Panasonic HDC-TM900 review

8 Feb 2011

An incremental improvement to an already excellent product; it takes over as our A List camcorder of choice

Price when reviewed: 
775(£775 inc VAT)
5

We reviewed the TM900’s predecessor, the TM700, a year ago, and it’s remained at the top of the A List ever since. On the face of it, the TM900 has its work cut out to match that success, with very little in the way of major upgrades.

Indeed, scrutinize the specifications and you’ll struggle to tell the difference. The lens offers the same optical zoom range (12x), wide angle of 35mm, and maximum aperture (f1.5) as before. The shooting mode is no different, topping out at 1080/50p for movies and 14.2 megapixels for stills, and motion is captured using three 1/4.1in, 3.05-megapixel CMOS sensors. 5.1 audio is recorded via a top-mounted zoom microphone.

On the right-hand side, under a plastic flap, an accessory shoe allows you to attach accessories, and under another little door lie the 3.5mm microphone and headphone sockets. There’s 32GB of built-in storage for about 2hrs 45mins of footage at the top resolution, plus an SDXC slot for adding up to 64GB more.

Physically, there are some small differences: the TM900 is a few millimetres longer and a fraction more slender; the Mode switch is now a slider instead of a rotary switch (we preferred the old one); and there are subtle touches to make it look a little different.

But when you get to the screen you’ll notice a more significant change. The old 3in touchscreen has been upgraded to a much nicer 3.5in model, with double the resolution at 460.8kpixels. Play a Full HD clip back and it looks simply sumptuous: smooth, crisp and gloriously colourful.

Panasonic TM900

Another headline is compatibility with Panasonic’s new £281 3D conversion lens - the VW-CLT1 - which screws directly onto the front of the camera. Look really closely at the specifications and you’ll also discover that the TM900 now offers hybrid image stabilisation, combining optical and electrical modes for extra smoothness when the moment requires it. It’s a worthwhile upgrade, even though the TM700’s optimisation wasn’t bad in the first place.

In terms of its core features, though, this is exactly the same camera as before. That’s not a bad thing: we love the manual controls on the TM900, which let you adjust focus, iris, shutter speed and white balance with a ring around the front of the lens. You can switch between those settings with the touch of a button that falls nicely under your left thumb.

We really love the quality this camera is capable of producing. Noise is exceptionally well controlled in dimly lit conditions: in PC Pro’s light-starved podcast studio, we noticed barely any grain or colour noise, however hard we looked. Colour accuracy is stupendous, autofocus is quick and reliable, and the automatic exposure works brilliantly in most circumstances, avoiding overblown highlights without losing detail in darker areas of images.

The Panasonic TM900 is a fantastic camcorder. Its quality is unsurpassed, it’s a dream to use and the new screen and 3D capability are the icing on the cake. The TM700 will remain available for a while, and it costs slightly less too, but it’s hard to ignore the appeal of Panasonic’s latest flagship. It does just enough to take over at the top of the A List.

Details

Price ex VAT £646
Price inc VAT £775
Performance 6
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 5
Overall rating 6

Specifications

Camcorder HD standard 1080p
Camcorder maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080
Camera megapixel rating 14.2mp
Camcorder recording format AVCHD
Accessory shoe? yes
Camera optical zoom range 12x
Camera optical image stabilisation yes
Electronic image stabilisation? yes
Screen size 3.5in
Touchscreen yes
Viewfinder? yes
Built-in flash? yes
Number of sensors 3

Audio

Internal mic type 5.1
External mic socket? yes
Quoted battery life 60mins

Dimensions

Dimensions width 66
Dimensions depth 146
Dimensions height 70
Dimensions 66 x 146 x 70mm (WDH)
Weight 450g

Storage

Integrated memory 32.0GB
Memory card support SDXC

Outputs

Data connection USB

Accessories

Remote control? yes
Dock? no