I’ve been a user exclusively of tape-based cameras since the analog days. So, beyond the implications of the AVCHD format, I was intrigued by the opportunity to test Panasonic‘s AG-HSC1U, because it stores all video and still images on SDHC cards. A 4GB card is included with the camera. You can find the camcorder online for well less than $2,000, with spare Panasonic 4GB cards for as low as $150 (gulp!)—although Kingston offers a card that should be compatible for around $50.
I’ll start with the basic specs. Physically, the camcorder is about the size and shape of a 12oz. can of soda—perhaps a touch skinnier. It features three 1/4in. CCDs with 560K effective pixels; you’d need nearly three times as many for the full-resolution AVCHD (1440x1080i) that the unit records. This obviously means that the unit interpolates the pixels captured up to the HD resolution, which usually contributes to soft details. There is no viewfinder, so you record using the generous 3in. flip-out LCD with 250K effective pixels.
The onboard microphone captures Dolby 5.1 surround sound, with a stereo mini-jack microphone input port. You can drive the camera in fully auto mode or adjust gain, aperture, and white balance manually via an easy-to-use joystick that also helps you navigate the menu and control playback.
The unit offers three recording modes—6Mbps, 9Mbps, and 13Mbps—the highest being about half the data rate of HDV. I recorded only in the highest-possible-quality mode, which gave me 40 minutes of video on the included 4GB SDHC memory card. Unlike with the consumer version of this camcorder, Panasonic includes a battery-powered hard drive that can copy the video from the SDHC card at about 8X speeds. The hard disk connects to a PC via USB for fast downloading.
You can view the video via HDMI (Panasonic doesn’t include a cable), or watch via component or composite video with supplied cables. Panasonic does include a power supply that can power the camcorder or hard drive, as well as a separate battery charger with its own power supply.
I used the camera over the course of two weeks, shooting about two hours of video, both inside and outside and under a variety of lighting conditions. While I’m not ready to abandon tape, recording on nonlinear formats definitely has its appeal—lprimarily the ability to quickly find and play back the clips you just recorded.
Of course, this doesn’t matter if the quality isn’t up to par. To assess this, I’d need to capture, edit, and render the video. So that’s the next stop in our tour de AVCHD.