The Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is a bold step forwards into 3D videography. Perhaps more importantly, it doubles as an excellent 2D camcorder. If you own a 3D TV, it represents a very logical purchase.

The Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is the world's first consumer-targeted 3D camcorder, following in the footsteps of the professional-level Panasonic AG-3DA1E. Like its prohibitively expensive stablemate, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 uses a detachable 3D conversion lens that records left-eye and right-eye images simultaneously to produce stereoscopic video. This video can then be viewed on a 3D HD TV, such as Panasonic's Viera TH-P50VT20A 3D plasma TV (you can also view movies on a 3D-capable monitor).

In addition to taking 3D video, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is a superb camcorder in its own right. It is capable of taking stunning Full HD video in all but the dimmest environments, with plenty of manual modes and features for hands-on videographers. (A manual servo ring is provided on the lens barrel.) On the down side, the 3D interface definitely takes some getting used to, especially if you're used to point-and-shoot camcorders. The limited 3D recording options is also a bit regrettable. Nonetheless, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 marks an impressive first foray into the realm of 3D movie-making.

Panasonic HDC-SDT750: Design and specifications

The Panasonic HDC-SDT750 looks pretty indistinguishable from any HD camcorder on the market — until you attach the 3D conversion lens, that is. Indeed, the lens attachment is almost as big as the camcorder itself, measuring a whopping 88x56x73mm. This protruding front-end lends the HDC-SDT750 a bizarre and eye-catching appearance. It is sure to illicit inquisitive comments from passers-by — which is exactly what the owner of a 3D camcorder craves.

3D camcorder
The Panasonic HDC-SDT750, sans 3D lens attachment

On the down side, the 3D attachment's size meant we were constantly paranoid it would drop off and break. It just seems too chunky to be properly secured. Consequently, we were terrified of bumping the thing against a table or doorway and sending it spiralling to its doom. (For the record, it remained firmly in place throughout testing. Phew.)

The Panasonic HDC-SDT750 shares the same basic specifications as its 2D-only predecessor, the Panasonic HDC-SD700. Both camcorders come with a 1/4.1in 3MOS chipset, a 35mm wide-angle LEICA Dicomar lens with 12x optical zoom and an effective pixel count of 9.1 megapixels. According to Panasonic, the HDC-SDT750 boasts greater noise reduction than its predecessor, along with a revamped optical image stabiliser (the latter only works in 2D mode though). Other highlights include a 3.5mm microphone jack, an accessory shoe and a secondary viewfinder.

To record still images and video, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 relies on removable flash memory in the form of SD/SDHC cards. It is also compatible with SDXC — a new high capacity format with a potential storage capacity of up to 2TB. At present, only 64GB SDXC cards are available, but that's still enough to net you up to 27 hours of Full HD video (or up to 829,000 still images.) Annoyingly, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 does not come bundled with an SD card, so you'll need to source one yourself before you can start capturing video.

Panasonic HDC-SDT750: 3D video

The Panasonic HDC-SDT750's biggest selling point is its 3D video capabilities. If you've splurged out on a 3D TV and realised you don't have anything to watch on it yet, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is the answer to your problems. (Note: The HDC-SDT750 is compatible with all 3D TVs and monitors, so you don't have to buy a Panasonic Viera TV if you don't want to.)

Calibrating 3D images is a tricky process involving four separate steps. Once the lens attachment has been properly fastened (an irksome task in itself), you need to adjust the position of the lens using three separate dials. The trick is to get both stereoscopic images perfectly aligned on a vertical and horizontal axis.

3D camcorder
3D calibration dials

We think this may present a steep learning curve for some users, particularly those who've been bred on entry-level camcorders. This isn't helped by an inscrutable manual that goes out of its way to confuse people (the 3D lens diagram is mislabelled, for example). That said, the process becomes second nature with a bit of practice — which is just as well, as you need to recalibrate the camera every time you detach the lens.

The HDC-SDT750's touchscreen LCD shows 3D footage in regular 2D. On one hand, this means you can watch and enjoy your footage in-camera, but on the other hand, you won't know if it's been properly calibrated until you get home and view it on your 3D TV. (Mind you, the alternative would involve wearing silly glasses in public or footing the bill for an expensive Nintendo 3DS-style screen.)

When shooting in 3D, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 shuts off the majority of controls, including manual focus and zoom. You're basically relegated to point-and-shoot duties, which is ironic given the complicated setup. Regrettably, the camcorder cannot be used to capture 3D photos, as seen on digital cameras such as the Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W3. When you consider that the afore-mentioned Fujifilm camera can capture 3D video, the omission becomes doubly frustrating. Hopefully the next iteration will let you capture 3D stills directly to SD cards.

NEXT: handling and video performance >>

See also: Group test: what's the best digital camcorder?

The Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is a bold step forwards into 3D videography. Perhaps more importantly, it doubles as an excellent 2D camcorder. If you own a 3D TV, it represents a very logical purchase.

Panasonic HDC-SDT750: Handling

Despite its top-heavy appearance, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 exhibits good balance during handheld use. If we had one qualm, it's that the camcorder body tends to get quite warm during operation. This can lead to sweaty palms, so make sure the handstrap is secure!

