Panasonic HDC-TM300 High-Definition Camcorder Review
Last updated on 03/02/2009
It's pricey, but you get what you pay for with the Panasonic TM300: excellent high-definition performance that proves high-quality is more than just high-resolution.
By Michael Patrick Brady
The Panasonic HDC-TM300 digital camcorder is the brand's flagship model for 2009. Outfitted with an impressive array of high-end features, the HDC-TM300 carries a rather exorbitant price tag, with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of roughly $1,300. That puts it in line with the other high-end consumer models announced at CES this year, like the Canon Vixia HFS10 ($1,300) and the Sony Handycam HDR-XR520V ($1,465).
The TM300 is a "full HD" digital camcorder, capturing video in 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, making it perfect for playback on 1080p high-definition televisions. There are four high-definition quality modes, three AVCHD modes spanning bitrates between 9 and 17Mbps, and a single mode approximating the 1440 x 1080 resolution of the HDV format, which records at 6Mbps. This camcorder is being marketed as a "semi-professional" model, as it allows for a significant degree of manual control along with the impressive automatic functions, like Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode.
The Feature Set
Apart from its high-definition capabilities, the most interesting feature on the Panasonic TM300 is its dual-format recording. The TM300 can record to a removable Secure Digital High Capacity memory card, or to internal 32GB flash memory. The 32GB flash memory is enough to store around four hours of best quality HD video (HA mode) and nine hours of lowest quality HD video (HE mode). That's a lot of video, and with a 32GB SDHC card expanding the capacity, you could have up to 18 hours at your disposal. So, simply put, running out of space is not much of a concern with the TM300. The camcorder's sister model, the HS300, trades the flash memory for a 120GB hard disk drive, and is even more expensive, with an MSRP of $1,400.
Can you even conceive of a situation where you might need 120GB of capacity for your videos? If I had to choose between the two, I'd elect to save the extra $100 and also take advantage of the benefits of flash memory. Hard disk drives have moving parts, which makes them fragile and susceptible to jarring shakes, bumps, and drops. Flash memory is solid state, making it resistant to such damage.
The TM300 also is equipped with a fancy, 2.7-inch touchscreen LCD display. All the menus and settings can be interacted with on the touchscreen, and the buttons are large and responsive, making them relatively easy to tap. This does mean that there is a fair amount of clutter on the screen, between all the icons, buttons, and other relevant information, which can occasionally obscure the scene you're shooting.
The manual lens ring serves two functions: in manual mode, it allows the shooter to adjust the focus; in auto mode, it is another means of engaging the 12x optical zoom. This is in addition to the traditional zoom toggle button located at the stern of the camcorder. For making adjustments to the focus, the zoom ring works wonderfully, and it's nice to have that level of tactile control over such an important function. The zoom function in auto mode seems more like an afterthought, however. Perhaps good for small adjustments, say from 1x to 3x zoom, trying to make large shifts in zoom is difficult and not at all smooth. Furthermore, the close proximity of the side-mounted flash makes grasping the ring with two fingers nearly impossible.
Maybe it's just because I've been playing with a lot of low-end HD models lately, but the video quality of the Panasonic TM300 was quite reassuring. The video I shot with this camcorder was excellent (frankly, it had better be for this kind of money), and serves as a good counterpoint to the cheap HD camcorders like the Flip HD or the Creative Vado. It's not enough to simply have high resolution. Quality video comes from a total, comprehensive package that includes good optics, a good sensor (or in the case of the 3MOS TM300, three sensors), solid image stabilization, and an attention to detail. The videos taken in full HD, high-quality HA mode were bright, vivid, and remarkably crisp. The jaggies that often plague consumer-level HD camcorders were not visible, and the TM300 was able to handle motion, hand-jitters, and quick panning very well.
Still photographs taken with the TM300 were not as impressive. The camcorder advertises its 10.6 megapixel still photo mode, and while it's adequate, it doesn't seem to live up to standalone digital cameras in the same megapixel range. Pictures appeared muted and lacking definition.
If you want HD done right, you have to pay the price. It's a steep price, but at least it won't be wasted. The Panasonic TM300 is definitely a camcorder for consumers with a taste for the pinnacle of technology, who want to watch their home videos on a big-screen HDTV instead of on a computer. While there are some caveats, namely the still photo mode and the awkwardly placed flash, the TM300 is a small, lightweight, portable camcorder that offers extraordinary performance and control.