The Panasonic NV-GS500EB-S is an extremely good camcorder that offers a host of controls, shoots extremely realistic video and is very flexible.
There may be much cheaper camcorders available, but this offers a lot of features. The NV-GS500 is solidly constructed, featuring a tough metal frame that should protect it better than the lightweight plastic bodies of many camcorders. It's on the large side; at just over 1.3kg, this is in fact the heaviest camcorder we've tested. But it fits well in the hand and puts commonly used controls at your fingertips.
You get a good selection of manual controls with the Panasonic. You can put the camera into a fully manual mode or use shutter- and aperture-priority. There's also a selection of scene modes for automatic use. The Panasonic is quite unusual in that its manual focus is actually convenient to use. Instead of having to fiddle with an onscreen control to focus, you can use the focus ring on the front of the device.
As with the NV-GS300, a lot of the weight sits on the left side of the camcorder, which means it tilts to the left unless you keep a tight grip. You control the onscreen menu with the joystick located next to the mode dial, which is awkward. You'll probably be able to reach the joystick with your thumb, but it'll be a stretch – ideally use two hands.
The battery life of the NV-GS500 was impressive: at 132 minutes, it's long enough for a couple of days away from a power source. And when it comes to the all-important video quality, output is bright and accurate, with plenty of fine detail.