I procured this vidcam for work a couple of years ago, looking for something that was not only compatible with our systems but also had plenty of the features that people using it would need. Our previous vidcams had been much lower as they had been bought a good few years before that, and while they were decent quality at the time, it indicates just how fast the technology moves on that they are now considered only as emergency backup at work.
The Panasonic SDR-S50 series of video cameras pride themselves on their quality no matter the scenario you're filming in. What caught my attention first of all with this was not the ease of use, but the powerful zoom. Having researched carefully and finally bought the product, this was the first thing I looked for in trying it out. Before doing this though, it's important to get the full charge onto the battery, which is detachable and attached to the rear and exterior of the device but is specific to the device. We've moved away from buying devices which use AA and AAA batteries as buying reliable rechargeable ones when they're in constant use and regularly need to be charged up leads to all sorts of issues with testing and reliability, so devices with their own specific battery design are preferred.
Once fully charged, which only takes a couple of hours, it's time to turn it on. Opening the side viewfinder, it's obvious straight away that this swivels vertically to offer 360 degree visibility when filming at awkward height angles. The revealed interior contains a few buttons, including the power and delete options, as well as the slot for the SD card. Pressing the power button, the device turns on very easily. It's a tiny button and you have to make sure you've clicked it. I know many people use nails to press buttons but unless you use your actual finger you may think the button isn't working. I wouldn't say this is a fault or a criticism, merely an observation.
Open the lens cap! There's a very simple slide button at the front of the device that slides the lens cap down, an interior one rather than a removable clickable cover, but make sure you remove it! The amount of times I've had to remind people that you'll only get useful audio if you film the inside of the lens cover. If you're worried about reminding yourself, make sure you can see what you're filming through the viewfinder before pressing the record button.
It holds like a regular horizontal video camera, a strap provided on the right to slide your fingers through when getting ready to film. This is adjustable, with velcro. Very easy to do with your left hand to get the proper tightening without the need to remove your hand. Once your hand is in place, you should find the relevant controls where you need them. The first thing I did was check out the zoom. There's a toggle button on the top which your index should sit comfortably by when you've slotted your hand through the strap, and as you move your finger from side to side, you zoom in and out. Moving it by a small amount zooms slowly, and moving it as far as it will go zooms substantially quicker. And I wasn't disappointed. I work where there are clear views across a valley a good mile or two away, and I used this as a good test to see how far I could zoom in and still see. I was able to focus on a building at a substantial distance away, and clearly see features such as drainpipes, stains on walls, fencing, even leaves on trees. It's the x78 optical zoom that did it, and it's one of its biggest positives. One particularly popular use has been in filming sports; where filming from one sideline at a rugby match for example used to be a pain to get the action all the way on the other side, with this you wouldn't miss a thing. For coaching, it's really good.
There's no waterproof feature on this though, so for outdoor use in wet weather conditions, you'd still need the protection of an umbrella or something like that. I wouldn't get this wet - it looks as if there are too many easy opportunities for water to cause untold damage. The record button is conveniently located though, so whereas your index finger sits perfectly poised for zooming, your thumb can't help but sit right next to the record button, which is adjacent to the slim battery pack on the rear. Depressing it makes it obvious when it's recording, and a red light appears on the viewfinder and the time starts ticking. You can zoom during recording too.
Another in-filming feature is the photo button. Pressing this takes a photo without making a sound, so that you can have video and photo footage of the same thing. I get annoyed by some video cameras which make an audible noise when you click buttons, take a photo or do any other function during filming - it detracts from the quality of the audio and can be very annoying. There's none of that with this video camera.
Film quality is very good, crisp and clear. The zooming allows for dynamism in filming, and reviewers who are disappointed at the quality of some of the videos may not have made full use of some of the extra features. Using the OIS (optimum image stabilisation, I think) feature allows for filming things that are moving but keeping them without blurring. At zoom level, you can imagine that a lot of the moving elements are moving at more of a pace where the camera is concerned, and if you're not on a tripod or have nerves of steel, then there's the motion of your hand to take into account. OiS with filming and using the iA focus option with photos make sure that the focus is spot on and no blurring happens.
Just be careful what filming options you have selected though - I've seen plenty of disappointing filming where outdoor settings are used indoor and there's a slight streak around some objects as if looking through hazy eyes or some film director has applied a visual dynamic setting to make you on edge. Reading the instructions carefully and making the wide range of settings are properly used is the key to getting this to work. I'm not saying it's completely perfect, as there are newer models that are now even better, but this will give you crisp and clear videos and photos as long as you have the correct settings in place.
An 8GB SD card should give you a couple of hours of footage, and while I haven't filmed constantly for 2 hours, the battery has lasted very well whenever I've used it. It charges easily, and you can easily use the connection cable to transfer your content to PC or anything else after use. Deleting items is also easy, although I have to say that sometimes when transferring content to CD or DVD afterwards, I've received a card error message that just says 'check card' on the record mode, and 'error' on the play mode (which, incidentally is a completely simple toggle between a red button symbol and a play button symbol). If you get this error, I've found that the only way of eradicating this is to (safely) remove the SD card and use an external card reader to delete the folders the recordings automatically slot into.
