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Panasonic HDC-SD1 Review

Panasonic HDC-SD1
MSRP $1,499.00
“I'm not given to hyperbole but the HDC-SD1 is at the top of the pack for consumer camcorders circa early 2007.”
  • SD card-based; 1080i video featuring 3 CCDs and optical image stabilization
  • Expensive; HDMI cable is not included; no accessory shoe


This new Panasonic is part of a wave of high-definition camcorders making their significant presence known. Why do I say “significant”? Well, friends, it’s the start of new era in home video making as standard definition takes a back seat to high-def as HDTV goes totally mainstream. Who in their right mind wants to view lesser quality home videos when sparkling 1080i images are readily available at their fingertips? We’re the first to admit this new camcorder wave is very expensive compared to models that cost 300 bucks. But standard definition Mini DV camcorders cost $3,500 when they arrived in 1995 so you know what’s going to happen. If you’re into saving memories—and most camcorder purchasers do it for just that reason—new baby, great vacation, the urge to create your own “Borat”—whatever, seriously think HD instead of SD.

Sony pioneered consumer high-def video—and is slowly bringing the price down. This trend will continue now that Canon and Panasonic have entered the field. Still figure spending at least a grand to play this game. That said the $1,499 Panasonic HDC-SD1 is amazing (due in March). It’s the first camcorder to record high-def to SD or SDHC memory cards—other models use tape and hard drives; and it uses the AVCHD codec like competing Sonys. Since there are barely any moving parts, the -SD1 is as compact and lightweight as can be. You really have to go to a store and handle it. You’ll be just as knocked as I was when I first used a prototype last December. Since this is a very high-end Panasonic, the camcorder uses three CCD chips to record HD video and has Mega O.I.S., the company’s phrase for optical image stabilization. Given all these features, I made myself a pain in Panasonic’s butt at the January Consumer Electronics Show in order to get one of the first production models. They delivered and now it’s my turn to deliver a review…

Features and Design

The Panasonic HDC-SD1 is a perfect example of the blessings of solid state memory. Because video is recorded directly to Secure Digital or SDHC cards, bulky tape mechanisms and HDDs are nowhere to be found. This let Panasonic engineers create one of the slickest-looking camcorders ever. While it won’t have the cachet of the iPod or iPhone, it’s very sleek and stylish – a true small wonder. The -SD1 measures 2.9 inches wide, 2.71 high and 5.6 inches deep; it weighs 17.4 ounces with battery, SD card and strap.

The horizontal-style camcorder has a minimalist design with very few buttons. The plastic body has a silver tone while the LCD monitor door has a pearl-like luster. The front is dominated by the 12x Leica Dicomar zoom with a built-in lens cap. You can add filters and accessory lenses that fit the 43mm diameter twist-off ring. Other than a built-in flash and a recording lamp and remote sensor located under the lens, our tour of the front is complete. The right side has the adjustable Velcro strap, speaker as well as a compartment for USB and HDMI outputs. You’ll also find a small outlet for the cooling fan. The left side is dominated by the 3-inch foldout widescreen LCD monitor so you can easily frame your 16:9 videos. The LCD is rated 250K pixels, a solid number. Once the screen is open, you’ll find keys on the body that switch focus (auto, manual) and brighten the LCD screen. You’ll also find the SD card slot and another compartment for the A/V and component outputs as well as the mic and DC ins.

Hurray! The top of the camcorder has a 5.1-channel mic so you can record surround sound tracks using Dolby Digital 5.1 Creator. We’ve always wondered why competitors let Sony tout this feature for years without implementing it themselves. I guess someone finally woke up back in Osaka and decided it was time. But I digress…You’ll also find the wide/tele zoom toggle and a snapshot button to record stills (a barely decent 1920 x 1080 is the maximum). You won’t find an accessory shoe to add optional lights. Definitely minimalist as we said earlier.

The rear layout is very tidy. There’s a central mode dial with a record button right in the middle (Off, Video, Playback and PC are the settings). To the right is a small four-way joystick controller with set button. You’ll also find menu and delete keys. Other than the cooling fan inlet, that’s all there is. In keeping with the very modern styling, the battery has its own compartment on the bottom so it’s safely tucked away. What more can I say? I really liked the style and layout of this 2007 camcorder.

The HDC-SD1 comes with a basic kit but most important it’s supplied with a 4GB Class 2 SDHC card. Setting the camcorder in the highest resolution mode, you can record 40 minutes of 1080I video. For most casual home video makers, this is plenty of time but additional SanDisk 4-gig cards are $120 list but we’ve seen “no names” for half the price. Along with the card is a battery/recharger, remote, A/V, USB and component cables (no HDMI) and a software CD ROM.

Once the battery was charged and the basic settings entered, it was time to record.

Panasonic HDC-SD1
Image Courtesy of Panasonic



  • Video input type
  • Camcorder
  • Digital zoom
  • 700 x
  • Effective sensor resolution
  • 1.5 megapixels
  • Gross sensor resolution
  • 1.5 megapixels
  • Optical sensor size
  • 1/4 in
  • Optical sensor type
  • 3CCD
  • Min illumination
  • 2 lux
  • Digital video input format
  • Image stabilizer
  • Optical
  • Min shutter speed
  • 1/50 sec
  • Max shutter speed
  • 1/8000 sec
  • Shooting modes
  • Digital photo mode
  • White balance
  • Custom, Presets, Automatic
  • White balance presets
  • Indoor, Outdoor
  • Exposure modes
  • Program, Automatic
  • Flash type
  • Built-in flash

