Recently, Panasonic has made some of the best prosumer camcorders on the market, so we were excited to try the SD9, a tiny, three-CCD camera able to record 1080i video (1920 x 1080) to SD cards. While this 9.7-ounce device seems like the ideal pocket bargain, the awful physical design choices and middling video left us hungry for a beefier camera that was easier to use and more capable on the video front.
Put the SD9 on a tripod and you'd be tempted to think it shoots amazing video. So long as it doesn't move--at all--the cam rendered objects with excellent detail and vibrant color, albeit slightly oversaturated. But when holding and panning the camera, we saw jittering performance at the highest recording level, along with some odd flashes of aberrant color. Lower recording quality produced soft images.
Indoors, in low light, contrasting edges pixelated into one another, and the level of detail was low and the overall rendering gloomy. No wonder the UI blankets the LCD monitor with warning messages about the camera being panned too quickly. (Thankfully, you can turn these messages off.) Sound reproduction, at least, was quite good.
The tiny, barrel-shaped unit fits well into an adult palm, and despite the light weight wasn't difficult to keep stable. The LCD, while visible in sunlight,had poorcolor reproduction and contrast.
Oddly enough, Panasonic still seems to be thinking of prosumers when it comes to the control layout. Only the photo/video mode switch and the video shutter button are located within thumb range. Other major controls are on the left side, hidden below the LCD. A joystick to access many functions quickly (backlight compensation, intelligent contrast, soft-skin mode) is located on the left of the cam, where we had to fumble around for it and sometimes do a quick eye check to make sure we were hitting the right control.
More irritating, the DC and HDMI jacks are located behind the battery. Since you'll need the power cable connected in order to use the camera's USB mode with the included software, removing the battery could be a frequent necessity. Doing so requires opening the LCD, which turns on the camera (unless you've set the mode switch to Off) and leaves the automatic lens cap open when you pop the battery out. We've got our gripes with format and software, too, such as the inability to scrub forward and back through a video clip when reviewing it and the hour-plus required to convert Panasonic's proprietary file to MPEG-2. Panasonic rates the supplied battery at 105 minutes for continuous shooting, but you can expect about 65 minutes in real life.
For $689, the SD9's performance and ease of use are disappointing. The bundled software could improve with a downloadable update, but there's no fixing the design flaws and video performance. Panasonic's brilliant prosumer cameras (like the VariCam series) led us to expect a lot more from this device. Even without those expectations, however, the SD9's performance simply doesn't stack up. This camcorder is pretty, but vacant.