The TM700 provides fun features and excellent video quality for beginners and pros alike. It’s a bargain even at a $1,000 launch price.
I’ve been excited about the Panasonic HDC-TM700 since its debut at PMA 2010. Panasonic set the bar high last year with the excellent HDC-TM300, so as its follow-up HD camcorder, I expected the TM700 to have even better performance and more exciting new features.
Photo by Kimberly Hallen
On paper, Panasonic didn’t disappoint by including Intelligent Resolution technology (digital zoom with optical zoom quality), facial recognition, 35mm wide-angle Leica lens, 3-inch LCD screen, and 1080p at 60 frames per second (fps) recording mode.
I tested the Panasonic TM700 to find out if it’s as impressive in practice. More importantly, I explored whether Panasonic’s flagship camcorder is worth its $1,000 MSRP.
BUILD AND DESIGN
There are two models in the Panasonic 700 series, the TM700 and HS700, and the only difference between them is a whopping 240GB hard drive on the more expensive HS700. The TM700 has 32 GB of on-board flash memory. Despite the HS700 hard drive’s added heft, the devices perform the same. For the review, I’ll be using the TM700.
The TM700 measures 2.59 x 2.71 x 5.43 inches and weighs a little less than 1 pound with its removable battery attached. It doesn’t deviate from the traditional consumer camcorder design and features a large lens area in the front with a flash, recording lamp and AF assist light, all encircled by a manual lens ring. On the back of the TM700 are the removable battery (the DC input resides behind it), a slide-out viewfinder and corrector dial (for focusing the viewfinder display) and the record start/stop button.
The palm side of the device houses the Velcro grip strap, mode dial, covered accessory shoe adapter mount, and covered external microphone and headphone terminals. Opposite the palm side is the 3-inch LCD screen and camera function button. Flip out the LCD to reveal the power button, 1080/60p mode button, and covered access to the AV and mini-HDMI connectors, USB terminal and SD card slot. The on-board microphone, zoom toggle, stills button, optical image stabilizer (OIS) button, and Intelligent Auto/manual button are all on the top. Finally, the tripod mount is on the bottom of the TM700.
The TM700 has Panasonic’s 3MOS sensor system, which is three 1/4.1-inch CMOS sensors, each registering 3.05 megapixels for a total of 9.15 megapixels. According to Panasonic each sensor deals with one of the primary colors - red, blue and green - and it “reduces light loss compared to the 1MOS sensor, and renders colors, details and gradation all with intricate detail and natural beauty.”
Ergonomics and Controls
Everything on the TM700 is nicely spaced to avoid button clutter. It simply looks professional, due also in part to the dark grey and black color tones and fingerprint-proof textured plastic and brushed aluminum shell. It’s also very ergonomic; I had no problem holding it for hours or accessing any of the buttons or dials while shooting. The top-mounted mic could present issues for those with long digits who might accidentally brush against it while recording, but I didn’t have trouble with it.
I especially liked the added Intelligent Auto/manual button and OIS button on the TM700 body. When Intelligent Auto is activated, it recognizes the scene and selects the most suitable shooting mode (nighttime, portrait, spotlight, macro, etc.) for the HD camcorder. The TM700 does an impressive job choosing the appropriate setting and is great for beginners not yet comfortable with manual controls, especially with its easy button access. The same goes for the OIS. Some recording situations turn bumpy fast, and having the option to turn it off and on quickly is a nice touch.
The only gripe I have with the design is that the DC input is hidden underneath the battery. In addition, you can’t charge the battery while it’s attached; you have to remove the battery and charge it in an external adapter. The DC line also runs through the adapter. For some reason, you can’t power the TM700 via the DC adapter and charge the battery simultaneously. It’s a minor nuisance at worst, but it slightly mars the otherwise excellent TM700 build.
Menus and Modes
The TM700 offers comprehensive picture controls and shooting options, all accessed by hitting the menu button just below the 3-inch LCD. There is also a quick menu option for speedy access to basic controls, but new users will want to familiarize themselves with the basic menu first.
For recording with Intelligent Auto activated, that includes:
The recording mode menu doubles with options when the TM700 is set to manual mode, offering a host of controls for grizzled video vets, including white balance, exposure, aperture, shutter speed and audio levels. For beginners looking to learn manual controls, Panasonic included a handy “information” option that gives explanations for each menu item. There are also additional help options available, including “Zebra” that indicates overexposed areas in the display; “MF Assist” that highlights the focused object; and “Luminance” that shows light level as a percentage.
The TM700 offers five HD recording modes. There is the very special 1080/60p that can only be accessed by pressing the dedicated button and four sets of 1080/60i, each at a different transfer rate for varying file sizes. There is also a “Digital Cinema Mode” offering film-like 24fps, and that can be accessed as a separate menu option. There are no 720 or standard definition resolutions available on the TM700, but clips can be downgraded with the TM700’s packaged software.
Two features of note are time lapse recording and facial recognition. Time lapse is extremely fun. You can set the TM700 to shoot a frame every second, 30 seconds, one minute or two minutes. It certainly makes my morning trip to work on the Massachusetts Turnpike appear much more exciting.
Facial recognition – not to be confused with face detection, which the TM700 also has – is new on the TM700. It allows users to input and label up to six faces, which the device will recognize, prioritize with focus and exposure, and track each time the faces appear in frame. It works – for the most part. I got it to recognize my John Locke from “Lost” action figure (below), which was impressive, and it picked up my face when I placed older photos in frame. But it was ultimately finicky and had trouble recognizing faces at angles or in challenging lighting conditions. The TM700 allows you to input up to three different “faces” per person, covering different expressions, angles and lighting conditions. But it’s still a new and imperfect technology, one that I expect Panasonic will refine with future devices.
For stills, the TM700 offers a handful of options, including:
There are also multiple settings options covering everything from the internal clock and language to television playback resolution and power settings.
Almost all menu controls are accessed through the TM700’s 3-inch, 230,400 pixel, LCD touchscreen. LCD screens are notoriously difficult to see in bright sunlight, and Panasonic included plenty of display controls to take the edge off any glare.
At 3.0 inches, the TM700 screen feels cramped, especially with all the information icons lining the edges and corners. Even though it’s responsive, the small size makes it difficult to select the proper menu item with a touch. The TM700 comes packaged with a stylus for this very reason, but a larger screen would be more helpful. Other HD camcorders in the TM700’s class sport a 3.5-inch touchscreen, which I think is a perfect size for this device, even if it means increasing its bulk.
Underneath the touchscreen but still on the display frame are six buttons to bring up the menu and quick menu, trash footage, record, and control the zoom/volume/playback display (same functions as the zoom toggle on the top of the camcorder). Most of these buttons also exist elsewhere on the device, which is good. On the display, they are small and difficult to press. Try pushing one while recording and it will probably show up as a bump in your footage. The TM700 also features a slide-out electronic viewfinder with a dedicated diopter adjustment ring. While it’s not as ergonomic as viewfinders found on higher-end camcorders, it’s a nice professional touch.
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