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With just about every compact camera boasting HD video recording, the pressure is on for camcorder manufacturers. Sure a regular digicam would not come close in giving the quality, functionality and ease of use of its digital camcorder counterpart, but at the end of the day, the lay man doesn't care. This is why this is the right time for camcorders to bring their A-game on.
The Panasonic HDC-HS20 boasts full HD video recording capabilities all over, but the fact is that it can shoot at the maximum resolution of 1080i, not 1080p. That's primarily because the HS20 shoots at an effective resolution of 1.17 megapixel (sensor resolution 1.2 megapixel). The senor it uses is CMOS based and 1/6 inches. For a camcorder meant for a home audience, the resolution seems acceptable, though not optimal.
The build quality of the HS20 seems a lot better than some of the Panasonic camcorders we've used before. It seems a lot sturdier with a firm yet comfortable hand grip, and simple to reach button layout. The button clutter on the inside has been reduced with only the essential three buttons visible. The reason for this is that Panasonic has finally included a touchscreen interface in the HS20, which does away with the joystick navigation, and adds a lot more simplicity and functionality to the camera's interface.
The HS20 boasts 16x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, but if you're the type who even counts digital zoom then this one can go up to a 1000x. But think about it, if you're making the effort to upgrade to an HD camcorder, why would you want to jeopardize your image quality with digital zoom?
The camcorder is capable of storing on its internal hard drive as well as on SD cards, so in case you run out of the 80GB space on the hard drive, you do have other options. With the camcorder's maximum recording quality restricted at 17Mbits/sec, you'd easily get around 10 hours of storage from that. Of course you can also keep things simple by storing videos on the hard drive and still images on the SD card, or whatever else suits you.
There's a nifty little 5.1 channel zoom microphone embedded on the top the camcorder. Unfortunately you have no option but to use that, as there's no jack to plug in an external microphone, or even a hotshoe for that matter. Again, this emphasizes on the fact that this camcorder is strictly for the family vacation audience.
Thankfully it's not entirely a very restrictive camcorder. You do have the option for manual focus, in case the camera isn't focusing on the desired part of the frame.
The HS20 records video using the AVCHD video format, which could take a toll on your PC during editing (or even playback). But generally it's a given that if you expect to edit high definition videos; you better have a PC powerful enough to do so.
For those who are satisfied with viewing videos straight off the camcorder, you can of course use the HS20 as the video playback device, complete with HDMI out and a full-featured remote control.
Image quality of the HS20 may not match up to the broadcast quality HD video standards, but it was pretty good for general home viewing. The camcorder performs best in bright conditions, where it can shoot at lower ISOs and give sharper and clearer images. In low light, however, there is noticeable compression and graininess in image quality. If you do decide to use the HS20 in low light, make sure you use the camcorder's built in flashlight.
The colors too seemed over-saturated, making them look really bright and 'happy'. Though it wasn't obnoxiously bad, in fact, many may even appreciate it, I prefer my colors natural.
I obviously didn't take the 5.1 channel mic claim too seriously, but was surprised at the little stereo sound separation that was near faithfully captured. Also the mic did manage to clearly capture voices of everyone present at the location where I was shooting.
Panasonic has done a number of things right with the HDC-HS20 camcorder. Even with its drawbacks, chances are that you would thoroughly enjoy the video you capture through it, as long as you're not a videophile. At its price of Rs. 50,000, it's a great hi-def vacation cam.