It's getting a lot tougher for manufacturers to create a point of difference in a compact market stuffed full of neat, palm-sized shooters that boast days of recording time.
Hard disks are very much the order of the day in camcorder land, and if you're sporting anything less than a 40GB HDD you going to look seriously lacking.
That's why Panasonic has introduced the new SDR-H80: the HDD cam that goes that little bit further. As well as the capacious 60GB internal drive, shooting up to 14 hours of video in the top quality setting, you can also arm this cam with an SD card – sold separately – to increase recording time, and the frills don't end there.
The H80 also offers the largest optical zoom on a consumer cam and in a bid to unleash the imaginations of the masses, there's also a straight to YouTube function for budding filmmakers.
Compact and slimline, the H80 sits comfortably in the palm with perhaps just one rather ugly caveat – the protruding battery at the back end. Although this doesn't hinder what is a very straightforward point and shoot experience, it detracts from the stylish finish
The body of the cam has been stripped right down with the sturdy zoom and record button the only controls to concentrate on, both sitting neatly under the natural finger and thumb position.
Along the left flank there's also a Web mode setting, which is the first indication that this cam is capable of a little bit more than your average pocket shooter. Hit this and a 10-minute counter will begin – the maximum length of clips for You Tube – and when you export footage to the MovieCam Suite software provided Web enabled clips will be ready to share online via a You Tube account.
Finally, the 2.7 in LCD panel opens up to reveal the SD card slot, access to the auto and manual settings – where you can decide just how much of the work you want the camcorder to do for you - and, on the frame of the screen, the menu button and function toggle.
It's no surprise Panasonic has been talking up the H80's 70x optical zoom: it's fantastic. Even at full magnification there's barely a hint of a wobble, and it's possible to achieve steady, gradual close-ups, even shooting handheld.
For a lightweight cam like the H80 this is a remarkable achievement. Combined with responsive auto correction, particularly the focus, there's a raft of tricks onboard to ensure you can capture excellent movies with the minimum of fiddling around with the settings.
There are flaws however, principally with the low-light performance. The H80 avoids filling the frame with grain, but colour performance is suspect, looking washed out and blotchy, and edges become overly soft.
Overall though, when good light is available the H80 can suck it up and produce some sparkling footage, and while the YouTube function is little more than a gimmick, this cam still offers enough to make it stand out from the crowd.