Ease of Use
Most high-end camcorders look daunting and scary upon first glance. They’re often loaded with buttons, dials, rings, and controls that make no sense to the novice user. Thankfully, the touchscreen interface on the TM900 (and most consumer camcorders these days) helps to clean up the surface of the model. This lack of scary buttons makes the TM900 easier to use in a way—nearly everything is run through the touchscreen interface. If you happen to hate touchscreens, which some people undoubtedly do, this is going to be a problem.
The dedicated auto mode on the TM900, aptly named Intelligent Auto (or iA for short), is easy to use and works well for capturing video on the fly. The only major problem we saw was with the camcorder’s auto white balance under mixed, indoor lighting, but if you’re doing most of your recording outside this shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, if you care a lot about color accuracy, then you should use manual white balance or a white balance preset instead. In iA mode there a a bunch of fun features like AF/AE tracking, which Panasonic has offered for a few years now, face detection, and a set of stabilization controls. All are fairly simple to figure out, and Panasonic includes a better-than-average instruction manual for when you run into trouble. In the menu system itself there’s even an “info” box that gives you some helpful tidbits about the menu items you have selected (a great way to learn the ins and outs of a new camcorder).
The auto features on the HDC-TM900 really aren’t much different than what you got from last year’s TM700. There’s the nifty AF/AE tracking mode, which is part of Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (iA) control set, and can only be used when the camcorder is in iA mode (the TM900’s dedicated auto mode). The tracking feature works quite well, but it doesn’t always lock onto your subjects perfectly—especially if they’re moving around a lot—but this is par for the course with any tracking feature.
What really stood out to us on the TM900 was the camcorder’s poor auto white balance and finicky autofocus. We mentioned the autofocus issues in the performance testing sections of this review, but we’ve provided you with some comparison images below so you can get a better idea of what we’re talking about. In simple terms, the TM900 had difficulty providing a fully focused image when we used autofocus. The left side always appeared slightly blurred, while the right side was crisp. We could correct this issue with manual focus, but, even when we did that, both sides of the frame were never perfectly sharp.
Auto white balance gave us similar problems. Things looked great outdoors or when we used a manual white balance, but auto mode often had troubles under indoor light. Images looked murky and discolored, at least for the first few seconds of recording under a new lighting condition. The camcorder does calibrate fairly well eventually, but it can take time.