This is a review post of Panasonic’s higher end, consumer level HD camcorder, the HDC-TM700 or what most owners just call the TM700. As a detailed write-up has already been published by Camcorderinfo.com, this review will not be getting into the nitty gritty but only discuss issues from a first-hand perspective of using this camera for a few months. Hopefully, anyone considering the purchase of this HD camcorder will find some real world user insights helpful.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 Product Overview
The TM700 is slightly larger in size than your typical Canon or Sony consumer HD camcorder. Larger in the camcorder world means less shaking during handheld recording but because of the larger size, it also means it may be more difficult to reach some of the function buttons located in various places on the camcorder. Colour, noise and sharpness performance was very good for a model in this price range. In brightly lit outdoor conditions, vividness and sharpness of the TM700 is truly amazing. I have seen detail in some outdoor footages that I have never seen recorded with any consumer level camcorder on the market to date. The TM700 also performs very well with with low light recording. It is a little grainy but low light performance is significantly better than the Canon HFM31. Overall, the TM700 produced very high quality videos.
The two concerns from this Panasonic HD camcorder is the fan noise recorded into the footages and the jittering or vibration that occur in some recorded footages. I will get more into this below.
Note the TM700 is flash-based. It has an internal memory bank of 32 Gigs and an additional SD media slot so you can record to an external flash card if needed. There is also a harddisk sibling called the HDC-HS700. Essentially, these are the same camcorders except for the storage method.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 Video Format
The HDC-xx700 line has a recording signal of 1080 / 60p and 1080 / 60i. Although this HD camcorder records in AVCHD format (MPEG-4
AVC/H.264 (AVCHD standard compliant) for all resolutions, the format for 1080 60p recording is not AVCHD standard compliant (even though it is AVCHD). Who would have known that there is actually a non-standard format of AVCHD. In the real world, editing software that is compatible with AVCHD may not be able to recognize 1080 60p video from this camcorder. Many Mac users have been pulling their hair out trying to find an easy way to edit these TM700 files without needing to convert prior to editing. My choice of editing software happens to be Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 (for the PC), which is fully compatible with this non-standard AVCHD 1080 60p format. Thank goodness, I am a PC!
Most consumer HD camcorders produce files that are 1080 30p, 1080 60i, 720 60p or even 1080 24p. It’s difficult enough trying to edit HD footages but to be able to edit 1080 60p videos, Quad Core and lots of RAM is a must. I am using a Quad Core + 4 Gigs of RAM which works but what makes the editing easier was buying an Nvidia based video card. Premiere Pro CS5 can utilize hardware acceleration and offload some processing and exporting of videos to a compliant video card. Even if do not have an Adobe certified Nvidia card, here is a hack that allows CS5 to take advantage of the processing power of newer Nvidia video cards.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 Handling and Usability
The TM700 has a 3 inch wide LCD touchscreen. Touch screen focus is easy and locks on to any subject that you touch. The video above shows a good example of this. There are many controls on this HD camcorder but you can choose to use iA (Intelligent Auto) mode, which works very well already, or you have the ability to tweak just about every setting that a typical user would want. The only function that I was missing was the ability to slow down the zoom speed when using the remote control to achieve those silky smooth slow zooming / panning shots for landscape shooting. Using the levers on the camcorder body to zoom tends to create slight movements in the recorded footage even when the camcorder is mounted on a fairly sturdy Manfrotto tripod. The only way to achieve the slowest zoom was to hand hold the camcorder and zoom out using the sensitive zoom lever on the top of the unit. But because of handholding and the sensitive lever (the more you move the lever, the quicker the zoom), the final footage is definitely not as stable as one taken with a tripod and using the remote to zoom out.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 Image Stabilization
Panasonic has developed something called Power O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) in the TM700. There are 2 modes; Mode 1 is for normal shooting and Mode 2 is for recording while walking, which you will see in the video above. Both modes work fairly well when used correctly. The best image stabilization I was able to achieve was using either Mode 1 or Mode 2, mounting the camcorder on a tripod and then carrying the legs of the tripod and wakling. I even did a run sequence and the recorded footage was actually better than walking with the camcorder in my hands. The trick is to hold the tripod legs so your arms and elbows act like shock absorbers. I did not get a chance to include this sequence in the above video but holding the tripod while moving is a good technique to decrease camera shake during recording.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 Highlights
- 1. Extremely High Quality HD Video: I cannot say enough of the high quality video capabilities. This HD camcorder has produced some of the best quality videos I have ever seen from a consumer level HD camcorder.
