Panasonic HDC-SD1 High Definition Camcorder Review, Part 1

by Aaron on March 4, 2007

panasonic-hdc-sd1-left-front-corner.JPG

I’ve been considering adding some video segments to Navagear, and being the gear geek that I am, have been keeping an eye out for an interesting, bleeding edge camcorder to get started with. Since catching word of the Panasonic HDC-SD1 in the gadgets and video blogs a couple months ago, I’ve been eager to get my hands on it. And unexpectedly finding it in-stock at a Circuit City in Seattle put me over edge.

Notable features of the SD1:

  • Shoots high definition video in a new format called AVCHD
  • Records to postage stamp-sized SDHC memory cards
  • Has a microphone input (necessary for good quality audio recording)
  • A decent range of manual controls for creative control
  • 10x zoom range

New High Definition Video Format

panasonic-hdc-sd1-left-side.JPG

In order to cram high definition videos into a small amount of space, Panasonic and Sony teamed up to create a new format called AVCHD. The SD1 records about 40 minutes of 1080i video onto the included 4 gigabyte memory card. Right off, I bought an 8 gigabyte SDHC card (Transcend brand), which gives an additional, nice, roomy 1 hour and 20 minutes of recording. When the card is full, you just transfer the videos over to your computer, and clear out the card for new stuff.

An important note is that the new AVCHD format makes for some serious complications in watching and editing your footage. None of the mainstream video editing products currently available can edit AVCHD directly. The situation is only slightly better for viewing the footage on a computer, as PowerDVD 7 and the newly released Nero player can play back the recordings on a PC. Ahem. Well, sort of. You need a pretty honkin’ fast PC. And Nero, which has a downloadable trial version that I’ve tried, has some serious audio synchronization issues.

The camera itself includes composite and HDMI cables for hooking up to a TV for viewing, as well as a USB connector for transferring videos back and forth between the camcorder and a computer.

Included in the package is HDWriter, a software application for transferring videos to a computer and doing some very simple editing. However, it does not allow you to save the footage to other formats, and while you can actually view the video, it’s only in a small, non-resizable window. It’s a really minimally functional piece of software, and doesn’t follow reasonable user interface conventions. Seriously, Panasonic, stick to the hardware.

Memory Cards

If you’ve shot any video with a DV camera with the intent of editing it on a computer, you’ve seen that transferring the footage takes as long as the recording itself. The camera has to play back the contents on the tape at normal speed, while the computer captures it. With a memory card, the transfer is much faster—on the order of a few minutes to transfer an hour’s worth of footage.

sd_cards.jpg

The SD1 uses a new card format, called SDHC, which looks exactly like an SD card, but won’t work in many of the card readers out there. So, until you lay hands on an SDHC card reader, you need to transfer your footage with the included USB cable. Strangely, this exposes one of the camera’s quirks: you have to have both the battery and the external power plugged in for the transfer mode to work. This can be really inconvenient, especially if you are on the road, because you’ll need the AC adapter, the USB cable, and the AC-adapter-to-camera-cable all plugged in. And you can’t charge the battery while everything is plugged in—it has to come out of the camera and go on the AC charger.

Microphone Input

This is one of the main criteria I had for a new camera—a microphone input is a necessity for good quality audio, as the built-in mics on most cameras pick up all kinds of noise you don’t want. The SD1 has a somewhat gimmicky surround sound mic on top, with 5 little pickup areas, and there are settings in the menus that can filter out some wind noise, and create a more directional effect when zooming in on something. But the mic input is what makes this camera usable for more than just family memories. The record level is even settable, and the Automatic Gain Control can be switched off, which is very unusual in a consumer camcorder. There’s even a little VU meter that shows on the display while recording—hot diggidy!

panasonic-hdc-sd1-top-microphone.JPG

Unfortunately, the SD1 is missing the other side of the audio equation: a headphone jack. This is needed so that you can hear what the camera is hearing, and make adjustments before it’s too late, i.e. when you are playing back your video later. Actually, I’m a little confused as to whether there might be a headphone capability. According to a reviewer at SimplyDV, who got to a nice preview junket for the camera’s launch, there is an adapter for the A/V plug that allows headphone out. I haven’t been able to find any other reference to this capability, though, so the jury’s out.