Lens System

  • Lens aperture
  • F/1.8-2.8
  • Optical zoom
  • 12 x
  • Lens system type
  • Zoom lens
  • Min focal length
  • 4 mm
  • Max focal length
  • 48 mm
  • Auto focus
  • TTL contrast detection
  • Filter size
  • 43 mm
  • Equivalent 35mm focal length
  • 38.5 – 462 mm
  • Manual focus
  • Manual, Automatic
  • Zoom adjustment
  • Motorized drive

Memory / Storage

  • Image storage
  • JPEG 1920 x 1080
  • Flash memory
  • 4 GB – SDHC Memory Card

Viewfinder / Display

  • Display type
  • LCD display – TFT active matrix – 3 in – Color
  • Display form factor
  • Rotating
  • Display resolution
  • 250,000 pixels

Audio Input

  • Audio input type
  • Microphone
  • Microphone type
  • Built-in
  • Microphone operation mode
  • Stereo

Expansion / Connectivity

  • Connections
  • 1 x Microphone, 1 x USB, 1 x Composite video/audio output, 1 x Component video output, 1 x HDMI output
  • Expansion slots
  • 1 SD Memory Card
  • Cables included
  • 1 x, 1 x A/V cable kit, 1 x USB cable, 1 x, 1 x

Additional Features

  • Video input features
  • Direct print, Built-in speaker, PictBridge support, USB 2.0 compatibility, Backlight compensation, Dolby Digital 5.1 channel recording, Dolby Digital AC-3 (2 channel) recording
  • Remote control
  • Remote control – Infrared
  • Software type
  • Drivers & Utilities
  • Included accessories
  • AC adaptor, AC cable, DC cable, Battery pack, Component video cable, A/V Cable, USB cable, SDHC Memory card, Remote


  • Battery type
  • – Lithium ion
  • Power supply included
  • Power adapter + battery charger – External

Physical Characteristics

  • Width
  • 2.9 in
  • Depth
  • 5.4 in
  • Height
  • 2.6 in
  • Weight
  • 15.2 oz


Before we get into the pluses and minuses of this camcorder—Caveat emptor! Please note that while taking high-def videos with the HDC-SD1 and other 1080i camcorders is easy, going beyond simple direct playback on your HDTV via HDMI or component inputs is challenging. You can burn a DVD for playback but it will be standard definition—so what’s the point of spending $1,500 other than sending a disc to grandma? For best quality you need a new Blu-ray Disc burner to do the trick and they cost around $699. You’ll also need a Blu-ray player if you want to move away from the computer and the cheapest is the Sony PlayStation 3 for $499. Of course, Panasonic wants you to simply take the card out and insert it into one of its multi-thousand dollar plasmas with a compatible SD card slot. No one said it was cheap being in the vanguard of home electronics technology.

This camcorder uses three CCDs rated 560K pixels apiece; each handles a primary color of Red, Green, Blue (RGB). We’ve been very pleased with previous three-chip Panasonics PV-GS300 and this one is no different. As a mater of fact, the video from this camcorder is phenomenal. It’s been a long time since I was impressed with a new technology and that’s been the case with all of the next-gen camcorders from Sony, Canon and now Panasonic (HDV and AVCHD). In this instance there wasn’t a bit of noise even with footage shot indoors using Magic Pix (Panasonic’s name for a low-light boost similar to Sony’s Super NightShot). I took some scenes is a dark corner and there was hardly any noise even with severe close-ups. (This was via a 36-inch Toshiba 1080i HDTV using component inputs, sitting just three feet away.) Granted there was some blur with moving objects in dark scenes but you can’t have everything.

In bright sunshine your jaw will drop at the quality. Focusing was quite good with very little grabbing, even shooting through windows. Most people record in Auto and they’ll be very happy with the results (as you can tell, I was). If you want to go beyond Auto, the camcorder has a very clear and logical menu system. To get into the five Scene modes and manual options, simply flick the switch opposite the LCD to manual. Using the joystick you can toggle through all the options such as sports, portrait and so on. There are also options for manual focus, white balance, aperture as well as soft skin mode and tele macro. In other words, more than enough tweaks for 99 percent of the camcorder users out there. There was even a very helpful guidelines option that place rules on the LCD screen so you can make sure your horizons are straight. This is a very cool and usable feature. And the Mega OIS definitely smoothes out footage from handheld operation. The camcorder also has Auto Ground Directional Standby (AGS), a mouthful that simply means the camera won’t record when you place it to your side and hold it upside down.

As mentioned earlier, this is one of the few camcorders (outside of select Sonys) with Dolby Digital 5.1 Creator sound. If you have a surround sound system, you’ll really get a kick out of it. The microphones are on the top of the housing. When you engage the zoom mic it zeroes in on the subject you’re shooting, helping to anchor the action. And be careful: when you zoom do it smoothly without snapping the toggle switch since the mic picks up this annoying sound.

In case you’re wondering why this camcorder has a cooling fan and vents there’s a reason—it definitely got warm after a long period use but nothing that’s a real bother—it’s just there.

Like all camcorders, this one takes photos and you can take 2.1MP snapshots while you’re shooting video. Quality is good but nothing to shout from the rooftops; the Canon HV10 does a much better job of that. Still it’s a nice option to have.

Panasonic HDC-SD1
Image Courtesy of Panasonic


This camcorder is amazing. I’m not given to hyperbole but the HDC-SD1 is at the top of the pack for consumer camcorders circa early 2007. Given its size, design—and most important—the quality of its high-def video, anyone looking to be on home video’s razor edge, should check this baby out. Yes, it’s expensive but Porsches tend to cost more than Chryslers. And once you start recording in high-def, standard definition memories will be a thing of the past.


• Beautiful industrial design
• Takes high-def video with surround sound
• Compact and lightweight


• Expensive
• No HDMI cable supplied
• No accessory shoe (hot or cold)

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