Skip to navigation

Panasonic HDC-SD90 review

Verdict

A very good, compact camcorder with rock-steady image stabilisation and great low ligh358t performance

Review Date: 10 Feb 2011

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £358 (£430 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £506
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Not everyone can afford nearly £800 for Panasonic's top-end consumer camcorder (the HDC-TM900), but you don't have to sacrifice much by moving down the range. Indeed, there are some advantages to the cheaper HDC-SD90.

The first of these is size and weight. Although the SD90 is able to capture super-smooth 1080/50p footage – the same as the TM900 – it's a far smaller, lighter and more pocketable device. It has a touchscreen, just as the TM900 does, and there's even a 3.5mm socket for an external microphone, plus an accessory shoe. Slide the small adapter into a slot at the rear and you'll be able to mount the optional external video light.

There's more good news: two small apertures beside the lens on the front of the camera indicate the camera will take the Panasonic's new 3D conversion lens (see below); it has a bigger optical zoom than the TM900 – 21x compared to 12x – and the lens has a wider maximum angle – 28mm compared to 35mm. You also get plenty of high-end features, including Panasonic's new hybrid image stabilisation technology, which combines optical and electrical methods for super-smooth handheld video.

Panasonic HDC-SD90

There are plenty of differences, however, not least of which is the size of that lens. It's considerably smaller than the TM900's, the maximum aperture isn't as large (at f1.8) and the sensor arrangement behind it isn't anywhere near as sophisticated either. Where the TM900 sports three 3.05-megapixel CMOS sensors, the SD90 only has a single 3.3-megapixel sensor.

What that means, inevitably, is inferior low-light performance. We tested in the same conditions as the TM900 and found the SD90 generated more noise and didn't represent colours as accurately. That's to be expected, and it's far from disastrous. In fact, the difference was considerably less than we had expected, only becoming uncomfortably noticeable in low light at extended levels of zoom.

In good light, the difference between the two is slimmer still, and the hybrid image stabilisation is a revelation. At maximum zoom it's possible to shoot handheld and still produce rock-steady footage. For most casual home movie-makers, it'll be a huge step up from pocket video cameras such as the Flip MinoHD and also most high-end HD-capable compacts.

As well as boasting good quality, it's a breeze to use. We found the autofocus responded quickly and sensibly in most conditions, and Panasonic's intelligent auto mode adapts so well to rapid changes in conditions that most people will never find themselves needing to delve into the camera's touchscreen menu system to adjust iris, shutter and white balance.

That's just as well, as one of the features missing from the SD90 that the TM900 has is Panasonic's superb lens ring adjustment system. Also missing is any form of built-in memory (you have to supply your own SDHC or SDXC card), 5.1 audio recording and an electronic viewfinder (EVF). The SD90 only shoots 5-megapixel stills, and its 3in screen isn't as crisp either, sporting a mere 230.4kpixels.

But, the biggest challenge for the SD90 comes not from its bigger brother, or even other camcorders at the same price, but the steady encroachment on its territory by DSLRs and SLD (single lens, direct view) stills cameras, whose raw quality is becoming a real threat to this type of device. For now, the convenience of slick autofocus, that huge zoom and superb image stabilisation just about shades it for the SD90, but we can see a time, not far off, when all you'll need or want is a DSLR.

Author: Jonathan Bray

Best Prices

Price comparison powered by Reevoo

£506
Subscribe to PC Pro magazine. We'll give you 3 issues for £1 plus a free gift - click here
User comments

Low ligh358t performance?

I think that is a slight typo!
And as I said prieviously, how does the performance and image quality compare to say a DSLR like a 550d?
Thanks!

By jamieostrich on 12 Feb 2011

SD Card?

Which SD card did you guys use in the test camera? I see that the camera records at 28Mb/s and I'm struggling to find SD cards that can handle this speed.

By stevemreid on 16 Feb 2011

SD Card?

Forget that - got my bits and bytes messed up!

By stevemreid on 16 Feb 2011

FULL HD yes but.......

Reading the instructions manual it looks like you can shoot at full-hd but then you can download the footage only to a PC. If you download to a Mac or to a blue-ray device you must downgrade the footage to a lower definition... is it really so?

By anemomylos on 1 Jul 2011

Battery

One slight downside - Panasonic use a new 'intelligent' battery that nobody seems to be able to replicate yet, so you have to use Panasonic's own batteries, which are even more expensive than Sony's.

By jgwilliams on 29 Sep 2011

Leave a comment

You need to Login or Register to comment.

(optional)

Latest Category Reviews
GoPro HERO3: Black Edition review

GoPro HERO3: Black Edition

Category: Camcorders
Rating: 5 out of 6
Price: £360
Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars review

Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binoculars

Category: Camcorders
Rating: 3 out of 6
Price: £1,249
Panasonic HC-X800 review

Panasonic HC-X800

Category: Camcorders
Rating: 5 out of 6
Price: £670
Panasonic HM-TA20 review

Panasonic HM-TA20

Category: Camcorders
Rating: 4 out of 6
Price: £144
Sony Bloggie MHS-TS20K review

Sony Bloggie MHS-TS20K

Category: Camcorders
Rating: 5 out of 6
Price: £169
Compare reviews: Camcorders

advertisement

Most Commented Reviews
Latest News Stories Subscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest Blog Posts Subscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest Features
Latest Real World Computing

advertisement

Sponsored Links
 

 
SEARCH
Loading
WEB ID
SIGN UP

Your email:

Your password:

remember me

advertisement


Hitwise Top 10 Website 2010
 
 

PCPro-Computing in the Real World Printed from www.pcpro.co.uk

Register to receive our regular email newsletter at http://www.pcpro.co.uk/registration.

The newsletter contains links to our latest PC news, product reviews, features and how-to guides, plus special offers and competitions.