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Panasonic HM-TA20 review

Verdict

It’s waterproof, plus video quality is good, but too many niggles for a recommendation

Review Date: 8 Jun 2011

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £120 (£144 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £110
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

Pocket video cameras were all the rage a year or so ago, but the ubiquity of smartphones able to record HD footage has seriously eroded their appeal. Panasonic is hoping to reinvigorate consumer interest with the addition of a touchscreen and a rugged design.

Panasonic certainly has the track record to pull it off. Its Toughbook laptops have long been favourites of workers who need computing power in the field, and the HM-TA20 looks to have benefited from this experience.

Available in a bright, anodised blue or orange finish, the HM-TA20 feels solidly made. In typical rugged fashion, there are exposed screwheads, dramatically chamfered edges and, around the sides, a scattering of lockable, sealed flaps that allow the camera to be submerged in up to 3m of water - great fun at the beach. Even the pop-out USB arm is sealed away, and it's shockproof too.

Panasonic HM-TA20 - front view

The camera shoots 1080p video at 30fps, and there's even an LED video light next to the lens. Turn on the HM-TA20, however, and the positive first impressions quickly dissipate. The camera's user interface is cluttered and poorly designed, with large, clip-art style graphics. The software, stored onboard, isn't much better. Although it offers plenty of power, it's ugly and isn't easy to use.

The 3in touchscreen uses cheap resistive technology, which isn't particularly responsive. The integrated rechargeable lithium ion battery stops charging when you put it in “PC” mode (to transfer pictures and video) and there’s no built-storage – you have to supply your own SD card.

Quality makes up for this to some degree, with excellent results in good light. There's plenty of detail and footage looks more crisp than that of the Sony Bloggie Touch - our current favourite pocket video camera. In low light the difference is less marked, with grainy, but not murky shots the order of the day.

Where it really loses out to the Sony Bloggie, however, is in frame rates: drop to 720p and the Bloggie will shoot at up to 60fps for smooth panning and action shots; the Panasonic, on the other hand, remains steadfastly stuck on 30fps. We found the electronic image stabilisation to be less effective too.

Video quality may be good then, and the waterproofing is certainly a fun feature, but the Sony Bloggie Touch – with its bundled 360-degree lens, better software, superior stabilisation and smoother motion capture at lower resolutions – makes it look rather ordinary.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

Resistive screen issue

Isn't that the only option on an underwater camera though? I admit that doesn't excuse the other flaws but that particular design choice is unavoidable.

By mistersaxn on 9 Jun 2011

A Godsend for Parents

I think you've underplayed the importance of this. As a parent of young children I've been waiting for one of these for years. Parents will know that kids are never happier than in the pool or on the beach and they tend to like to grab the camera off you at any opportunity, smear it with ice cream and then promptly drop it. This will be a big seller and I definitely want one!

By Chris_M on 10 Jun 2011

Missing the point?

Listening to the podcast I think you missed the point. We have a waterproof Sony camera. We don't use it underwtaer, but knowing we can use it on the beach or round the pool without having to worry about getting it wet is a big plus. We also don't have to worry about getting sand in it, as it's sealed. We were in the Caribbean at Xmas, and got lots of great photos in and out of the the waves!

By DJ2003 on 10 Jun 2011

Missing the point 2

Why do reviewers always think waterproof equals submerged?
My family and I love the great outdoors and having a video camera that can be used up a mountain in horizontal rain, on a soggy dog walk or in a kayak is a HUGE advantageand us it can be rinsed under the tap to clean it afterwards.
Being less extreme I can see many using it for recording water rides at theme parks or of course on the beach where the sand and salt can be simply washed off when back home.
Try any of that with the Sony and see how long it lasts.
I want one.

By Hamster on 16 Jun 2011

Price increase

Price on Amazon has now gone up from £150 to £180.
Must be popular!

By Chris_M on 20 Jun 2011

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