Top positive review
72 people found this helpful
Hits the sweet spot for great video at a good price.
on 9 August 2011
There's a reason this camcorder is one of the bestselling camcorders of 2011. Last year the Panasonic SD60 hit the spot for the best balance of quality and features at a sensible price, and the SD90 inherits this crown for the class of 2011.
THE HIGH POINTS:
Great quality full HD video, including the option for 50 progressive frames a second. It easily passes the eyeball test on a 42" Panasonic plasma.
A true wideangle lens: 28mm gives a field of view similar to that of most current compact cameras. There are very few camcorders offering anything close.
An astonishing, usable zoom. Up to 40x `intelligent' zoom looks fine for daylight footage, though you might prefer to stick to true optical zoom in lower light environments. Don't even think about using the digital zoom - Why ruin your footage?
Class-leading image stabilisation. It shouldn't really be possible to hold a steady shot at 40x zoom, but it is! This really will help you get shots previously impossible due to shake. The option to further `lock' the stabilisation when you have your subject in view is an additional bonus, but you need to keep a touchscreen button depressed for this feature which I feel limits it somewhat.
Good quality low light footage. Consumer cams can live or die by their abilities in less than perfect light. I've tested the SD90 under artificial office lighting and in a garden, dusk scene and i'm happy with the footage it produces in auto mode. Yes, there is noise, and if your footage is destined for full HD output or you will be shooting primarily in poor light you might want to consider moving up the range to a more expensive unit, but for the majority of users the quality is perfectly usable. The best tip is to minimise use of the zoom to avoid smaller apertures - get closer to your subject instead!
Manual control if you need it. Panasonic don't really need to add manual control to a cam at this price point, so be happy they do. If you're happy working with manual focus, iris and shutter controls you'll find them present and correct.
THINGS TO BE AWARE OF:
At time of writing, to do any proper editing of footage shot at 50p, your best starting points are probably either Sony Vegas Movie Studio 11 or Corel Videostudio Pro x4. The version numbers are important! Most other consumer software does not support this video format. The SD90 included software is very limited and not intuitive to use, so lets the side down somewhat. Demos for the above are available so grab them and search for `SD90 raw footage' or similar to download some 50p footage to test on your machine. More expensive video editors are available, but you're immediately heading into `hundreds of pounds' territory. Working with 50p is also very processor intensive so if you have a basic laptop or desktop it's definitely worth your time testing some footage in advance of a purchase. Corel Videostudio uses an HD proxy system which essentially means it automatically makes a low-res version of your clips to edit with then uses the original HD clips when you render your video. This means you may be able to edit SD90 50p footage on a modest PC or laptop - Worth a go!
Battery life is average. Numbers are a bit meaningless as everyone uses a camcorder differently, but I got through 2 fully charged batteries on a day videoing parachuting and skydiving. Budget for a second battery!
Still images are very average. This is not a surprise, but the SD90 cannot be considered a replacement for a decent compact camera. Images taken in the dedicated stills mode are usable for standard (6x4) prints and of course viewing on a screen, and images taken while videoing are probably good enough for sharing on the web but not a lot more. Of course, the long zoom mitigates the quality issues a little as you may get shots not possible at all with a short-zoom compact.
The touchscreen is`good' but not great. It takes a harder press than most of us are used to in this era of capacitive, light touch screens. I'm sure Panasonic will improve this in 2012 as it's one of the few areas of the SD90 with definite room for improvement.
OVERALL, I'm sure the SD90 is a top contender for the best mid-range consumer camcorder for 2011. If you're tempted to drop down a level to the SD80, be aware that model features a smaller sensor and loses the 50p option. Going up a level to the SD800 buys you a 3MOS unit with the caveats of a narrower wideangle and shorter zoom.