Panasonic HDC-SD90 review

Full HD camcorder with option for 3D shooting

Panasonic HDC-SD90
The Panasonic HDC-SD90 offers pin-sharp pictures

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A camcorder like the HDC-SD90 that's setup for more adventurous users delivers the bonus of versatility. The camcorder's design embraces the need for creative photography features as well as the facts of what happens after you've filmed or snapped.

Photo opportunities

The SD90's photography skillset incorporates Face Recognition and Face Framing (just as it does in moviemaking mode) and can recognise up to six faces, which it will then automatically optimise the settings for – in order to deliver the best results it can. The Smile Shot function is even intuitive enough to interpret when one of your subjects is smiling and to snap a photograph automatically.

Panasonic hdc-sd90

Other photo functions include hi-speed burst mode for rapid snapping, red-eye reduction and a three-mode flash (on, off, auto), with flash-level settings depending on brightness. It's an excellent array and one that reinforces the SD90's credentials as a true multimedia device.

Socket selection

Connectivity is now part and parcel of the moviemaking landscape, so whether you want to upload movies to sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, or to display them in all their Full HD glory on an HDTV via HDMI it's possible.

The SD90 has a superb socket selection: there's HDMI (mini) output for that vital high-def TV connection, AV output for non-HD devices, and USB 2.0 in order to hook up to a computer.

Panasonic hdc-sd90

From a filmmaker's point of view it's also reassuring to see the inclusion of an external microphone input (the SD90 has mic level settings to help boost your audio results). We're also pleased to note the inclusion of a shoe adaptor so you can connect an external microphone or even a more powerful video light. These accessories will need to have their own power supply because this isn't a hot shoe.

Video quality

The SD90 sets the bar high for camcorders under the £500 mark. The visuals are exceptional, with the Full HD resolution drawing out huge amounts of detail. See the dew holding onto a leaf, the textures on brick and woodwork and the lines (sadly) that add character to a face.

The autofocus is solid: reacting rapidly to changes in the scene and correcting for it just as fast. Even indoors or in low light, it's a reassuringly sturdy performer.

Panasonic hdc-sd90

What is marginally frustrating is the auto white balance's tendency to boost greens. Our test footage shows hot/too-vivid greens – it's only greens, reds prove to be no problem – that add an unwanted, artificial feel to this particular footage.

It can be adjusted, or rather corrected, using manual white balance, and we'd recommend using manual settings as much as you can to take control over capturing images.

Indoor performance is just as noteworthy as exterior movies and the SD90's low-light performance is also commendable. The camcorder manages to create watchable images without too much grain.

Panasonic hdc-sd90

Picture noise is kept to a minimum and you'll see precious few digital artefacts or pixellation on the edges of building or on fast movement. Our test footage captured cars thundering past and the resultant playback was smooth, controlled and realistic.

Audio quality

Sound reproduction is often a camcorder's Achilles heel – and the reason reviewers often complain about the lack of microphone inputs is that it equals no way of transcending or amending the audio results.

The SD90 quashes most major concerns by including an external microphone input, as well as having a menu system that offers some mic-level control.

Speech is recorded cleanly with even drop-off as you move away from, or to the sides of, the camcorder. We also recorded music from a high-quality source and were impressed with the quality and subtlety of the treble and mid-range on playback, but in terms of bass there's simply very little there, giving some sections of a track a rather one-sided feel.

An external mic is recommended to be in your accessories bag.

Software options

There's nothing spectacular included with the SD90, though it is supplied with Windows-only software that gives users access to some basic image management applications.

If you want editing tools then you'll need to consider your budget and functionality requirements. Mac users' 'need to know' is that the HDC-SD90 supports iMovie '11.