'Ease of use' is a subjective term, and can be confusingly used in reviews. How? Well, the SD900 is easy to use, in the sense that finding, activating and employing many of its controls is straightforward.
However, getting the most from its lengthy list of features isn't easy: it takes time and practice. But you won't be any the poorer for that. Finding the most appropriate, appealing or effective settings involves a journey of discovery.
The HDC-SD900 produces sumptuous, detail-rich images with precious few areas for complaint. It's an outstanding performer.
The auto white balance reproduces accurate colours, which give scenes an authentic, lifelike quality. Reds are calm rather than too vibrant and blues and greens have a natural resonance.
The SD900's autofocus is similarly effective and efficient. It detects subtle changes in the scene and acts decisively to return the image to pin-sharpness. With our test footage we attempted to throw it off course with ambiguous, difficult footage but it reacted quickly and with accuracy in all but the most-trying conditions.
What's easy to love about a camcorder that's so flexible and adaptable as the SD900 is that you notice so much more about your movies when you play them back. The intricacies of flowers, the sinewy flight of seagulls, these details come back to you in Full HD glory.
The camcorder is capable of smooth movement and even on fast-moving action we didn't see evidence of artefacting or excessive picture noise. The 35mm wide-angle lens also ensured we crammed as much of a shot as possible into the frame without having to move miles away.
And the 3.5-inch touchscreen is an absolute gift for both framing/composing shots and replaying them to see if you got what you needed.
The 0.27-inch electronic viewfinder is good to see, since viewfinders are a forgotten feature in the age of the LCD. However, while it's not as small as some we've seen, it's fair to suggest that the majority of users will choose the LCD instead.
Where it is easy to criticise a camcorder's audio performance is usually because of a lack of flexibility. The built-in mic may give middling performance but it's the inability to do anything about this that causes the aggravation. You're stuck with what you've got – or you have to record audio separately.
The SD900 doesn't fall into this trap: its mic-level adjustments, bass settings and range of mic options (surround, focus, zoom mic and stereo mic) neatly circumvent the obvious problems. Also include the external microphone input and you have a practical and productive set of controls.
The 'bare' audio isn't exemplary but it is clear, crisp and even on dialogue. The bass settings rescues a rather tinny performance on recorded music by providing a tangible sense of low-end sounds.
Photography settings are almost as impressive as movie recording, particularly since they concentrate on features that benefit snapping rather than being gimmicky.
The maximum resolution of 14.2MP is excellent – and the end results are detailed and sharp – while the 13.3MP 'compromise' quality you get when shooting stills while in movie mode puts many other camcorders in the shade.
The touch shutter function, used on the touchscreen LCD, adds a neat rapid-shooting element to the SD900's functionality and the flash is flexible enough to have settings for different brightnesses. Users will also love the fact that Histogram, Luminance, Picture Adjust and Zebra functions are available in photo mode as well as movie record mode.
Sockets and software
There is no area of complaint when it comes to the Panasonic HDC-SD900's range of sockets. HDMI (mini) output is for connecting to a high-def TV, USB 2.0 for computer connectivity, AV for non-HD device connection, and DC-in for charging up the battery.
There are also sockets for an external microphone input and headphone output: the latter so you can monitor the audio you are recording, and is a brilliant feature to have, too.
Software comes in the form of the Windows-only and rather simplistic HD Writer AE 3.0. Editing is best performed through a standalone software application. Panasonic's user manual indicates that the SD900 is compatible with Apple's iMovie 11.