The HDC-DX1 represents Panasonic's first tentative step into the world of disc-based High Definition Video (HDV) camcorders, though its track record with cassette and hard-drive HDV camcorders suggest that this shouldn't be anything less than an impressive debut.

Recording onto DVDs - 8cm DVD-R discs to be precise - the DX1 is able to store a maximum of 30 minutes of top notch footage per disc, which means that you'll have to carry around more than a handful of discs if you're planning on shooting a minor epic, but for the serious videomaker this should pose no great problem.

The DX1 pretty much ticks all of the important boxes that serious filmmakers expect a worthwhile videomaking tool to do, and a few more besides. Like all camcorders, it offers fully automatic operation out of the box so that even complete beginners simply have to point and shoot.

For those that want to take a bit more responsibility for the main controls, there's a choice of five Program AE modes and four white balance settings, but for the serious videomaker it's the manual options that really matter, and the DX1 doesn't disappoint.

Overrides include everything from focus and white balance through to shutter speed and iris control and these are made using the small joystick on the LCD screen surround (more on this later).

Footage can be captured in HF, HN or HE modes, with HF being the highest quality setting (capturing just 14mins of 1080i footage to a disc), while HN and HF offer increased shooting time at the expense of image quality.

Further features that you won't find on run-of-the-mill camcorders include shooting guide lines to help frame a shot, zebra patterning for highlighting poorly exposed areas of the image, colour bars to help set up your TV or monitor and a manual focus assist mode that enlarges the central part of the image so that you can make sure that it is correctly focused.

Elsewhere on the DX1 is a dream team line-up when it comes to socketry. As well as the usual analogue composite video outputs and microphone input, there are component video outputs for outputting to an HD Ready TV and, more importantly, an HDMI for connection to a suitably equipped LCD or plasma screen.

There's an SD card slot (although you'll have to invest in a card as one isn't supplied) for storing stills and an accessory shoe for adding an additional light or microphone to the top of the camcorder.

Serious stuff

An initial inspection of the DX1 very quickly reveals that this is a camcorder aimed much more in the direction of the serious film maker than towards the camcorder user who simply wants to capture their own hilarious You've Been Framed calamities or film their mates down the pub.

For starters, it's big, really, really big. With its 680g weight, this massive brick of a camcorder has more in common with the analogue models of yore than those fiddly fag packet-sized digital cams you currently find dominating the market.

Of course, this is no bad thing. That extra bulk ensures that the DX1 is better balanced in the hand and so easier to hold steady when shooting without a tripod.

Meanwhile the larger chassis ensures that there's plenty of room for all of the controls. Pleasingly, these fall easily to hand and, like previous Panasonic camcorders, are dominated by the thumb joystick, which is used for both navigation of the onscreen menu and adjustment of the extensive range of manual controls.

While this is undoubtedly an intuitive and comfortable way to operate the camcorder, the more serious videomakers among you may find the lack of a lens ring for focusing hard to take - especially considering the camcorders that rival manufacturers are offering for a similar price.

Reviewing footage on a 42-inch LCD screen, the DX1 provided everything that we've come to expect from the HDV format. For those of you used to DV material, the difference is marked - fine details, clarity and colour reproduction are all cranked up a couple of notches to reveal a picture that is about as close to the real thing as it's possible to get.

Perhaps the first thing to jump out at you when you first take a look at your crystal clear footage is the oodles of image detail that give scenes an almost hyper-realistic feel - this is what the world would look like all the time if you had perfect 2020 vision.

Newspaper print, the dust on shelves, even the grime on windows are all picked up with unerring accuracy. Look closely you'll even be able to count the beads of sweat on your actors' brows and the hairs on their chins. And so they'll certainly need to employ some pretty expert make up if they don't want every blemish or imperfection on their skin exposed.

Equally impressive is the way that the DX1 maintains the sharpness and solidity of hard edges and solid blocks of colour. Colour reproduction, meanwhile reveals a broad spectrum that's as capable with bold primary colours as it is with dark inky blacks and pure peak whites.

Clearly, this isn't the cheapest camcorder on the market and with so many sub-£500 DV models on offer it's easy to question the validity of that £1,000 price tag.

However, those DV camcorders don't come even close to the DX1 when it comes to picture quality and you'll find that most rival HDV options are priced in a similar bracket. While this may help make the expenditure of a grand on a new camcorder a little bit more palatable, the only question you need to ask yourself is just how important to you is a proper dedicated manual focus ring?