Panasonic HDC-HS300 Camcorder Review
The Panasonic HDC-HS300 (MSRP 1399.99) is a first-class camcorder.
The Panasonic HDC-HS300 handles like your average consumer camcorder. It is a bit larger than most camcorders these days, but as far as high-end models go, it is an average size. The design of the camcorder's right side is a bit uncomfortable, mainly because of the bulky 120GB hard drive that is located here. Still, it doesn't feel too bad and the camcorder fits better in your hand than the Sony HDR-XR520V. The zoom toggle lines up well with your index finger and the lip provided by the internal hard drive gives you something to wrap your fingertips around. On the back of the camcorder there is only the record button and the mode dial—both of which are easy to access with your thumb when holding the camcorder.
The lens ring is one of the most important handling features on the HS300. Panasonic has included lens rings on its high-end consumer camcorders for a number of years now, and the ring on the HS300 is similar to its predecessors. The ring is large, easy to grip, and very smooth. At times, the ring feels like it rotates too easily, which can make precise adjustments a little finicky. There is also an issue with the ring only being able to control either zoom or focus when the LCD is open. When using the viewfinder, however, the ring can be set to control white balance, shutter speed, iris, or focus. It seems Panasonic wants you to use the LCD touchscreen whenever the LCD is open and we're unsure why Panasonic would limit the versatility of the lens ring like this. Overall, however, the ring is excellent and it is easier to use than the control dials featured on the Sony HDR-XR520V and Canon HF S100.
While the lens ring is useful for manual adjustments, Panasonic has also introduced a number of auto controls on the HDC-HS300. Most of the controls make good use of the new LCD touchscreen system, which can be both a blessing and a problem. The touchscreen offers a simple interface and controls can be easily activated with a tap of your finger. Using the screen in this manner also results in plenty of greasy fingerprints and a cluttered LCD.
The buttons on the HDC-HS300 aren't very well designed, particularly the 'membrane buttons' located on the bottom of the LCD panel. These 'membrane buttons' are embedded inside the LCD panel, which means you have to push them very hard with your fingertips, or use your fingernail to get them to work. The rest of the buttons on the camcorder aren't great either, although there are only a few. The iA and pre-record button on the left-top of the camcorder are small and don't give in much when they are pressed. The OIS button (for image stabilization), located inside the LCD cavity, blends into the body of the camcorder too much and can be difficult to find and press. The buttons near the front of the camcorder, which activate manual controls aren't designed too bad, but they can be blocked by the LCD screen when it is open and tilted.
The Panasonic HDC-HS300 is an average size for a high-end consumer camcorder, especially one that records to an internal hard drive. Obviously, it is a good deal larger than the lower-end Panasonic HDC-SD20, but it's also over 100g heavier than its sister model, the HDC-TM300. The HDC-TM300 records to 32GB of internal flash memory instead of a bulky hard drive, which should illustrate how much room those internal drives must take up. Nevertheless, having 120GB of storage space on your camcorder may actually increase its portability in the long run. There's no need to pack extra memory cards or constantly back-up your footage (although it is still recommended that you should back-up often).
The HDC-HS300 isn't pocket-sized by any means, but it will fit easily into a small camera bag or large purse. In comparison, both the Canon HF S100 and Sony HDR-XR520V are roughly the same size (give or take a few millimeters), although the Sony is a good deal heavier because of its huge internal hard drive. If you're looking for high-end performance from a smaller camcorder, check out the Sanyo VPC-HD2000, which weighs a mere 311 grams and has an upright, pistol-grip design.
The Panasonic HDC-HS300's provided battery lasted 102 minutes and 19 seconds in our battery test (1 hour, 42 minutes, 19 seconds). This is an average score for a high definition consumer camcorder. It is slightly better than the battery performance we got out of the Sony HDR-XR520V and Canon HF S100, but it's nothing too significant. All the camcorders in this set, other than the Sanyo VPC-HD2000, have open battery compartments. This means you can purchase larger, longer-lasting batteries if you want to. More on how we test battery life.
The HDC-HS300, along with numerous other models from Panasonic, has an irritating design for its DC input. The input is located inside the battery compartment, which means you have to remove the battery in order to connect the camcorder to a power source. This design forces you to turn the camcorder off whenever you want to switch from battery to DC power—effectively forcing you to cease recording for a few moments. This flaw may not be an issue for some users, but if you're planning to film a long play or sporting event, you will definitely run into this problem as your battery gets low.
LCD & Viewfinder
The Panasonic HDC-HS300 has both an LCD and a 0.44-inch electronic viewfinder. Most people will likely use the LCD for their filming needs, but the presence of a viewfinder is good to see on a consumer camcorder. While Sony also includes an electronic viewfinder on the HDR-XR520V, Canon does not offer one on the HF S100.
The LCD is 2.7 inches in size and has a resolution of 230,400 pixels. This is fairly average for a consumer camcorder, although the Sony HDR-XR520V features a larger screen (3.2-inches) and a much better resolution (921,000-pixels). As is common on camcorders, the LCD screen can rotate 270 degrees so you can shoot at odd angles or do some self-recording.
There are a number of brightness settings for the LCD screen. Power LCD (accessible in the Q.Menu or Setup menu) allows you to choose from Auto, +2, +1, 0, or -1. You can also manually set the LCD brightness in the camcorder's menu (with 11 increments). There is also a color adjustment feature that allows you to tune the color settings of the LCD screen. Making adjustments to the LCD color or brightness will not change your recorded image.
It's good to see a viewfinder on the HDC-HS300 and it is definitely something you'll be grateful to have on a bright, sunny day. The viewfinder doesn't have the best design—it is surrounded in hard plastic that isn't very comfortable and it cannot pivot—but it does extend and offers a small dial for adjusting the diopter. The viewfinder brightness can be set to any whole number on a scale from -16 to +16. If you're relying entirely on the viewfinder for image adjustments, the same warning applies: remember that a viewfinder adjustment will change the way your footage appears during recording, but it will not impact the final recorded footage. The viewfinder has an image resolution of 183,000 pixels.
The Panasonic HDC-HS300 features optical image stabilization, which can be activated using a small button in the LCD cavity. In our testing, the camcorder did very well in both high and low-shake situations. In our low shake test, the HDC-HS300 reduced 60% of the shake. With our shaking rig cranked up to its high setting the OIS did an even better job—reducing 71% of the shake. Both of these results are quite good for a camcorder of its class.
Interestingly, the HS300 did better on this test than its sister model, the HDC-TM300. We assume this discrepancy is due to the heavier weight of the HS300 compared to the TM300. The Sony HDR-XR520V had the best stabilization of the camcorders in this set, however, while the Sanyo VPC-HD2000 put up terrible results with its digital stabilization system. The Canon HF S100 didn't put up great numbers, but it did much better than the Sanyo. More on how we test stabilization.
- Product Tour
- Color Performance
- Low Light Performance
- Motion Performance
- Sharpness Performance
- Sample Videos
- Ease of Use
- Recording Options
- Other Features
- Sony HDR-XR520V Comparison
- Canon Vixia HF S100 Comparison
- Sanyo VPC-HD2000 Comparison
- Photo Gallery
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