The Panasonic HM-TA1 is a pocket-sized HD camcorder for the Web 2.0 blogging set. Dubbed a "multimedia mobile camera", the Panasonic HM-TA1 can be used to shoot video, snap digital photos or even as a webcam. It boasts Full HD video recording, an 8-megapixel still image mode (via interpolation) and inbuilt software that lets you upload your creations directly to Facebook or YouTube.
With an RRP of just £149, the Panasonic HM-TA1 is an enticing proposition for casual videoographers. Its video output is very impressive for the asking price, with a reliable low-light performance. On the down side, it lacks the advanced features found on some budget HD camcorders, such as the Kogan Full HD 1080p Deluxe Touchscreen camcorder and Millennius Memmoir Gold. Consequently, if you're looking to get creative with your video you may want to look elsewhere.
The Panasonic HM-TA1 is basically a high-def pocket camcorder in the mould of Cisco's trend-setting Flip Mino HD. (Sony and JVC have also entered the pocket cam market, with the Bloggie MHS-PM5K and GC-FM1 respectively.) Measuring 104x52x17mm and weighing a mere 110g, the Panasonic HM-TA1 is smaller than most digital still cameras. However, it remains easy to shoot with thanks to its large, tactile buttons. Like most pocket cams, the controls are limited to basic functions, such as zoom, record, playback and photo mode.
In terms of design, the Panasonic HM-TA1 is pretty hard to fault. The version we tested sported a glossy black finish with silver edging (white and red variants are also offered). It's certainly more stylish than the average pocket cam, which tend to have cheap, plastic cases (we're looking at you Sony Bloggie MHS-CM5). On the down side, the connectivity flaps are a bit fiddly and may break off over time. We were also disappointed by the lack of a lens protector — instead, the smudge-prone glass remains exposed at all times.
To assess the Panasonic HM-TA1's video performance, we shot footage in a variety of lighting conditions. We then played the footage back on a Pioneer KURO PDP-C509A plasma TV using the supplied Composite AV cable. Surprisingly, the Panasonic HM-TA1 does not come with an HDMI output, which is a regrettable omission for a Full HD camcorder. This means you will need to transfer your footage to a PC if you require full resolution.
The Panasonic HM-TA1's 5-megapixel CMOS sensor captured some attractive looking video, with accurate colours and sharp detail. We noticed some minor ghosting during fast camera pans, but this is a common issue with pocket camcorders (after all, they are designed primarily for blogging, which is a stationary activity for the most part). We were particularly impressed by the HM-TA1's performance in low lighting, with less noise than we are typically used to. Panasonic has also included an inbuilt camera light — something that most pocket cams lack.
All in all, we were more than satisfied by the quality of our video output. Still images were equally pleasing, especially in sunny environments. If you're looking for a cheap camcorder than you can make photo prints with, the Panasonic HM-TA1 will fit the bill nicely.
For sound, the Panasonic HM-TA1 relies on an inbuilt stereo microphone that provides average audio quality. Unfortunately, there are no manual options to speak of, nor an external microphone jack. This is par for the course with pocket cams, but we really wish it wasn't. Aren't blogs supposed to be all about the dialogue? In any event, the included mic proved adequate during testing, though we wouldn't recommend it for noisy, outdoor shoots.
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