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Panasonic HM-TA1 Camcorder Review

Panasonic enters the pocket camcorder market

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Panasonic HM-TA1 Camcorder Review

Panasonic HM-TA1. Image courtesy Panasonic.

Panasonic's HM-TA1 is a high definition pocket camcorder that shoots 1920 x 1080 video in the H.264 format. It retails for $169 and features Web camera capability, digital image stabilization and a 4x digital zoom.

Full specifications for the HM-TA1 can be found here. Video samples recorded with the TA1 can be found here.

Panasonic HM-TA1 At a Glance

The Good: Compact, stylish design; creative color modes, Web camera

The Bad: Noisy video at 1080p

Panasonic TA1 Video Quality

Panasonic was a late-comer to the pocket camcorder craze, but they've finally taken the bait with the HM-TA1.

The TA1 records HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second in the H.264 format directly to an SDHC memory card. It offers several lower-quality settings as well: 720/30fps and 640 x 480/30fps. You'll also have the option to record in the iFrame format (960 x 540/30fps) which is a Mac-friendly file format, but not high definition.

The video quality on the TA1 is about average for a pocket camcorder. It produced a fair amount of pixelation at 1920 x 1080 (see here) but looked smoother at 720p. The video gets considerably noisier (i.e. pixelated and grainy) indoors or in lower light. Again, that's pretty common with a low-cost pocket camcorder. The effect looked slightly worse on the TA1 than on the Flip MinoHD or Playsport from Kodak.

If it doesn't quite measure up to the best pocket models in the video quality department, it does offer something they don't: color effects modes. There are three: sepia, monochrome and soft skin. These modes are easily accessed and add a splash of creativity to your shoot.

In addition to video, the TA1 can snap 8-megapixel still photos via a dedicated shutter button on the back of the unit. Like other pocket models, you'll need plenty of light and a very steady hand to avoid blurry images.

The camcorder has a 4x digital zoom too, but it's advised to steer clear of using it as it will just drive up the digital noise. See here, for instance.

Design

Panasonic HM-TA1. Image courtesy Panasonic.

The HM-TA1 is a sharp looking pocket camcorder, with a lens barrel that protrudes just a touch from the body. It's slim and trim as well, as you'd expect, measuring 2.09 inches (w) x 0.70 inches (d) x 4.09 inches (h), and weighing in at 0.25lb (with battery and SD card). It slips easily into any pocket or purse.

The doors covering the SD card slot and the built-in USB port are a bit flimsy and you'll need to take care after opening them that they're securely back in place when you're finished. Pushing the USB pin in and out of the camcorder is a bit clumsy too, but nothing you won't eventually get the hang of.

The back of the TA1 offers three buttons up top for playback, record and camera mode. Beneath those you'll found a button for turning on the unit's video light, a four-way controller with a menu button in the center and a button off to the right for trash. The buttons are large and responsive. All-in-all, a simple and straightforward design.

Web Cam

In addition to your home movies, the TA1 can double as a web camera for internet video calls over services like Skype. It comes with a long USB cord so you don't have to bend awkwardly to conduct video calls. The set-up is simple enough and Skype recognized the TA1 instantly. The chat video quality appeared solid - with little lag or pixelization in a well-lit room. The TA1 didn't hold up as well in lower light video chats, but it's definitely sufficient for the casual Skype user.

Panasonic HM-TA1 Bottom Line

It took Panasonic a while to enter the pocket camcorder market but their freshmen effort is pretty solid. If you're going to compete with the likes of the Flip or Kodak's Playsport, you'll need to deliver some different functions, and the TA1 does that with Web cam functionality and color modes. The video quality at the highest resolution setting (1080p) doesn't measure up to the leading models but most users won't be disappointed with the quality of the 720p footage if they stay away from the digital zoom.

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