Other than this, I've had no issues whatsoever. It's a delight to use and the quality is impressive. There are now slimmer and smaller devices which are just as powerful, and these would certainly help for portability reasons, but this is still a top notch high powered video camera, and is likely to be slightly reduced in price as there are further versions available. If you're after something where the video and audio are quality and is easy to use, then this is a good move. The zoom is the icing on the cake for me - highly impressive. A video camera with ticks in all the boxes.
My partner bought this for me as a birthday present before our son was born as we wanted to record all the special moments as he grew and this camera has done just that so far.
The camera looks slick and stylish being silver and black and looks very modern. It has a leather hand strap to keep the camera in place while recording which is very useful.
On top of the camera it has a little toggle which you can move side to side to zoom in and out while recording, it is ideally placed that it is easy to use.
The side flips out so that you can watch what you are recording and I was fascinated by this as it is so clear and the screen really is a decent size.
It comes with a charger as the recorder has a re-chargable battery it usually takes around 3-4 hours to get the battery fully charged and once it is, it seems to last a lifetime which is so handy!
To use the camera it is extremely simple and even me a techni-pobe worked it out without the instructions. It records well although sometimes it will say I am panning to fast although to me I am not moving the camera that fast! You can review what you have watched and fast forward and rewind. What I also thought was good about the camera was the sound quality on it while watching your videos. The volume turns up quite high but also everything is nice crisp and clear which surprised me.
You can also take photos on this camera, however I would warn that they aren't of the best quality and seem to have a fuzziness about them. However this didn't bother me too much as we already have a digital camera and simply wanted this to record and it does, perfectly! Would highly recommend this to others.
I confess that I had my doubts about this camcorder - for the same price, I could get a handheld "Flip" style camcorder with HD and even 3D. But I chose this camcorder because of the look of it - I've always prefered camcorders with flip out screens and hand straps.
First of all, the ability to use an SD card was a great relief - no need to mess about with proprietary hardware or any of that nonsense. I got mine in the blue colour, but the camcorder itself is not dominated by the chosen colour - lots of silver and greys in addition to the blue. I didn't like that there were so many buttons - there were buttons on the screen, the top of the device, on the side of the device - it all felt rather clustered. The camcorder will shoot in standard definition, but not high definition or in 3D - however, I did not need HD for what I was using it for. The lens is protected by a cover which slides down with a little slider, which is useful as the lens doesn't get much dust or other unpleasantly in it. Sadly, it is not waterproof - would have been a useful feature for some.
In terms of picture/video quality, it is superb - it captures clear videos and also doubles as a camera (despite the lack of flash). The zoom is phenomenal - far exceeds any other camcorders zoom at an equal price. However, as is the case with large zooms, it can get shaky when you zoom in. A microUSB port is located on the device, but the camcorder can also link into your TV (with the included cable). The file size of the videos is surprisingly low, despite the good quality - I took 90 30 second videos and it totalled up to under 1GB (I was using a 16GB SD card).
Would I recommend it to a friend? I think I would, it's one of the best standard definition camcorders I've ever had.
The design of this camcorder is one of its best features and it really does look great, especially in white which is the colour I chose. The finish is metallic which makes it look really sleek and the paint is very hard to chip - mine still doesn't have a mark on it despite relatively heavy usage indoors and out. The camcorder is light, small and comfortable to hold.
Despite being standard definition, the video quality is still surprisingly good, though unfortunately this quality is lost slightly when uploaded to websites such as youtube, so you will have to trust me on how good the quality is! There are some videos from this camera on youtube though so you can get a general idea. The video is quite soft and perfect for filming days out in the sun, and making mini films etc. The camcorder does also have an integrated camera so you can take pictures even during filming, which is particularly nice when you are trying to get a picture of something far away and you are without a tripod so a video won't cut it. These pictures are ok quality - they don't match up to a traditional camera of course but I have only used it for really far away shots so far. You will probably want to bring a camera out with you alongside this which shouldn't be a problem because as said, the camcorder is very small and literally fits in the palm of your hand.
My favourite feature on this camcorder, and the reason I opted for it in the first place, has got to be the 78x optical zoom. Optical zoom gives you much better quality than digital zoom, and this camera has a lot of both. As quite a fan of stars and space, I have been able to capture some beautiful pictures and videos of the moon and stars with this camera and some of them have really amazed. This is a major reason why you should opt for a standard definition camcorder - while the HD ones do have slightly better picture quality, the zoom just isn't up to scratch.
The sound quality is also very good and sounds crisp. If you are filming something loud it still manages to capture the sound rather than just blocky noise that is caught by some camcorders. It doesn't catch the sound of the wind much either, or at all on relatively calm days which is a real bonus.
The camcorder is also very easy to use and could be shared between a family as it is quite durable. The interface is simple but effective and anyone should be capable of using it after a couple of lessons! It also comes with panasonic studio software so you can make short films from your footage. This is good but if you want something more professional you will need to buy your own software.
The battery life is OK... nothing special. It will get you through a day out but may need a recharge after a while. The battery life does build with more use for a while so if you are going to use it alot the battery life will improve.
Overall, a very good camera and well worth the asking price. If you're looking for zoom quality over HD, this is the one to buy!
Currently retailing on amazon for £163.99 in white or more in other colours.