Auto / Manual Controls
Picture & Manual Control
*Automatic Control *
Panasonic camcorders have traditionally been the province of the prosumer crowd. People who want to actually learn how to use their camcorder rather than throw it into automatic and not worry about anything. That doesn’t mean that the Panasonic HDC-SD9 lacks an easy to use automatic mode. It just means that when auto control is turned on you still have access to a good selection of options, like Intelligent Contrast, Soft Skin mode, MagicPix, backlight compensation settings, and Tele Macro. Because Panasonic doesn’t provide a real idiot-proofing mode, like Sony and Canon, there is still room to make mistakes that can seriously impact the quality of your video. This makes Panasonic camcorders like the HDC-SD9 a good choice for people who actually want to learn about shooting. Those who don’t want to put in that effort are better off with Sony’s Easy mode.
*Overall Manual Control *
Panasonic has traditionally offered everyone from consumers to professionals a good selection of manual controls, and the HDC-SD9 continues that tradition by providing users with a solid selection of manual controls, including independent aperture and shutter, and gain – controls not often found on consumer camcorders. Where the Panasonic HDC-SD9 falls a little short is in the actual physical elements used to make manual adjustments.
Like the Panasonic HDC-SD5 before it, the HDC-SD9 has a rather small and fiddly joystick you use to navigate and make manual controls. In an attempt to save space the HDC-SD9’s joystick, and accompanying menu button, has been moved from the back of the camcorder to the LCD cavity. This means the days of one-handed operation are over. You will need to use your left index finger to operate the joystick. What’s more, the placement means that your hand will inevitably obscure the small 2.7-inch LCD display as you try to make adjustments. It’s hard to adjust focus when you’re hand is hiding half the screen.
Handling issues aside the HDC-SD9 does give you a good selection of manual controls. Press in on the joystick to bring up the Joystick Menu. Like the menu seen on the Canon HF10, it is a little confusing because you can only go down to move between pages. Up is usually assigned to a control. Where Panasonic does significantly better than Canon is in labeling this. It was very clear to us that up wasn’t going to be used for navigation. We only wish that the icons in the menu were better labeled, although you can activate a Help mode that makes it easier to figure out what everything is. The last page of this menu gives you access to iris, shutter, and white balance controls. Gain starts up once the aperture has been fully opened.
|The Panasonic HDC-SD9 zoom slider|
Like the HDC-SD5, the Panasonic HDC-SD9’s zoom control is not a traditional toggle but rather a slider. We found that the slider worked well, it was smooth and easy to use but still gave you a good amount of precise control, exactly what you want from a zoom control. Unlike the Sony or Canon camcorders we’ve taken a look at, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 lacks any kind of secondary zoom controls near the LCD. Frankly we’re not missing them much as we found the Zoom Slider to be sufficient for our needs.
Also, like its predecessor, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 has a 10x optical zoom on board. We mentioned this was a little on the small side when we looked at the HDC-SD5 and that opinion is only reinforced by the fact that most of Panasonic’s competitors have taken advantage of their new smaller sensors to add a few notches to their optical zoom, for example the Sony HDR-SR12 is up to a 15x optical zoom.
On the HDC-SD9 is that the focus control doesn’t show up by default when you’re in Manual mode. Instead the Automatic/Manual switch has a third setting for Focus. Doing this will activate the last page in the Joystick Menu where you can get to Focus controls. Why Panasonic added this additional step we don’t know. Perhaps if the switch allowed you to quickly jump to Focus control it might be helpful, but it doesn’t. Unlike Sony camcorders like the Sony HDR-SR12 you don’t have any additional focus controls like Spot Focus.
Like the HDC-SD5, the HDC-SD9 offers the MF Assist tool that automatically draws a frame in the center of the screen when focusing. In this frame is your shot, but at a 2x zoom. This allows you to get a closer look at the action without having to manually zoom in and back out. The MF Assist zoom is not recorded to the final footage, so you don’t have to worry about it wrecking the shot.
*Exposure (Aperture) *
One of Panasonic’s major differences compared to other camcorder manufacturers like Sony or Canon is that they don’t offer a simple exposure adjustment tool. No, when you pick up a Panasonic camcorder like the HDC-SD9 you can expect true iris control – great for power users but intimidating for novices. Like the HDC-SD5 before it, the HDC-SD9 offers the following f-stops: f/16, f/14, f/11, f/9.6, f/8, f/6.8, f/5.6, f/4.8, f/4, f/3.4, f/2.8, and Open. The mysterious half step between each is also still there and we still don’t know what it means. You’ll find exposure adjustments on the fourth page of the Joystick Menu.
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 provides users with a good range of shutter speed options as well, including 1/30, 1/60, 1/100, 1/120, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, and 1/8000. You can use the MagicPix setting to drop below 1/30, but you won’t have manual control over it. Shutter speed options are also located on the fourth page of the Joystick Menu. Shutter speed settings can be adjusted independently of aperture, which makes for a much more powerful camcorder.
The last setting found on the fourth page of the Joystick Menu is white balance, allowing you to choose from indoor, outdoor, auto and manual white balance. The manual White balance can be set by holding the joystick up towards the icon until it blinks at you twice. It will quickly and accurately adjust the white balance based on your scene.
Panasonic is one of the few camcorder manufacturers to include manual gain controls on its consumer oriented camcorders. The Panasonic HDC-SD9 is no exception, with gain activated once the aperture is opened fully. Your gain steps are 0dB, 3dB, 6dB, 9dB, 12dB, 15 dB, and 18dB, with that mysterious half step between each increment, making a total of 12 steps.
Other Manual Controls
24P - The inclusion of 24P is likely a direct response to the success that Canon had in 2007 with their high definition camcorders, all of which included 24P. So Panasonic plays catch up while at the same time Canon introduces the addition of 30P mode on their new 2008 model – that’s got to be a little frustrating. Even still, 24P is a valuable tool for filmmakers who want to play around with the look of their video, particularly how motion is rendered. The popular belief is that 24P looks like film, which could not be further from the truth. Video in no way, not ever, ever, looks like film – at least not in this price range. But it does look different from 60i, and it’s always good to have options.
Face Detection - Panasonic, like Sony, introduced face detection technology into their camcorders this year. Panasonic’s offering is a little less ambitious than Sony’s. They claim that up to five faces can be detected at once (Sony claims eight) and only Exposure is adjusted, while Sony claims adjustments to color and tone as well. Our on-the-spot testing indicated that the camcorder did indeed live up to its claims. By comparison, however, we confess disappointment that it lacks integration in playback mode. Sony’s new camcorders features a "face index" in playback mode that finds all the faces you’ve recorded and sorts them accordingly.
Zebra Stripes - A pretty simple idea, when activated you will see white stripes on areas of the scene that are overexposed, giving you instant visual feedback for your exposure adjustments.
Guidelines - Another straightforward idea, you get a simple 3 x 3 grid so you can easily line up your shots appropriately.
Color Bars - This feature allows you to record a set of color bars so you can easily calibrate the color on a television set.
Digital Cinema Color - Just like x.v Color found on Sony camcorders this feature allows you to record footage in the xvYCC color space, with nearly twice as many viewable colors as traditional YCC. Unlike Sony’s camcorders, where footage captured this way can be played back on any compatibly television Panasonic limits you to their own Digital Cinema Color compatible TVs.
Intelligent Contrast - This feature, found in the first page of the Joystick Menu, detects the intensity of the ambient light and adjusts the exposure accordingly. The idea is to get rid of blown highlights and obstructed shadows.