Panasonic's small and conveniently packed Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD camcorder uses a three-chip image sensor, a rarity in the consumer camcorder market.

But the Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD uses that three-chip sensor to make up for each individual sensor's anaemic 1/6in size. There are many great features on the HDC-SD100, but image quality isn't one of them.

The Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD is very comfortable to hold and shoot. Panasonic uses a lens ring that gives the HDC-SD100 great manual controls, and the ring is truly intuitive.

You can use it to control the focus, iris, shutter speed, and white balance. The Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD's manual tools provide an easy way to deal with challenging shooting environments when the stock camera responses just aren't enough. It's much more effective than jumping through menus.

The focus assist that pops up when you are focusing (giving you a zoomed-in sample of the image to focus on) is a great and well-implemented tool. We did find it curious that, in adjusting the white balance settings, you have access to preset values only; you cannot, for instance, smoothly change the color temperature by 100-degree increments.

Outdoor is typically 5,600 Kelvin and Indoor is typically 3,200; but there are many potential variations in between, and it would be nice to be able to set the Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD to those intermediate settings.

The Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD has a viewfinder; cute, but most people won't use it and many people will accidentally hit the EVF/LCD switch on the top of the camcorder and then be confused as to why the video isn't showing up on the LCD (when you change from LCD to EVF, the LCD turns off). This is usually a power-saving feature, but looking through a viewfinder on a small camcorder hurts the video (because of added hand movement) more than it helps.

The component out port, AV/headphone jack, and SD card access are conveniently placed and protected on the side of the Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD (though we have some concerns about the longevity of the SD card release; it feels a little cheap, like it would just stop working over time). However, the power, mini-HDMI, and USB connectors are behind the battery. That's behind the battery.

(Sorry, we just needed to make sure were being clear because we're sure you didn't believe us the first time.)

You have to plug the Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD into an external power outlet to pull data off the card (without a card reader) or to use the HDMI connection. You also can't use the battery as a backup in case the power goes out - and camera batteries have saved my tuchus in such a scenario quite a few times. When we did transfer video from the Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD to a PC, we had no problems importing the movie files.

The Panasonic HDC-SD100 HD captures 5.1-channel surround sound that works surprising well. In addition to the onboard microphones, the camera provides a 1/8in audio input in the front.

It's a great implementation; you have the sound-in jack up front, and the headphone jack to the side. With these items plugged in, the cables don't conflict with each other when they are both being used by the more discerning shooter.

If you're planning to do anything remotely professional (like podcasting), separate audio-in is key.

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