The TM40 has a pretty stock set of features when it comes to shooting, including an auto focus option, which works quite well. Other standard features like auto exposure and face framing are also present here, but don’t expect any revolutionary options.
Despite the small and lightweight battery pack, the battery life of the TM40 is great. After having the camera for a little over a week, during which it was probably on (either in standby, playback, or shooting) for a total of two hours and change — I shot about 6 or 7 videos at an average length of 2 minutes apiece, along with a couple dozen photos — I was still left with two bars remaining in the on-screen meter. The 1790 mAh battery back in the TM40 is nothing to sneeze at, and allows the camera to be ultra portable without sacrificing longevity.
Shooting is extremely user friendly, as the TM40 features Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto setting, which is basically a dummy mode that handles important aspects like focus, exposure, and white balance for you. For the most part, Intelligent Auto makes for some easy recording with solid video quality.
The one issue I have with the automatic shooting assistance is the white balance, which is remarkably and uncomfortably evident as it adjusts on the fly. Colors drastically shift and change as various definitions of “white” come in and out of the shot; even shooting in my cubicle, I could see that the walls looked white until I got my computer screen in the picture and the whites were picked up from that. At the point, the previously-white walls of my cubicle noticeably warped into a yellow-brown color as the camera adjusted to the whites on the screen, a transition that did not happen smoothly and was so vastly different than the original that it was quite unsettling.
The optical 16.8x zoom on the TM40 looks fine, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not very long. Even the SD80, which has roughly the same form factor, was packing a 37x optical zoom; I would have liked to see something slightly longer from the TM40. Unfortunately, this particular camcorder is not equipped with Panasonic’s excellent Intelligent Zoom to help maintain quality while adding a view more Xs, instead only offering 50x and 100x digital zoom capabilities.
The TM40 does have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which performs well as always. Used to keep shots steady, the OIS is most useful when used in conjunction with the zoom, allowing you to take steady far-off shots with minimal blur and shakiness.
Video, Audio, and Still Quality
The TM40 is equipped with a 1.5-megapixel, 1/5.8-inch MOS sensor. Shooting in AVCHD, the maximum resolution is 1920 x 1080/60i and it looks pretty good, especially when viewed via HDMI on a larger screen (the computer I use typically has trouble with the AVCHD video and quality tends to suffer). Low light situations are handled very well, but the colors tend to be a little muted, as the overall video occasionally appears grayish and flat.
The quality of the TM40’s onboard mic is actually not bad at all, though it does not have zoom mic capabilities. No major loss, in my opinion, as I have failed to detect any noticeable performance from zoom mics on other Panasonic models. But if you’re looking to plug in something a little more advanced, you’re out of luck as the camera does not have an external mic jack.
As was expected, the photo quality of the TM40 is mediocre at best. Colors are bland, the photos are always dark (regardless of lighting), and nothing looks particularly sharp; with a maximum still resolution of 2.1 megapixels, I wasn’t really expecting much out of it anyway. It is worth noting that the TM40 does not have a dedicated photo mode, though; rather, stills are just taken by pressing the photo button while in video mode.
Operation and Extras
In the box with the TM40 is an AC adapter and cable, AV cables, a USB cable for file transfer, a user’s manual, and a CD containing Panasonic’s HD Writer LE 1.0 software. Not-so-mysteriously absent is an HDMI cable, which is a rarely included with camcorders these days, but is still an annoying omission nonetheless.
For all you Mac users out there, the TM40 is capable of shooting in iFrame in addition to its AVCHD format. For the Windows users that are using their PCs to manage the AVCHD files, the included software will be necessary to import the files without them becoming corrupted, in a manner of speaking. Doing a straight drag and drop of the MTS2 files shot by the camera and then playing them on the computer causes them to develop a “window shade” effect in which lines and screen tearing abound.
Thankfully, the included software is as user-friendly as always, being both incredibly straightforward and bare bones. It’s good for little more than light editing and extracting the files, but it gets the job done.