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Panasonic AG-HSC1U

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Panasonic's just beginning to make a push in AVCHD for professional applications. The company's P2 flash card format has been widely adopted by the professional community, however, the cards are expensive and too large to fit in more compact devices. The HSC1U represents Panasonic's first attempt to supply that market with a relatively inexpensive alternative it records 1080i HD video in AVCHD format onto cheap and widely available SD cards media.

For pros, switching to a new format can be a bit of a risk. You're not only committing to a camera, but also to an entire work flow, including editing, archiving, and distribution.

Fortunately, AVCHD has much better software support from professional editing applications than consumer applications however, Adobe Premiere Pro remains an unsupportive holdout.

The cylindrical AG-HSC1U is about 5.5 inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter, and weighs about a pound. With a hand strap on the right and a rubberized ridge along the top, the camera fits well in the right hand.

Unlike its more flamboyant consumer oriented cousin, the HSC1U has a low key matte gray finish. At the camera's front is a 43mm diameter Leica Dicomar 12x zoom lens, protected by nifty automatically retracting shutters you can't lose the lens cap to this camera. Next to the lens is a tiny flash, used for taking stills. Lacking a conventional viewfinder, the camera's rear is similarly straightforward in the center is the record button, surrounded by a mode dial.

To the side of this dial is a tiny joystick used to navigate menus, and below the dial are the menu and delete buttons. A hatch accessing the internal battery compartment is located at the bottom of the rear. Surprising in a camcorder this small, a generous 3 inch 16:9 560K pixel swing out LCD covers the entire left side of the camera.

Opening the LCD reveals an auto or manual focus switch, a Power LCD button to brighten the LCD for outdoor use, and a sliding door covering the slot which accommodates the SD card media. The camcorder includes one 4GB SDHC card. A small speaker adorns the camera's right side, which serves primarily as a hand grip. Atop are a microphone, a still photo button, and a zoom rocker.

The rocker switch is the least well executed of the controls so tiny that it is difficult to control with finesse. While there is much to admire in the simplified control layout of the HSC1U, it suffers from the same shortcomings of most compact video cameras namely, the controls are too small for easy manipulation by adult size hands. Panasonic's claim to have produced a professional level camera would gain much credibility if it could find a way to incorporate professional quality controls.

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