panasonic hm-ta20

Although smartphones are taking over the world of casual video recording to a certain degree, small video recorders can still carve a place for themselves by offering something unique.

The Panasonic HM-TA20 obviously does that with its waterproofing and dust-proofing, but we were also hoping for an improvement in video quality over what you get from smartphones, since it's a stand-alone device.

Overall, we'd say that's what we got. The TA20 is a decent performer for the kind of device it is, with the 1080p video capable of producing some decent detail under the right conditions.

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Inevitably, it has its weak spots, though. The small size of the sensor means that footage is still a little soft when it comes to small, fiddly details, such as trees in the distance.

One of the more disappointing aspects is that there's not always that much of a noticeable improvement in quality in 1080p footage over scaled-up 720p. In close-ups of complex objects, it might be worth sticking with 1080p, but for wider shots, we'd say you could save some memory and stick with 720p without too much of a penalty.

The electronic image stabilisation system also seems to result in footage that looks a little off at time, as though mildly distorted, but it does to a good job of keeping judder to a minimum.

Colours are accurate, and it does a good job with them up even in overcast conditions. The iA control does its job well, with people picked up well and skin tones looking fairly natural.

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There's not a huge amount of depth to the videos, but that's normal for this type of camera. There's a zoom, but it's only digital so there's a loss of quality, it's jerky and it's controlled by the imprecise touchscreen.

Movement is captured fairly well, and though there is some artefacting in the areas of motion blur, it's not as bad as on most if not all smartphones, so the image on the whole looks better. Swift panning can look a little juddery, but it's no worse than we'd expect.

The underwater footage was very strong, picking up detail from fairly still objects nicely. Motion underwater was much like out of the water; good, but not great.

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Most importantly, the TA20 did survive several trips into both still water and a fast-flowing stream without any problems, and several drops from around its rated height. We couldn't test it down to the full three metres underwater, but it passed our shallow tests just fine.

You can take photos with the TA20, but we wouldn't really recommend it. The camera struggled to let in light, so pictures look quite dark. Detail is decent enough – on a par with many phone cameras – but with no optical zoom, zooming in will reduce quality, as you can see below.

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The battery lasted us for a day of filming, but you'll want to be sure to have a way to charge it each night if you're going to be recording often.