Other Connections

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Under the port covers on the left and right sides of the camera are a range of connections. On the left you find a slot for the memory card; an AV connector for plugging into standard TV inputs; a component out for analog inputs on an HDTV; 1/8 inch stereo mic input; and the DC power adapter plug.

panasonic-hdc-sd1-usb-and-hdmi-ports.JPG

On the right hand side of the camera is another port cover, hiding the USB and HDMI connectors. The USB lets you connect the SD1 to a computer for transferring video and stills from to and from the storage card, and HDMI is a digital interface that carries both audio and video signals to newer HDTVs.

panasonic-hdc-sd1-bottom-tripod-connector.JPG

On the bottom of the camcorder are the tripod connector and battery compartment. The standard tripod threaded socket is metal, so should hold up to regular use.

panasonic-hdc-sd1-battery-compartment.JPG

The covered battery compartment limits the ability to add higher capacity batteries, so if you want to shoot more than about an hour, you will need to be prepared to switch to a new battery. And as mentioned before, the battery is only charged outside the camera on its charging cradle.

To be continued…

Check back, as I’ll get into the controls and use (pretty good manual options and easy handling) of the HDC-SD1, and finally the actual quality of the video (nice color and low light performance, but not super-sharp).

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank March 5, 2007 at 5:22 pm

I checked the HDC-SD1 manual on line and saw that there is no mention of headphones. I recently viewed the Canon HV 20 and saw that they use the A/V out port. Perhaps you could find and adaptor for the supplied A/V cable soyou could plugin a headphone and see if it works during record. It may be a playback only function. Canon has a menu option to turn it on.
You mention that the picyure quality is “not sharp”. On another forum, someone mentioned the anti shake not being very good. Could that be the picture problem?

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Rybber March 6, 2007 at 3:41 am

Hi. Zoom ratio is specified as 12X according to the official manual (get it here: http://www.pana3ccduser.com/showthread.php?t=14886)

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Aaron March 7, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Thanks for the comments… I have verified that the audio is available on the AV connector while in record mode. So it’s definitely possible to monitor while you are recording. All that is needed is an adapter from the proprietary connector to a headphone jack. You can accomplish the same thing with the AV cable that comes with the camera and a bunch of adapters from Radio Shack, but that’s a little cumbersome. I don’t know yet if the audio levels will drive headphones loud enough, or if a headphone amplifier will be needed as well.

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Ed Auersperg March 10, 2007 at 1:28 am

This may be a stupid question, but for people who want to shoot for a longer time than the little battery allows, couldn’t one connect a 9 volt battery to this camera via the DC power adapter plug? Is 9 volts close enought to the 9.3 volts that the adapter puts out?

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Troy March 11, 2007 at 5:47 am

Part 2 ? I was looking forward to your additional commentary as I’m considering ordering in the next day or two. I’m looking to pick this up as a high quality family camcorder. Any comments you have to that affect would be of interest to me.

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Robert March 14, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Neither the manual nor the spec specifies what video signal (NTSC or PAL) is used. Can you hook up the SD1 to both US (NTSC) and European (PAL) TV to watch recorded vides?

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Aaron March 15, 2007 at 9:01 am

Ed, that’s not a bad suggestion. I’ll leave it to another intrepid owner to experiment with alternate power supplies on this $1,400 camera ;-)
Troy, sorry it’s been taking me awhile to get to the second part of the review. I intend to post some video samples, but I’ve been struggling with editing and playback issues. Bit of a codec hell on my video editing computer.
Robert, I don’t see any way to switch between NTSC and PAL on this camera. I think the U.S. and European versions are different in this regard. However, I believe the HDMI digital interface is coming on new HDTVs worldwide.

