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Hi all! I guess I'm sort of a camcorder junkie. I've been through 8mm, DV, a JVC JY-HD10 HDV, and a Sanyo HD1 MPEG4. Though I LOVE the portability of the Sanyo, the picture quality was a step down from the JVC. I wanted something that was small AND made top notch HD pictures. I had some specific requirements. A firewire failure on the JVC left me with several tapes which had not been captured. This meant a pretty expensive repair just to use what I'd already shot. Thus my requirement that REMOVABLE media be readable in an external device. This limited the choices to DVD and flash memory. Even the mini-DVDs are big enough to make a pretty big bulge on the smallest camcorder, and storage is pretty limited. My only choice was flash memory. Since the Sanyo had no viewfinder, I soon became aware of the limitations of the flip-out screen. I wanted a viewfinder as well.


I've read the reviews, did my research, and decided to buy the Panasonic SD5 with the bundled DVD burner. I really wanted a viewfinder, but I decided to give it a try. I ended up keeping the camera, so here are some of my findings. I hope you find them useful - even if you buy some other camera.. This information is not meant to replace a complete review, but to augment it.


The flip-open screen has three levels of brightness available, and even the middle one is pretty adequate even in the bright sun. I'd still rather have a viewfinder, but this is acceptable. While some may ague about nuances, the SD5 picture quality certainly falls within the top tier. The optical image stabilizer and autofocus are top-notch - maybe the best! In my view, this easily overshadows some slight image improvements of some other cameras. While not quite pocketable, it's certainly among the smallest.


Here are some other findings. While some lament the absence of a mike input, I feel a cumbersome external mike somewhat negates the advantage of the camcorder's small size. If I'm REALLY serious about audio, say for music, I have a Zoom H4 digital audio recorder. By using the camcorder audio as a scratch track, it's easy to synchronize the external audio. I then delete the camcorder audio. The internal microphones are as good as I would expect. Some faulted the wind noise, but it seems pretty typical to me. I've thought about making a wind screen held in place by an elastic band around the camera. That's on the to-do list.


Some fault the use of the joystick for manual focus. I rarely focus manually anyway. I find it preferable to zoom in on something in autofocus, switch to manual to lock the focus, then compose my shot.


The AVCHD format seems to be the most challenging. Panasonic provides a cuts-only editor and a player, but my 3.0 GHz P4 isn't fast enough for smooth playback - no problems with MPEG2 though. The bundled DVD burner allows some interesting options. Copying video files directly to DVD when away from home allows re-use of SD cards - a big advantage. For some reason you are not allowed to copy JPGs - strange. Video playback works perfectly from the DVDs through the camcorder, with HDMI or component to your HDTV. The discs play fine in Blu-Ray players as well. With a USB connection to your computer, the burner works well as a general purpose external drive. It's compatible with DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-R DL, and DVD-RAM (but no +). Surprisingly, the AVCHD discs will not play on the standard DVD drive in your computer. You can make discs in your normal computer drive, but they must be played in the bundled drive, either to the computer via USB or through the camcorder.


The thought occurred to me that this combination might be perfect for someone with an HDTV, but no computer. The process would work like this. Shoot normally onto the SD card, then delete any unwanted scenes. You can also split scenes and delete the unwanted part. Next, copy to DVD with the bundled burner. You now have a disc to play back through the camcorder, or in a Blu-Ray player.


Another strange thing, none of these scenes is ever combined with any other scene. The scenes are simply played smoothly in order. In fact, the disc contains the original unaltered files (with the exception of files you may have split in the camera) which can then be later converted to, say, HDV format for more sophisticated editing..


Apparently the AVCHD format includes a complete folder structure with ancillary files, including thumbnails and a play list. When you copy using the included software (as you are instructed to do), this structure is passed along as well. When copying to your hard disc, other changes are made, including different extensions on the video files.


The included software will convert AVCHD to MPG2 files at STANDARD DEFINITION for DVD authoring. There is no other conversion with this software. I tried the Pinnacle Studio Plus trial which was in the box, but it did not work well with my computer. It did convert AVCHD to MPG2 HDV files which worked well in Media Studio Pro. I'm still looking - maybe Nero 8 ?


I'm aware of the SD9, but decided not to wait. I hope I've given you some things to think about as you make your next camcorder decision. Good luck,


Dave
 
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