The next-generation successor to Panasonic hard disk-based HS100 ups the stakes considerably. The HDC-HS300 doubles that model 60GB hard disk to 120GB and, as the top AVCHD recording data rate remains the same, it can store a whopping 15 hours of footage.
But the most significant change in specification is the sensor array. The size of the three CMOS sensors has been increased from 1/6in to 1/4.1in, and helping this along has been a drastic increase in resolution per sensor, from 0.61 mega pixels to 3.05 mega pixels. This also means the HS300 can shoot 8.3-megapixel stills in camcorder mode, and 10.6-megapixel ones, with interpolation, in pure digital camera mode.
Panasonic has actually reduced the functionality of the lens ring. It can still control zoom or manual focus, but its white balance, shutter, and iris operations have been removed, unless you are using the electronic viewfinder. This is because of the HS300 second big new feature: a touch screen LCD, bringing with it similar functionality to the Sony finger-friendly operations on its touch screen camcorders.
However, Panasonic takes things a little further. In AFAE mode, a single touch sets both focus and exposure according to where in the frame you touch. But if that position happens to be a face, the face-tracking technology will follow your subject as they move, keeping them properly exposed and focused throughout. It is not a perfect system, but we found it sufficiently capable to be useful.
What really sets the HS300 out from its predecessors, however, is its image quality. Although previous models provided excellent performance in good lighting, their smaller sensors produced a little more grain and discoloration than the best HD camcorders in lower light. Now the HS300 maintains greater colour saturation in poorer illumination, and when grain does start to appear it is finer and less intrusive.
Overall, the Panasonic HDC-HS300 offers the best image quality we have yet seen in a consumer HD camcorder, and its enthusiast features are comprehensive. The only major feature caveat is that progressive shooting remains bundled with the Digital Cinema colour mode, so can not be used with AFAE. That was not expensive for a HD camcorder three years ago, today it will keep the HS300 firmly in the niche realm of the serious video maker.
|Media Storage Type||HDD (120GB), SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card|
|Lens / Filter Diameter||F1.8(WIDE) / 4.0(TELE)|
|LCD Screen Size||2.7 inch|
|LCD Pixels||230,400 pixels|
|Still Image Resolution||Yes|
|Dimensions||70 x 141 x 73mm|