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Scott March 18, 2007 at 11:13 am

A single 9 volt won’t have the power to run the camera. I got this camera a few days ago and think the images are great, even displayed on my projector at 5 feet wide. I have noticed on the battery cover a small rubber piece that can be pulled out a bit leaving room for a cable. Perhaps there will be a battery pack that’ll attach to the bottom and go to a “dummy” internal battery pack. Also around the thumb and HDMI area there are vents and inside is a fan to keep things cool… about time for that. My camera is NTSC and I don’t see an option to change that.

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Barry March 20, 2007 at 5:56 am

For converting the video use the program Tmpgenc
http://www.tmpgenc.net/en/e_main.htm
You may need to install powerdvd7 or nero 7 to get the codecs.

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yow siang March 21, 2007 at 4:20 am

thanks for the great reviews, just one question, is there any shoe mount for mounting mics/light?

yslee

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Frank March 21, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Yslee,
You can buy a generic shoe mount bracket that attaches to the tripod mount. Not very elegant, but it may work OK.

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ScottM March 23, 2007 at 12:41 pm
JKoch March 24, 2007 at 6:45 am

Look forward to your expanded comments. You are one of the few reviewers who actually has the camera. Others only seem to have seen it at an indoor exhibition booth. The Panasonic site does not offer a full “tour video” either.

Please discuss:

1) Low light performance: how well it works under dim conditions or where the light cannot be optimal (dark room with subject 5 feet from dim lamp, etc), with and without Magic Pix.

2) Dynamic range in high contrast situations, such as skiiers, beaches, or boats on sunny water (does everything turn “smokey”?).

Ancillary questions: can the latest Nero package, which supposedly handles AVC grade files, import the HDC-SD1 files and export them to multiple formats? If you export to 16×9 SD DVD, do you get a quality result to share with people lacking HDTV or Blue Ray? You mention that it takes a very fast PC to process the files. Would 2.4 GHZ and 512 MB RAM be too little?

Your observations and guidance would be a great help. Thanks.

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JKoch March 30, 2007 at 11:52 am

Caution: The SD1 requires a VW-VBG battery that is almost unavailable in the US. No NYC retailers or US websites carry it. A Web browser search for the battery yields mainly German and Japanese language sites. No other Panasonic compatible battery fits. This is a nuisance, since the battery bundled with the camera lasts only about 40 minutes in typical use and takes 1 1/2 hours to recharge. 40 minutes is not much battery time if one is scouting, reviewing, selecting, and deleting outdoor shots for a composition. It is adequate only if you are filming a concise event, of a sort that might be near an A/C plug anyway.

The various Panasonic batteries for extended use DO NOT fit into the SD1. Various reviews that refer to an adaptor, but the item does not exist in the Panasonic catalogue.

Hanged if this predicament was always a good reason to prefer cameras that accept AA batteries!

Panasonic’s various product websites carry little on accessories for the model, and some are erronous (pertaining to other models).

The built-in “editing” functions offer little more than to delete or protect. There is no way to trim, splice or shuffle the files. The software disk is only to burn to Blu Ray. Nero 7 offers AVC codecs, but it is not clear what compatibility or functionality is included.

The camera does not seem to have a true standard definition or VGA mode to capture or export small files to share with folks without HDTV. It offers 640×480 and 4×3 settings, but the file sizes seem unaffected. Conversion would have to be via PC. The camera itself allows three diferent HDTV quality settings, ranging from 0.8 MB / sec to 1.7 MB / sec. The highest setting requires SD cards of Class 2 speed or higher and burns through 4 GB in 40 minutes.

There is no accessory shoe mount. The store specs say there is a manual focus ring, but it is really a menu option that one has to access and toggle to use, not as quick as a ring.

This may be a good videocam, but will be a problem to use until essential accessories and software become more abundant.

I do not know of any “free” site that would allow for an upload of a sample of HD output. Given the necessary size and feed rates of the 1280 x 1080i 9 MB / S files, it would have to be a very brief clip. Display on an XVGA monitor would mean squeezing the image and not do full justice.

Amu guidance welcome.

