Shooting with the TM700 made me feel like a real video pro. The manual controls and camera features give the consumer-class device a professional sheen. I especially liked the lens ring; it had just the right amount of sensitivity for fine-tuning and slow zooming. Users can select the lens ring setting by pressing the camera function button on the LCD side of the device. The lens ring defaults to zoom control when the TM700 is set to Intelligent Auto.
The TM700 has two OIS settings, standard for run-of-the-mill camera shaking and active mode for bigger bumps. Both work extremely well to reduce video jitters. As I mentioned before, the Intelligent Auto system does an admirable job of accurately gauging shooting conditions and adjusting exposure and white balance accordingly. If it’s off, changing the scene setting only requires a few menu clicks. You can also manually adjust white balance (shifting to warmer or cooler), iris, shutter speed and focus through the lens ring. The 12x zoom impressed too, both with the quick zoom of the toggle and slow zoom of the lens ring.
Panasonic reps were very excited about the new 18x “Intelligent Zoom” feature, which is a digital zoom with the image prettied up to look optical. And for good reason – it works. Check out the stills captured from two clips, first the 12x optical zoom:
I then moved the camera back a few feet and zoomed in using the 18x Intelligent Zoom:
Without knowing better, I would have believed the TM700 had an 18x optical zoom. I hope Panasonic continues to develop the technology for even deeper “intelligent zooms.”
I have no complaints about the TM700’s auto focus or auto exposure and definitely like the AF/AE Tracking feature. By simply touching an area or moving object (person or pet) on the touchscreen, the TM700 will lock in and adjust the focus and exposure to the object as it or the camera moves. As long as it’s in frame, it will stay in focus.
When shooting, the TM700 flashed a warning on the display claiming “Camera Panning Too Fast” whenever I zipped it from side to side. The warning does not appear on clips, but what it’s trying to prevent does: skewing. Having a CMOS sensor – or in the this case, three CMOS sensors – means the TM700 is prone to skewing or the rolling shutter effect. I tip my hat to Panasonic for including the warning to minimize the problem.
The accessory shoe is located on the side of the device and requires a slide-in adapter (included). At first, it seems like odd placement, but I assume it’s on the side to avoid interfering with the top-mounted on-board microphone. It’s also cold, which means it provides no power.
The on-board 32 GB memory space is good for about 2 hours and 40 minutes of 1080/60p recording and a little more than four hours at the next highest video setting. The TM700 is also SDXC compatible, so you can currently expand the memory by 64 GB (though SDXC cards will soon reach 2TB capacity), provided you want to spend the money for a card. The battery lasted for roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes of continuous shooting.
The 1080/60p footage looks amazing. The action is smooth as silk, sharp as a tack and free of digital artifacts. There is noticeable saturation with some of the more vivid colors, which might turn off some videophiles. Nevertheless, I like a touch of saturation in my clips and I think the colors look great.
Switch to 1080/60i and the video predictably loses a bit of its smoothness and sharpness, and digital artifacts creep in. It still looks great and is some of the best looking video I’ve seen from an HD camcorder, but 1080/60p blows it away. In low light settings, the TM700 also impressed with minimal noise and decent color and sharpness.
While footage looks great on the TM700 LCD or streamed over HDMI to an HDTV, things get messy when importing to an underpowered PC, especially with 1080/60p (28Mbps) footage. Some media players also have trouble with the TM700’s AVCHD codec. I want to be clear that this isn’t a knock on the TM700, just be aware that anything less than a top-of-the-line PC will potentially have trouble dealing with the highest resolution footage.
The TM700 on-board mic records 5.1 surround sound, but can be set to simple two-channel stereo. It boasts a host of features, including a wind noise canceller and controls for audio levels and bass settings. There is also a “focus mic” feature that boosts audio levels in conjunction with the zoom, increasing the mic’s sensitivity to pick up sounds from far away sources.
As with any high-end device, the TM700 has both a dedicated external mic and headphone jack. Overall, the TM700 has an impressive set of audio features that complement the video quality nicely.
The TM700 can take 14.2 megapixel JPEG stills, but only through interpolation. The actual megapixel count is 9.15, which is still impressive. You can choose among 16:9, 4:3 and 3:2 aspect ratios and the TM700 has both a timer and smile detection. You can also grab 13.3 megapixel screenshots in video mode and from the footage using the packaged software.
I had high expectations for the TM700 photos because of the device’s Leica Dicomar Lens, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve often described camcorder stills as being “just above cell phone quality,” and I’ll call TM700 stills “just below mid-range point-and-shoot.”
Operation and Extras
The TM700 comes packaged with a lens hood, shoe adapter, battery charger, remote control, USB cable, component cable, HD Writer AE software, comprehensive product manual and a round touchscreen stylus. What’s missing? The HDMI cable, of course! Everything else is standard with most camcorders with the exception of the lens hood. It’s a nice extra, but I would have preferred an HDMI cable.
The HD Writer AE software is only Windows compatible, but Mac fans can use iMovie to extract videos as you can’t simply drag and drop files from the TM700 to your computer. The proprietary software is predictably clunky and lame, though it does offer a handful of basic editing controls for cutting clips and adding titles. According to AV forum chatter in May 2010, iMovie has issues with the 1080/60p footage, and may not be able to extract it. I can’t confirm this, but it is worth investigating if you are using an Apple computer.
Extracted video takes the form of an M2TS file, similar to both Canon and Sony camcorder output.