3D camcorder
Panasonic HDC-SDT750 in action

For menu selections, the HDC-SDT750 relies on a 3in touchscreen — which people seem to either love or hate. For the record, we found the menu interface to be responsive and well laid out. It would have been nice if Panasonic had included a stylus though. (This is something that earlier Panasonic camcorders have provided.)

Unlike most consumer-level camcorders, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 comes with a "multi-manual" ring around the lens barrel. If you plan to make short movies, or simply crave control, this tool is indispensable. It allows you to make minute adjustments to the focus for a proper cinematic feel. You can also use it to adjust the shutter speed, iris, white balance and zoom.

If you'd prefer to let the camcorder do all the work, don't fret — the new-and-improved Intelligent Auto mode does a good job of adjusting camcorder settings on the fly. It even gives you onscreen shooting tips when you do something wrong (such as panning too fast).

Panasonic HDC-SDT750: Video performance

To test the Panasonic HDC-SDT750's video performance, we shot footage in a variety of locations using both the 2D and 3D recording modes. We then played back the results on a Samsung Series 9 55in LED television, which sports 3D capabilities.

As expected, the camcorder gave a great showing in 2D, with the trio of CMOS sensors helping to minimise image noise. As with all camcorders, results were noticeably better in sunny, outdoor environments but it still fared admirably in low-light conditions. Its output easily competes with similarly priced camcorders from rival vendors — everything from colour accuracy to image sharpness is pretty spot on.

When it came to 3D movies, the Panasonic was slightly more problematic. Calibrating the camera is only half the battle — you also have to record subjects at an ideal distance (between 1.2 and four metres) and in optimum lighting. A steady hand is also required, which rules out moving car windows and the like. Naturally, you also have to be careful not to knock the 3D lens, otherwise the stereoscopic images could be jarred out of alignment.

We found that the 3D effect worked best on subjects that were around two metres away; any closer and you begin to see a faint double image, while distant objects recede into 2D. When you get the picture just right though, the results are definitely impressive. (The ol' reaching towards the camera trick never gets old, for example.) We can certainly see the appeal that 3D affords its users; especially families with children. A baby video that you can almost reach out and touch? It's hard to put a price on that.

3D camcorder
3D lens attachment

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best digital camcorder?

Panasonic HDC-SDT750: Specs

  • 3D Image Shooting with the 3D Conversion Lens, Advanced 3MOS System, 1080/50p Recording (Full-HD 1920 x 1080, 50 Progressive Recording), 3D Playback
  • 1/4.1-type MOS x3
  • 9.15 megapixels (3.05 megapixels x3)
  • Focal Length: 3.45-41.4mm Lens Brand: Leica Dicomar Lens
  • F Value: F1.5(WIDE)/2.8(TELE)
  • Optical Zoom: 12x
  • 35mm Film camera Equivalent: 35.0-420mm (16:9)/35.7-428mm (3:2), 35.0-420mm (16:9), 38.8-466mm (4:3)
  • Standard Illumination: 1400 lx
  • Digital Zoom: 30x/700x (The maximum value of zoom magnification)
  • Backlight Compensation
  • 3in Wide LCD (230,400 dots)
  • JPEG
  • 5.1ch Surround, Zoom and Focus Microphone
  • HDMI
  • Microphones (stereo mini)
  • Headphone (stereo mini)
  • SB 2.0
  • AV multi
  • 66x69x138mm
  • 375g
  • 3D Image Shooting with the 3D Conversion Lens, Advanced 3MOS System, 1080/50p Recording (Full-HD 1920 x 1080, 50 Progressive Recording), 3D Playback
  • 1/4.1-type MOS x3
  • 9.15 megapixels (3.05 megapixels x3)
  • Focal Length: 3.45-41.4mm Lens Brand: Leica Dicomar Lens
  • F Value: F1.5(WIDE)/2.8(TELE)
  • Optical Zoom: 12x
  • 35mm Film camera Equivalent: 35.0-420mm (16:9)/35.7-428mm (3:2), 35.0-420mm (16:9), 38.8-466mm (4:3)
  • Standard Illumination: 1400 lx
  • Digital Zoom: 30x/700x (The maximum value of zoom magnification)
  • Backlight Compensation
  • 3in Wide LCD (230,400 dots)
  • JPEG
  • 5.1ch Surround, Zoom and Focus Microphone
  • HDMI
  • Microphones (stereo mini)
  • Headphone (stereo mini)
  • SB 2.0
  • AV multi
  • 66x69x138mm
  • 375g

OUR VERDICT

Considering it's the first 3D camcorder in its class, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 is a pretty impressive unit. It comes with all the features you'd expect from a high-end Panasonic camcorder, along with the much-touted 3D conversion lens. Of course, the million-dollar question remains — is 3D the path to the future, or is it just a gimmick? Presumably, anyone who has bought a 3D TV has already made up their minds on that score, so it's a bit of a moot point. In short, if you're already on the 3D bandwagon, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 will provide a fun ride.

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