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Frank March 30, 2007 at 9:44 pm
Dan Lin March 31, 2007 at 10:24 pm

hey, I also just bought this camcorder and did a quick review on my blog.

http://danlin.net/2007/03/31/first-impressions-of-the-panasonic-hdc-sd1-camcorder/

I also happen to be a sailor and keep a sailing blog at

http://www.oday22.com

I would love to exchange some thoughts about this camcorder with you once I have had some more time with it. Specifically accessories and editing workflow for the time being.

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Michael April 7, 2007 at 1:54 pm

I have Windows Vista and the program that comes with it is not compatible. Ican’t even see my movies yet, but the camera works really good. Any suggetions? Thanks.

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olivier April 11, 2007 at 8:09 am

this SD1 is brand new but panasonic is already announcing a SD3 model.
SD3 will be H264 compatible (mac friendly) and will record at 1920×1080 (instead 1440×1080 for this one)….but bandwidth is the same so i think that video quality will be less.

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Peter April 25, 2007 at 3:10 am

I am looking to do a 2 hour documentary 2nd half 2007 in HDTV with AVCHD. Basically give a lecture on a topic for 2 hours and later splice in JPEGs of supporting materials and some boces updated from materials to hold accumulating conclusions. I have a company set up to do it, and I am looking at the camera and Pc editor for it. This is bleeding edge technology so it takes time for everything to catch up.

I saw a man ask about computer speed requirements for editing AVCHD. JKoch. He should go to Intel’s website and see stuff about processors. It is not just speed it is type of processor because different processors are developed to be better at different applications. I think Core 2 is the right line and biggest beast is the Core 2 Quad at 2.93GHz and there are test results for decoding H.264 streams and the hardware spec is given. With editing you likely must decode, apply edit, recode. H264 is a killer on the processor, so this doubling up will crash through all the limits on hardware and software.

I think you will find that these newest hardware set-ups can work at say 32 bit and maybe 64 bit buses and maybe you need a 64 bit Vista Ultimate build if there is one to be able to fully use the hardware. In short, its just a nightmare.

I am still searching.

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Peter April 27, 2007 at 4:55 am

FROM MAINCONCEPT ABOUT TRYING TO EDIT AVCHD VIDEO FILES. Basically use the suggested products together with Adobe Premier Pro.

Hi Peter,

Thank you for your interest in our products.

You can find more information and a free demo version of our MPEG-PRO
HD
Plug-in and DVCPRO HD Add On here:
http://www.mainconcept.com/site/index.php?id=7850
http://www.mainconcept.com/site/index.php?id=17944

Please let me know in case these products do not fit your project.

Best regards,
Stefan
__________________________
Stefan Jonas
Sales Director Europe
MainConcept AG
Elisabethstrasse 1
52062 Aachen
Germany
Phone: +49-(0)241/40108-51
Fax : +49-(0)241/40108-10
Mobile: +49-(0)175 2683626
stefan.jonas@mainconcept.de
http://www.mainconcept.com
Amtsgericht Aachen: HRB 8938

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Tom C May 14, 2007 at 10:49 am

Just got the HDC-SD1 this past weekend. I know zip about video editing and the like. I ultimate goal was to be able to put the video in a format that others could view in. Did I buy this sucker too soon?

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JKoch June 8, 2007 at 7:24 am

Various video editing software firms are now issuing AVCHD compatible update. The latest Nero Vision imports MTS files and allows exports to multiple formats. My solo 2.4 Ghz PC is too slow to review or cut the files in native format, but I can get around this by exporting them to MPEG2 and then making refinements.

The PlayStation 3, coupled with latest software, is supposed to play the AVCHD MTS files wonderfully straight from a standard DVD disk. I just wish Panasonic and competitors would start to sell consumer DVD or Blu Ray players that would play things burned in AVCHD format. Then one could get 80 minutes of quality HD video onto a cheap 2-side DVD and share it with audiences owning the player devices. Right now, ones only choices are playback on ones own PC, the small group who own Blu Rays, or to lug around a laptop to play back on other HDTVs via an HDMI link.

