Panasonic’s HDC-TM700 is a high definition camcorder that records 1920 x 1080 video in the AVCHD video format. It features a 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, 32GB of internal flash memory, face detection and a 3-inch touch-screen LCD display. It’s the flagship of Panasonic’s 2010 flash memory camcorder line up with a retail price of $999.
Panasonic HDC-TM700 at a Glance
The Good: Excellent video quality, feature set, lens
The Bad:Poorly placed mode dial, cumbersome menu
Excellent Video Quality
Panasonic’s HDC-TM700 is the flagship of the company’s high definition, flash memory camcorder lineup. It uses a trio of 3-megapixel CMOS sensors – what Panasonic dubs its 3MOS system – to capture 1920 x 1080 video in the AVCHD format. At the highest quality setting, the TM700 is capable of 28Mbps recording at 1920 x 1080/60fps - an excellent bit rate.
Indoors or out, low light or bright, the TM700 handles most every situation you can throw at it, all while reproducing colors crisply and accurately.
The TM700 can snap 14 megapixel stills when in standalone photo mode or 12-megapixel images while simultaneously recording video. Included software lets you isolate a 2-megapixel image from your HD video. You can select from several scene modes when shooting stills as well as use a tele-macro mode, adjust iris and shutter speed. There’s also a built-in flash to aid in low light photography.
One of the stand-out features of Panasonic’s TM700 is its lens. Its 12x optical zoom is bolstered by its wide aperture at F1.5. It’s also a wide-angle lens, which lets you capture more of a scene in a frame without having to stand back, a real bonus when you’re shooting in tight corners. Focus can be adjusted manually, using a convenient ring around the front of the lens, and there is optical image stabilization.
Though the TM700 is a flash camcorder, it’s got a bit more heft to it than other HD camcorders at just shy of a pound with battery (roughly .9lbs). It’s also sizeable at 2.59 x 2.71 x 5.43-inch, although it’s par for the course for high-end camcorders to be slightly larger than their lower-end companions. Still, it’s comfortable to hold. Where the TM700 breaks from its high-end counterparts is its display – at 3-inches it’s large but not as large as the 3.5-inch screens now appearing at the top of some competitor's camcorder lines.
The controls on the TM700 are, for the most part, well executed. To the right of the lens barrel is a camera function button which drops you into manual mode. On the top of the camcorder, along the lens barrel, are buttons for manual/iAuto and for activating optical image stabilization. On the very top of the camcorder is a zoom lever and a shutter button for snapping still photos. To the right, where your thumb rests is a record button.
Flip open the LCD and you’ll find a button for power and 1080/60p recording mode. On the LCD frame are buttons for accessing a quick menu on the display, controls for zoom and record, menu and trash.
Where the design stumbles a bit is the placement of the mode dial, which is completely covered by your hand while you’re shooting, making it impossible to switch modes without moving your hand out of the wrist strap. The TM700 has a compartment for adding accessory flashes, but it’s a tad flimsy too(on the plus side, it’s not something you’re going to be accessing all that much, and the bay for SD cards, HDMI and USB ports is quick secure).
The TM700’s on screen menu is fairly easy to navigate although it does require a bit of scrolling to get at some functions. The 3-inch touch screen is pretty responsive. Some camcorder functions are placed at the bottom of the display to preserve the rest of the LCD for viewing your video, but in practice it makes some of the icons harder to hit with your finger.
The quick menu option will bring some common camcorder functions on the LCD so you won’t have to scroll through the full camcorder menu to access them. Unfortunately, the camcorder’s scene modes aren’t included in the quick menu, so you’ll have to go through the regular menu to access them.
One nice touch on the menu is an “information” button, which you can press for a brief description of whatever function you’re reviewing in the camcorder’s menu.
Excellent Feature Set
The TM700 is well apportioned with features. More experienced users will appreciate the ability to manually set shutter speed, aperture and focus. There’s also face detection with Panasonic’s face recognition system – which lets you record a face to the camcorder’s internal memory. When the face appears in any subsequent scene, the camcorder will optimize focus and exposure on that face. It’s a cool feature but it takes some work to set it up.
If you just want a “point and film” experience, the camcorder’s intelligent auto mode will automatically select the proper scene based on your shooting environment. You can jump in and out of manual mode and intelligent auto via a dedicated button on the camcorder.
The TM700 has 32GB of internal flash memory, enough to store over four hours of the highest quality footage. There’s also an SDHC card slot for additional memory capacity (including higher capacity SDXC cards), but there’s no relay recording, so the camcorder won’t automatically switch between internal memory and card recording when one fills up.
Panasonic HDC-HS700 Hard Drive Alternative
If you like what you see in the HM700 but crave a little more internal memory, Panasonic offers the HDC-HS700. It offers all the same video features as the TM700 but uses a 240GB hard disk drive instead of flash memory. It's a bit bulkier and heavier than the TM700 because of the hard drive, and more expensive too at $1,399.
HDC-TM700: Bottom Line
The TM700 is a solid contender for the high-end of the camcorder market. It deftly combines a nice selection of advanced features for the tinkerer with functions to help more novice users to get the best video. With a lens that’s the best in its price range the TM700 can tackle a variety of challenging shooting environments far better than most camcorders. You’ll have to overlook some awkward design elements and an occasionally frustrating touch-screen menu system, but the video quality and feature set make it fairly easy to skip over these minor imperfections.