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Panasonic SDR-H18

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Unlike the awkward body designs we've seen with some recent SD based camcorders, the SDR-H18 is very comfortable to hold. Part of the reason is that designers had to find a place to put the camcorder's hard drive, which finds its home in the right side of the body creating an iPod sized block that is just the right shape for a hand to wrap around.

Almost all the camcorder's controls are also on the right hand side most of them can easily be reached with either a forefinger or thumb. While I had a hard time reaching and pressing the menu button with my right thumb, you still can access the most frequently used controls such as backlight compensation, white balance, and shutter and iris controls by pressing the joystick, so this isn't much of a problem.

It would've been nice for Panasonic to put the menu button somewhere more convenient, however. At its heart, the SDR-H18 sports a single 1/6 inch, 680.000 pixel CCD sensor.

When recording in 16:9 mode, it uses 460,000 pixels to capture video or still images. That drops to 340,000 pixels when capturing 4:3 video or 350.000 when capturing 4:3 stills.

Panasonic's online specs are a bit misleading, in that they hint that this model has three CCDs when it doesn't.

Since the H18 has the same instruction manual as the higher end H200, it's a simple error, but one that happens way too often on the company's Web site. Playing along with the über zoom craze, the H18 includes a 32X optical zoom lens, which sports a maximum aperture range of f/1.8-3.7. The variable zoom lever atop the camera is easy to get used to and gives a nice range of zoom speeds.

As usual, the image stabilization doesn't effectively cover the entire zoom range, but does a good job out to approximately 75 or 80 percent of the zoom. That's pretty impressive, when you consider that you end up with a stabilized zoom range of about 24X, which is more total zoom than you could've expected in a similar level camcorder just a few years ago (though it wouldn't have been a hard drive or SD camcorder). If you like to shoot very close to your subject, you should note that the H18 doesn't include a macro mode. You'll have to step up to the H200 for this option.

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