My guess is that some intrepid Korean or Chinese firm will introduce an AVCHD compatible disk player for the masses in the next year or so. Meanwhile, Sony seems unanxious to add more confusion to the format wars. How to sell pricey Blu Rays and disks if AVCHD burned to cheaper DVDs offered nearly the same quality?

It is diappointing that Panasonic takes the trouble to launch the SD3 (which raises vertical pixels over 30%, without marketing companion laptops with disk players that are AVCHD friendly. It is good news that Panasonic has launched a new DPM-BD10A Blu Ray player below $600 that is supposed to be AVCHD friendly. If this and most other new consumer Blu Ray models have this capacity, it will be good news.

Sony is introducing a $1,999 laptop with a Blu Ray burner that is better and cheaper than last year’s buggy, bulky contraption. However, I will not buy until I read a review by someone who actually who runs it through the battery of tasks needed by an AVCHD videocam owner.

A May update of Vegas is friendly to Sony’s version of AVCHD, but not Panasonic’s. Hopefully, a July update will solve this.

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dpaction June 22, 2007 at 12:08 pm

Hi I am mad or stupid i puchased a panasonic sdi1 camcorder with the idea that i could send dvd,s to my friends in South Africa.Unfortunately as I live in Venezuela I did not get all the info before i puchased it.The quality of the pictures are excelent through a TV but how do you distribute the video to your friends when the software supplied is useless

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Timothy Takemoto June 27, 2007 at 2:32 am

Aaron Tinling, the author of this review wrote
“I’ve successfully converted the .mt2s files to HDV format and imported them into Vegas. It’s my first foray into hidef editing in Vegas, and I’m impressed by how good the performance is. Yay Vegas!”
http://dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=79187&page=5
I hope that Aaron tells us more about how to convert the files.

I also hope that there will be something like Raylight that does this automatically because at two stage process sounds a bit like tape.

Good luck to dpaction in finding a way to use the video I hear that Ulead (now Corel’s) video editor and Pinnacle 11 can deal with the AVCHD.

Tim

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Jim Mead November 14, 2007 at 9:25 am

Hi,
I bought this camera based on Steve Jobs mention with MAC IMovie8 demonstration. The MAC software does a good job of reading, and editing the movies, and also converting for distribution.

I wanted a camera to record music events.

I do find that the import from the SDHC card takes a long time though. The copy time for me is about the same as the recording time (60 minutes import time for 40 minutes of video on my MacBook). This is with the import also reducing the image quality for a smoother editing experience on my MacBook.

An example taken on this camera, and editing on my MacBook with iMovie 08 is a father & daughter performing some Irish songs in a local tavern’s anniversary party. Posted on youtube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNfcEGb5t8k

Jim

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Alex December 12, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Yes. My girlfriend has a Panasonic and she can upload the video to her laptop. But there’s no audio. How to fix it?

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Peter 64 April 16, 2008 at 2:01 am

I own the Panasonic SD 1 and am very pleased with the result.I have tried out latest Nero 8.Power DVD . Video Studio 11 .But have recently removed these programs and installed CoreCodec and the wonderful media splitter Haali Media Splitter. These two programs allow m2t and AVCHD type files to be played back perfectly on the early version of Media Player. Power DVD realy struggled after about 8min of playback.
Editing wise Sony Vegas pro 8 will accept m2ts type files and edits perfectly, great program also TMPGenc will work with these files if you install the above codecs,Hope this may be some use I creat my video render as an AVCHD file and change file type to mpg this can be played easily on the Sony PS3 which I use

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Mike February 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Hi there, did you ever find a way of monitoring recording levels with a plug in Mic?
Cheers

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Panasonic SDR-H80 July 27, 2009 at 2:43 am

Thanks for the interesting review. I like all Panasonic models. I have Panasonic SDR-H80.The new Panasonic camcorder weighs 12.8 ounces and the storage capacity is up to 60 GB. This camcorder is quiet impressive. Overall it is one of the best camcorder to buy. For more details refer http://www.etechreviews.net/panasonic-sdr-h80-digital-camcorder-review-prices

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snegoviksukablyat August 2, 2009 at 5:19 am

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