Panasonic HS60 at a Glance:
The Good: Excellent video quality and lens, nice handling, good feature set.
The Bad: Cramped menu, heavy.
Excellent Video Quality
The HS60 is anchored around three 1/4.1-inch,CMOS image sensor providing a total resolution of 3.3-megapixels for recording 1920 x 1080 video in the AVCHD format. The HS60 doesn't offer the 24Mbps recording available on higher-end units (it tops out at 17Mbps), but the video was still very impressive.
The HS60 captured colors accurately and tackled dimly lit scenes with barely any noise. At $699 it delivers video quality on par with much more expensive models.
The HS60 also packs a decent still camera as well. Photos hit a top resolution of 5-megapixels (via interpolation) - that's not as high as you'll find on some other models hovering in the $700 price range, but it's sufficient for a decent 5 x 7-inch print. The camera is fairly responsive and there's a built-in flash and several photo-oriented features to improve performance.
High Quality Optics
Like most Panasonic camcorders, the HS60 has solid optics. It boasts a 25x optical zoom lens. You can get an extra 10x magnification (for a total of 35x) with an Intelligent Zoom function. It's not a digital zoom, and so you won't notice the quality degradation that occurs when using one.
The lens offers optical image stabilization and is also wide-angle, which lets you capture more of a scene in the frame. It's particularly helpful when shooting in tight confines. Another nice plus: an automatic lens cap.
One of the more interesting elements of the HS60 is face recognition (a technology available on other Panasonic models as well). Using face detection, you can record a still photo of a person's face and save it in the camcorder. You can name it, using a little keyboard on the touch-screen, as well as assign it an icon that will appear whenever the person shows up in the frame. The next time the camcorder sees that registered face in the frame, it will give it focusing priority.
The camcorder can save up to six faces, and you can assign them priority based on which gets the optimal focus.
The face recognition feature worked as advertised but it can be a bit tedious to set up. I found it took a number of tries to snap a face picture that the HS60 found acceptable for registration purposes. For patient adults, that's no problem, but good luck getting kids to sit to have their face registered.
Excellent Feature Set
The HS60 is well apportioned with features, including several manual controls for fine-tuning performance. There's color control, to improve the saturation, manual focus, manual white balance and the ability to adjust the camcorder's aperture (or iris) and shutter speed.
There are also color control modes, such as "soft skin" to improve skin tones or "digital cinema color" for better color reproduction on HDTVs that support the xvYCC color standard.
For those who want to "set and forget" the HS60 offers an "intelligent Auto" mode, which automatically optimizes the camcorder based on the environment. It works for both stills and video.
Solid Design, So-So LCD
The HS60 is one of the more stylish offerings from Panasonic, which is usually a bit on the conservative side when it comes to flair (not that there's anything wrong with that).
The LCD panel has controls for recording, zooming, accessing the menu, turning on the video light and deleting videos. At the top, side portion of the camcorder there are buttons to toggle between manual and intelligent auto mode and to activate image stabilization. The rest of the navigation is done on the unit's 2.7-inch touch-screen LCD.
The LCD itself is fairly responsive, although I found that while the icons were nice and large it made it tougher to hit the right ones. Lots of menu items can crowd the screen and if you, like me, have fingers on the large side, you can inadvertently hit the wrong icon. The HS60 would really be better served with a 3-inch LCD.
The HS60 is compact for a hard drive camcorder at 4.37-inches long and a touch over 2-inches thick. It's got some heft to it at a little over 3/4 pound with battery. You can slide it easily into a jacket pocket or purse, but you'll know it's there. Still, it's comfortable to hold and shoot with.
The HS60 packs a 120GB hard disk drive, sufficient for close to 16 hours of video at the highest quality setting. Because it's hard drive-based, the HS60 starts up a bit slower and takes longer to write data than a flash memory-based camcorder. You can, however, also record to SDHC and SDXC memory cards but the HS60 will not automatically switch from card to hard drive when you've reached capacity.
SD60 & TM55
Panasonic makes two variations of the HS60 that share the same core specs (features, lens, video resolution) but record to flash memory, not a hard drive. The SD60 ($499) records directly to SDHC/SDXC memory cards while the TM55K ($529) offers 8GB of built-in flash memory plus a card slot. They're good alternatives to the HS60 if you prefer a lighter weight and less expensive camcorder and don't mind trading off on recording times, which are longer on the HS60.
An Excellent HD Camcorder
Panasonic's HS60 is an all around excellent camcorder. It delivers best where it counts - video quality - while offering a nice selection of features that should keep both novices and more skilled owners busy. The HS60 has some irritants - the 2.7-inch touch-screen is a bit cramped - but for those looking for a high quality HD camcorder, it's a very good choice.