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Panasonic VDR-D210

>> Monday, December 22, 2008

Top among this camera's features is its 32x optical zoom lens, which sports a decent maximum aperture range of f/1.8 to f/3.7. That's not as fast as the lens in Panasonic's more expensive VDR-D310, which has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at its maximum zoom, though that's only 10x, not 32.

Given the D210's extremely long zoom, you'll be happy that Panasonic saw fit to include optical image stabilization instead of the more typical and less effective electronic image stabilization found in a lot of budget camcorders. In this case, the stabilization does an admirable job of keeping your footage steady throughout most of the zoom range. Of course, at its full 32x zoom, you'll still need to use a tripod if you want really steady footage, but we were still quite impressed with this camcorder's stabilization.

While Panasonic includes a small photo button behind the zoom rocker, there's no SD card slot, so "still" images are recorded as seven seconds of still video onto a DVD.

Bottom line, if you want to shoot still images with a camcorder, the VDR-D210 isn't for you. The D210 is on the smaller side for a DVD camcorder.

Obviously there's a limit to how small you can make one, since the DVD assembly takes up a fair amount of space, but the lens barrel isn't very big compared to some other models.

Most buttons are placed appropriately, though the Menu button is a bit of a stretch if you have small hands and you try to press it with your right thumb. It might have been better if Panasonic switched the Menu and Trash buttons, though the company may have been worried that people with larger hands might accidentally hit the Menu button. If you're rough with your equipment, you might want to look out for the D210's lens, because Panasonic doesn't include any sort of lens cover.

Even a manually operated cover would've been nice. Other omissions include a video light (though most built in lights aren't very useful anyway) and subtle niceties, such as a rubberized grip along the stop of the DVD assembly instead of the plastic one Panasonic includes. Panasonic's menus might not be as intuitive as one might like, but they are convenient to use once you get to know them.

In addition to Setup and Disc Setup sections there are also Basic and Advanced sections. We probably wouldn't call optical image stabilization an advanced feature, but by creating two categories, Panasonic effectively keeps most functions on one menu page, thus keeping scrolling and hunting to a minimum.

You can also access commonly used functions, including white balance, iris, shutter speed, backlight compensation, fade on or off, soft skin mode, and the MagicPix low light shooting mode, by pressing the joystick. Some videographers, especially more advanced shooters, like dedicated buttons for some functions, such as backlight compensation or white balance, but you can't expect such luxuries in a DVD camcorder at this price.

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