The company I work for (I'm a photographer there) asked me to look into a HD camcorder for under £400 to film presentations and some tutorials. I narrowed it down to a few cameras and eventually chose this one because of the 28mm wide angle lens and optional microphone port. These two options can really make a difference, filming indoors especially the wide angle works really well, it means you don't have to climb into the corner of the room with the camera pressed against your face to try and get everything in. With no real idea how good the inbuilt microphone was going to be I wanted the option of adding an external microphone later on. Nothing worse than having a camera with no option to improve it later on! After using it a few times I was right, the internal mic was very quite, even in a quite room with one other person talking 5ft from the camera, the computer volume was right up even with headphones.
The camera has a manual or iA (intelligent auto) option, I always use manual in a controlled environment, you can adjust the lens aperture to increase brightness, shutter speed, white balance and the auto gain control on the microphone. Auto gain control should be turned off ideally, it makes the quite sounds louder and loud sounds quieter. If you use 'manual' under the mic option you can choose how sensitive you want the microphone to be, I always use +4 as this brings the sound up without clipping or distorting the sound. This is where we soon realised we'd need an external microphone, professional videographer's say that the audio is sometimes more important than the video and is a narnia of options in itself. I eventually went with the microphone that is recommended for this camera on the Panasonic site (model VW-VMS2E). Buy it from the panasonic site as it's cheaper than amazon surprisingly. The lead is very short and sits on the hot shoe that comes with the camera. On camera it was a big improvement over the internal mic but still not quite good enough. I wanted the microphone nearer to the person speaking as this rids of camera noise, this is also what you see people like the BBC doing by using an external microphone with the big wind reducers on. This isn't the ideal option if you're moving about a lot but for filming indoors in one room we were able to set this up easily. I bought a 5m headphone extension cable from maplins for £8.99, this enables you to plug the microphone into the cable, get it away from the camera and still plug it into the camera. A huge improvement, with the auto gain control turned off and the mic set to +4 in the menu the sound was much clearer and louder.
Next up, recording formats. Now we all know someone who films on holiday and around family a lot but you never see the video on a computer or on the TV. It does come with cables to play it back through the TV however not everyone wants to watch choppy unedited clips. The reason we bought this camera was to get clips online. Now what they don't tell you is that this camera records in m2ts format, now I've never heard of this but then again I don't do that much video. It's a common HD recording format and even the lower AVHD camera options record in this. Now to get it into something a bit more familiar like .avi or .mov was a task at first but I've now mastered it. I'm editing the footage in Adobe Premiere pro CS3, .m2ts is not supported by CS3 however the newer versions CS4 and CS5 do. So I needed to convert it from m2ts to something that Premiere recognises, I chose .mp4. I hunted the net for ages to find a suitable converting software and there are hundreds. I eventually settled on the well known xilisoft HD video converter. This enables you to convert up to 3 minutes of footage for free, however for longer clips you need to buy the software for around £25. A bargain really for this software which can convert footage into lots of formats to use on different devices. Beware converting 1080p footage will take a while depending how much RAM your computer has and it's processing speed. Once converted I could then import this into Premiere CS3 and output it as 1080p or 720p footage into any popular format.
Sorry for the long review but there is a lot of information that you need to know so that your clips don't just end up on the SD card and stay there! To sum up:
Good points: Very small and portable Fantastic, sharp, clear 1080p footage SD recording for instant PC transfer Provided software is good for transferring files to PC and I think you can use for basic editing but output formats are limited 28mm wide angle is very good Optional external mic port
Bad points: Recording format is m2ts which isn't recognized by many devices so needs to be converted which you can't do with software provided In built mic is quite poor, ideally external mic is needed. Battery life is 1-2 hours tops but thats normal.
Overall a fantastic camera that requires a bit of computer knowledge to be able to view the clips on the PC, TV or DVD. This is the same with any HD camera though so don't be put off by this. For the price and quality of the footage you cannot go wrong