- 2. On-Board 5.1 Microphone: 5.1 microphones are not determining factors for choosing an HD camcorder but having one is neat when you are able to utilize it during playback if you have a digital surround sound audio system.
- 3. Lens Ring: There is a lens ring located near the front of the camcorder. You can use it to manually focus a scene or to zoom in and out. Very cool and easy to use, especially for manual focusing.
- 4. 1080 60p: For those who are looking for silky smooth videos, 1080 60p will deliver. As I mentioned in point #1, this HD camcorder is able to produce very high quality HD video.
- 5. Time Lapse Shooting: This camcorder can be set to shoot from 1 frame every second to a frame every 10 second, 30 seconds, one minute, or two minutes. You can get some pretty neat results with this function.
- 6. 18X Intelligent Zoom: Even though this camcorder has an optical zoom of 12X, Panasonic implemented something called Inteligent Zoom and allow you to reach 18X digital zoom without too much video degradation. This extra reach can be useful in many situations. I normally set my camcorders to only use optical zoom but because Panasonic’s Intelligent Zoom is so good, I can use 18X in confidence knowing that the quality in the final footage will still be acceptable.
- 7. Fairly Wide Angle Lens: Most consumer camcorders will not have as wide as a 35mm lens; the TM700 does. Without having to purchase additional adapters or lenses, this camcorder’s 35mm wide angle allow you record a fairly wide field of view. In other words, you won’t have to stand as far back to capture everyone in the frame during those family gatherings.
Things to Improve on the TM700
There are 3 things that stand out for improvement.
- 1. Jittering / Vibrating When Zooming Out: For some reason, I am seeing quite a few recorded scenes where I would notice jittering or vibration of objects in the scene when zooming out from 18X to 1X (or somewhere in between). This happens when OIS is on for both modes and even when it’s off. I see less jittering when the camcorder is stationary and mounted on a tripod but it’s still there. Panning does not bring out this problem, only during zoom outs. I have a feeling it’s the OIS coupled with zooming out coupled with the autofocus that is causing this issue. Many users do not notice this but on a 24 inch computer monitor and a 50+ inch LCD, the jiterring is there and very irritating. In fact, you can see the jittering I am referring to in various parts of the video above.
- 2. Fan Noise in Recorded Footage: Panasonic decided to use an internal fan on this HD camcorder. Perhaps a unit like the TM700 that records in 1080 60p requires a lot of cooling. The fan noise is not noticeable until you record in quiet environments and this does not have to be a super quiet environment either. In most of my indoor footages, I can hear the fan noise. Many owners have commented it’s a non-issue but I have analysed their files and the fan noise is definitely there. They just do not hear it or simply takes it as the typical white noise that is common among consumer HD camcorders. The only saving grace from the TM700 fan noise issue is that white noise produced by this unit is very low as compared to the other HD camcorders like the Canon HFM31. And because white noise is low, the fan noise sounds noticeably louder (probably also enhanced by the ultra sensitive on-board 5.1 microphone). Despite many owners saying they do not have the fan noise problem, I have ran footages from these same users inside Adobe Sounbooth CS5 and found fan noise in all of them. Adobe Soundbooth CS5 allow you to visually see sound in frequencies so knowing that the Panasonic TM700’s fan noise has a frequency of around 800 Hz – 1,000 Hz, you can clearly see fan noise in these so called “non-issue” recordings. It comes down to whether one can hear it and/or are bothered by it.
- 3. Zoom Out speed Control for Remote: As I mentioned above, I wish Panasonic would have included a function to set zoom speed on the remote control. Or at the very least, allow speed adjustments on the camcorder body zoom levers themselves (like available on the Canon HFM31).
Conclusion – Panasonic HDC-TM700 HD Camcorder Review
The Panasonic TM700 is easy to use, fun and capable of producing extremely high-quality videos. There are very few consumer HD camcorders that record in 1080 60p and this is one of them. In normal and brightly lit conditions, video footage is detailed, vibrant and extremely smooth (thanks to the 60p). I must say, the videos from the TM700 is one of the best I have ever seen from a consumer HD camcorder. For those of you considering the purchase of an HD camcorder, you can check out the video above. No post-processing was applied to the footage; only transitions and titles were added. Happy shooting!