So, after hours and hours of reading through forums and threads, I almost bought the Pannasonic TM700. In fact, I had already added it to cart and was about to check out, but something told me I should try out the raw video file samples on my desktop computer with calibrated monitor.
I ran them through Premiere CS5 and viewed them on a CRT Lacie Monitor calibrated with Color Munki and I have to say, I am not impressed with the Panasonic picture quality. Here's my gripes with the Panasonic picture quality
- Dynamic range looks poorer than the Canon S21. The TM700 seemed to blow out the highlights very easily while the Canon S21 seemed to handle them better while retaining detail. Perhaps this is also related to exposure control on the Canon being better or the dynamic range of the sensor being better.
- Contrast rendition is better on the Canon S21. It seems to me that Panasonic TM700 is trying to provide "sharpness" by providing more color contrast. I think the Canon S21 provides better picture quality by providing a flatter contrast and showcasing micro-contrast where you can see the textures.
- Shadow detail seems better in the Canon S21. Perhaps the TM700 has better low light capability, but in a scene with lights and darks, I think the Canon S21 is able to provide better shadow detail.
- The lens on the Canon S21 is better. You just have to hold it in your hand and you can tell it has more glass. I'm sure there a weight to quality equation out there. The TM700 should actually weigh a lot more considering how wide it goes. Wide lenses are supposed to be heavy. The Canon S21 with the WD-H58 is more like what I would expect a good quality lens system to weigh that goes wide. Sure the stock lens is not as wide as the TM700, but put the WD-H58 on the S21 and it is actually goes wider than the TM700.
- Color rendition is more natural and beautiful on the Canon. It just looks like art to me. I can especially appreciate it on a calibrated monitor. The Panasonic looked very unnatural. I could almost decide to reject the Panasonic on color rendition alone. I know some people like that vivid look, so this is also a matter of preference. I just can't stand the world looking like it has been coated with neon radiation.
I know post-production can solve some of that, but I would much rather add color to a more neutral image than have to shift colors around with every clip to correct an image. I would have to get out the greytag macbeth color swatch and do some serious calibrating and who knows what you end up with at the end. Anyhow, I suspect that the TM700 will end-up with some clipping colors in some scenes and you can't recover detail in those cases.
- Post-processing seemed better with the Canon S21 clips. I think this might be related to the compression used by the TM700. Some reviews stated that they found artifacts in the results from the TM700. Well, what happens when you process a file with artifacts? You get more artifacts! I would much prefer to have a camera that provides a cleaner file than have to deal with artifacts. And I was using the TM700 1080/60p files! I think the Canon S21 compression is better and provides a cleaner file to deal with.
I was a bit suprised that a 14 second 1080/30p clip from the S21 was about the same size as a 14 second 1080/60p from the TM700. Perhaps the TM700 uses much stronger compression? That's speculation, but I certainly am suspicious that the TM700 compression is not as good as the S21.
- 60p just doesn't impress me right now. I looked at a number of clips on the monitor at 60p that provide that smooth panning and such and I must say that even though technically it is superior and that there are particular circumstances that it shines, in the end I actually liked the 30p and 24p looks. Perhaps it helped that I was watching on a CRT monitor rather than a LCD. Even with fast motion, the 30p and 24p had a very pleasing look, especially when you add up all the above pluses for the S21.
The only drawbacks for me was the S21 being more expensive and not having the wide-end. So I'm buying a WD-H58 and getting even more wide-end compared to the Panasonic. Total price from Amazon with the S21, WD-H58, and a BP-819 batter was $1450. My current Canon Optura XI lasted 7 years and I think we paid about the same. If I get another 7 years out of this, it's well worth it.