The Panasonic SDR-S10 memory card camcorder breaks new ground for Panasonic. The new model comes from a company that built its consumer camcorder reputation on models that offer better manual controls than their peers and above average video performance. While the same excellent manual control suite is in effect on the S10, we expect video performance to be on par with other 1/6' single chip camcorders, which is to say - mediocre. What sets this little number apart from the rest of the Panasonic pack is the video-sharing, youthful, active market for which it was designed - a market the company had not pursued until now.
Panasonic's three-chip camcorders are perennially among the strongest video performers on the consumer market, but its one-chip counterparts are mediocre. Last year, about the DVD-D100, we wrote '...it yields is a balanced but rather flat looking picture.' That camcorder produced an image that was slightly better than average among bottom-of-the-line DVD camcorders but much poorer than Panasonic's DVD-D300, which had a stunningly good picture. The comparison to the VDR-D100 is apropos because this camcorder shares a 1/6-inch CCD with 680K gross pixels and 340K effective pixels in native 4:3 mode. In 16:9 mode, which letterboxes the image, the effective count drops to 300K effective. (There is a slight bump in still mode to 350K effective pixels.)
Although we can't test a camcorder in the uncontrolled environment of a convention like PMA where we are only able to borrow a S10 for the day, we presume that this model's video performance will be similar to that of the D100. Their imaging systems are virtually identical, and both camcorders use MPEG-2 compression. Notably, the SDR-S10 boasts a higher maximum bit rate of 10Mbps in XP mode versus 8.5 Mbps in XP mode for the D100, and it's possible that this will yield a slight reduction in compression artifacting.
Low Light Performance
The SDR-S10 has a single 1/6' CCD, and that means this camcorder won't be a low-light powerhouse - but there is always MagicPix. This is Panasonic's trademarked night shooting mode, and it automatically drops the shutter speed in accordance with available light. The specs for the S10 claim MagicPix will allow you to record video at light levels as low as 2 lux, but your video will have a stuttering, blurred appearance. When the lens is pulled back to its widest field of view and the iris is opened all the way to its max aperture (F1.8,) you can expect to see low light performance akin to that of the DVR-D100. That camcorder saw a dramatic increase in noise at 60 lux and at 15 lux produced an image that we deemed unusable.