GB SD card to about 6 hours.
There's even a 24p option for the people who like progressive movie frame rate images. That can land 24 still images onto the SD card every second, making sporty shots at high definition a viable still mode.
Here's a biggie: the images are captured with a 1/6-inch CCD, But before you groan, here's the kicker: there are three of them, one for each primary color.
With three CCDs, the dynamic range and tonality of images is greater than with single CCD cameras. Taking advantage of that, options to invoke several image-tonality improvement features are available. Intelligent Contrast Control lifts the detail in shadow areas, even automatically balancing shots that have high backlighting. A separate backlight shooting mode can also be invoked. Up to 18db of gain is selectable and noise reduction is strong. Face detection can assist in focus and exposure of detected faces.
Here's an oddity: When you set 24p mode, the color adjusts to a more cine-looking interpretation of the scene. Reds, golds and greens are perked up to look more like the typical adjustment pros use with digital cine cameras. We expect Hollywood cinematographers to use these as hidden C/D/E cameras in future productions. If one were to grab just two seconds of screen time in an edit, it would have paid for itself ten times over.
It's light, too. About half a pound (competing models weigh up to 15 oz, about twice the weight). Meaning you can tape it to your car's hood (37mm UV filter for bugs recommended), hold it aloft as long as you can hold your arm alone, mount it to lightweight pods of various designs, attach it to the dashboard, clip it to a picture frame, or hang it out a window as far as your tripod can reach.
The view screen is 2.7 inches in diagonal and there is no internal monitor. Good news: it's not directional viewing. You can lift the camera overhead and still see all the detail on the screen, even when it isn't facing you. Just flipping the monitor out turns the camera on. Closing it automatically saves battery life.
Audio is captured with 5.1-channel Dolby Surround Sound, and as the lens zooms, so does the pattern that the mic captures, if you wish. You can set this for front-only and ignore the zoom idea.
A novel pre-record feature keeps you sane when you thought you might have just missed that shot. As long as the camera is powered up, it remembers the last three seconds of what the lens has seen. Meaning when Bigfoot steps out of the flying saucer, you hit the Record button and everything from three seconds PRIOR to recording is saved to the SD card. Uh huh. You get Bigfoot, the saucer and all. CNN will give you megabucks for the footage.
Image stabilization is optical and Panasonic touts it as Advanced. The system attempts to iron out hand shake with 4000 solid-state gyroscopic samples per second and the tiny 3-30mm zoom lens element that is being wrestled around to eliminate the shake is so light that the system doesn't eat noticeable power. You can shut the idea off for tripod shots.
Lens zoom, as noted, is 10:1, equivalent to 42 - 420mm zoom in 35mm still camera angles of view. F stops range from f/1.8 at wide to f/2.8 at tele.
AVCHD editing can be instantly accessed with a growing number of editing programs. Final Cut Express 4, iMovie08 (by March), Pinnacle Studio 11, Sony Vegas 7, Ulead Video Studio 11 and more arriving all the time. An AVCHD codec for Final Cut Pro 6 will do it on Mactel machines, so using these diminutive HD eyes all over your Reality Show or movie set is a distinct possibility.
Panasonic has promised to send us one for review, but from what we have seen, playing with it at PMA, the expectations are high.
Question number one: Did they ever think of it as being Excess-y? At least the rock group INXS knew what they were doing. But I digress.
Perhaps this is a bit excessive for a Digital Rebel.
- It has a LOT in a small package.
- 3-inch monitor,
- 12.2 MP CMOS sensor,
- Live View with two focus modes,
- 3.5 fps shooting,
- DIGIC III processor,
- 14-bit RAW,
- new 18-55mm IS kit lens,
- Anti-dust system (as in prior models),
- Spot meter (4% of center),
- Self-Timer continuous mode,
- Bigger view through the viewfinder than prior Rebels,
- BG-E5 battery grip.
In all a great-looking upgrade over the Rebel XTi.
Question number two: How come the Rebel XSi gets the 12.2MP sensor while the 40D did not? Canon's own US people don't understand the Marketing Department's strategy with this.
At the risk of editorializing, wouldn't it make more sense to have introduced the 40D with 12.2MP and delayed it to PMA to have joined the Rebel XSi? They did a similar thing with the Rebel XT (10.1MP in Aug '06) and the 30D (8.2MP in Feb '06). It's like they're using the lowest cost camera to drum up excitement that you can't buy for love or money in their upscale models.
This forces many of Canon's best pro customers to put up with smaller, less agile cameras while they wait the clock out on the same features showing up on the much more expensive, better sealed, more rugged pro models. According to their usual timetable, the 45D (or whatever they call it) will be available in 12.2MP somewhere in March, 2010-ish. Annoying, that.
Canon Rebel XSi, $900 with lens. In April.