The Panasonic HDC-HS9 is a hybrid HD camcorder capable of storing recordings either to a removable SD card (meaning they are limited to the size of the card), or to its 60GB built-in hard drive.

Footage can be shot in one of four modes with the best capturing up to 7hrs 40mins of 1920 x 1080 resolution material (on the 60GB hard drive) while the worst provides the extended recording time of a whopping 23hrs but at a lower 1440 x 1080 resolution.

A compact but heavy camcorder

Although quite compact, it is perhaps too large to fit into a pocket. But it's still snug enough to nestle comfortably in the palm with the main controls easily accessible for even those with smaller hands.

And although it is a weighty piece of kit, it doesn't feel too heavy in the hand. Instead it gives you the feeling that you are in firm control.

Buttons are limited to all but the very essential and the main features are hidden away within the pages of the onscreen menu. This is clearly designed with the various shooting modes and functions split into logical folders making it easy to find a specific one.

Awkward controls

Navigation and manual adjustments are made using a small joystick that is both small and difficult to control precisely.

However, it's the location of this joystick that really beggars belief as it is positioned behind the LCD screen, making it near enough impossible to use without annoyingly blocking the screen with your hand.

This blunder aside, the HS9 has plenty going for it. Features include all of the usual manual controls (focus and white balance), plus one or two not so common ones (shutter speed, aperture, gain and iris).

For newcomers, there's the option of displaying guidelines to help frame shots, plus a range of onscreen advice (including everything from suggested Program AE modes to panning speed) to help improve shooting.

The more discerning operator, meanwhile, will be pleased to note the inclusion of zebra patterning and colour bars.

Great picture performance

While we weren't too happy with forking out £30 for a mini HDMI cable - unfortunately there wasn't one bundled with the camcorder - the HC9 offers an otherwise exemplary performance.

Colours are realistically displayed, fine details often reveal more than the naked eye can see and movement is resolved without blur or ghosting. The only minor frailty concerns the image stabiliser, which though optical can be rather unforgiving.

If you can get around the challenging location of the joystick on the Panasonic HDC-HS9, you'll be delighted by what this solid performer is capable of.