There's an old saying among mechanics that if engineers worked on their cars, they would design them a lot differently. Looking at how Panasonic designs their video camera, I can't help but wonder if any of the design engineers actually use the cameras.
When I got the Panasonic HDC-SD9, I had high hopes that Panasonic had learned from previous SD card models that designing a camera to be functional was important. Buttons needed to be where they belonged, and it needs to be easy and comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, while the SD9 is easy to use, it's far from comfortable. Sure, the menu buttons inside the LCD screen compartment are natural enough, joystick to navigate the menus, one button disc copy, etc. But then the SD9 takes a giant leap backward by requiring that one remove the battery in order to plug the camera in to the AC adapter (the battery covers the plug). Users also have to open the LCD screen in order to connect to USB, A/V, or component ports.
And, again, the shutter button for the digital still feature is on top of the camera, which not only makes it difficult to get to, but also causes camera shake when one presses on it. This has been a habitual design flaw that continues to plague the SD9's still shot capability. In fact, I found it caused several missed photographs as trying to get to the button and press it gently without shaking the camera causes a tremendous amount of lag time. Good marks for where they put the SD card chamber, however, just under the battery to make for easy changing out.
Other positive aspects of the SD9 are the 5.1 Dolby stereo microphone, the flash strobe, and the optical image stabilization on the Leica lens. That's a nice collection of features. But what the microphone gives in Dolby recording, it again gets taken away with the poor placement of the microphone at the top of the camera, rather than pointing towards the subject.
Okay, now that I've ranted about the design flaws, let me talk about the HD video performance. The SD9 records in full size 1080p video, and I suppose the video quality is decent enough considering AVCHD encoding, but certainly not the spectacular HD imagery one would expect. The colors are fine, but the image tends to be a tad washed out and flat (the flat look is also very apparent with digital stills which show almost no depth of field at all, very two dimensional). This is largely due to Panasonic's choice to incorporate their "digital cinema" xvYCC color standard. The idea being that it'll make videos look more natural in color and appearance, but it also makes the image washed out if your TV doesnit support it.
In low light, like most HD cameras in their infancy, the camera underperforms. Even though Panasonic tried to create a 3 CCD chip performance, the chips are, as one would expect, too small and as a result, more noise is brought to the party in low light as the camera tries to boost the gain to compensate. If the SD9 had larger CMOS chips like the Canon HF100 enjoys, then the 3 chip design would greatly benefit, but relying solely on smaller CCDs again removes any advantage that could have been gained by the idea.
Lastly, the included software is a frustrating experience to use in order to import the footage onto a PC. It left me searching Google for alternatives in order to just get the footage off the camera.
In the end, the SD9 has some bright concepts: Dolby stereo audio, 3 chip design, and compact light frame, but any advantage is quickly evaporated as, like other Panasonic SD camcorders before it, it's just plain too uncomfortable to use for the lackluster performance it gives.