The Panasonic HDC-TM40 is a highly compact camcorder with onboard storage at a competitive price point. Running you only $399.99 (MSRP), the TM40 is not without its share of drawbacks, but it's a good entry-level camcorder with better performance than the low price tag would imply.
Capable of shooting HD video at 1920 x 1080 (60i), the TM40 sports Panasonic's token Intelligent Auto shooting mode, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and shoots 2.1-megapixel stills. For those looking to find out more about this affordable and low-profile camcorder, read on.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The HDC-TM40 is one of a two-camera line, the other being the HDC-SD40, with the primary difference between the two being that the TM40 possesses 16GB of flash storage. This is a most welcome feature, as built-in storage is always convenient. Sweetening the deal is the fact that it is flash storage, thus eliminating any concerns about the added weight that often comes with HDD storage in camcorders.
Indeed, the TM40 is exceptionally light, weighing in at only 169 grams (0.37 pounds) without the battery. Measuring 2.03 x 2.26 x 4.27 inches, the TM40 has a very compact form factor that reminds me very much of the Panasonic HDC-SD80, which we previously reviewed. The combination of small size and incredibly light weight makes for one of the most attractive features of the TM40.
The setup of the buttons and controls are pretty standard and sensible, with the record button located on the back end of the camera (along with the battery) and with the zoom controls, quick photo button, and playback/shoot switch located on the top of the camera.
On the front, of course, is the lens, which has a manual shutter (the switch is located on the right side towards the front of the camera), along with the built-in microphone and light.
The right side of the camera is devoid of any buttons or features, save for the DC in and Velcro hand strap, while the bottom only features a quarter-inch tripod mount.
The rest of the controls are found on the left side behind the flip-out 2.7-inch LCD screen, including switches for Intelligent Auto/manual, OIS, light/delete, and power. Ports for mini HDMI, USB, AV, and SD cards are also found here.
Ergonomics and Controls
For someone like me -- in other words, someone with miniscule hands -- the form factor of the TM40 is a dream. It's very compact and lightweight, with a slight curvature in the frame on the right side where your hand slips under the Velcro strap. I find it very comfortable to hold.
The buttons and controls are, for the most part, well-placed and within reach; the record button on the back can be easily pressed with your thumb, and the zoom can be adjusted with your fingers that rest on the top of the camera. The manual lens cover is probably the only exception, the switch for which not only feels a bit antiquated, but is also miniscule and located in an inconvenient position near the front of the camera on the edge of the lens frame. I can sort of flip it with my pinky, but not comfortably since it has some resistance when being pushed up or down. It's nothing major, it's just a little bit of a hassle to have to reach around with your other hand to flip the tiny switch.
Though the TM40 does not sport a touchscreen, I think this is probably for the best as the 2.7-inch screen would probably be a little small to comfortably use touchscreen controls. That being said, I don't think Panasonic implemented the most graceful alternative, providing users with a four-way directional pad with miniscule buttons in addition to Enter and Menu buttons. They're quite small and hardly raised, so using them isn't terribly comfortable either, but the touchscreen probably would have been worse.
Menus and Modes
Per Panasonic's typical setup, the menus are broken down into record setup, picture setup, camera set up (for options like date, time, display brightness, etc.), and media select (since this model can record on either built-in or card storage).
Instead of the information icon that is found on some of the other Panasonic models -- which explains some of the more complicated jargon and options found in the menus when the user taps on it -- an explanation of the highlighted feature is automatically scrolled along the bottom of the screen. I think this was a particularly smart and user-friendly move, one that makes it about as easy as humanly possible for users to decipher some of the language in the menus.
For the most part, new users who are planning on utilizing the Intelligent Auto setting (which automatically adjusts certain shooting elements like white balance, focus, and shutter speed) will probably have little reason to sift through the menus. For those who want to get their hands dirty, though, the breakdown of the video menu is as follows:
The picture settings menu is far more brief, consisting of only:
The manual controls for video shooting offer a few more options, albeit in a rather clunky manner; in order to utilize the manual controls, you have to scroll through five pages of on-screen options, which are navigated and selected using the arrow keys. On a screen so small and with some of the settings getting a bit complicated as you engage and modify the various options, it's easy to get tripped up while navigating the menu.
The options that the manual controls grant you include a telemacro mode, guidelines, pre-record settings, fade, backlight compensation, soft skin mode, intelligent contrast, and color night record. Other features include:
It's to be expected that with such a diminutive size, the TM40 sports a relatively smaller LCD screen, which is 2.7 inches wide. Some people, my editor included, feel that three inches is the minimum threshold for camcorder screens, but I don't mind the loss of 0.3 inches here, especially since it means I can subsequently hold a slightly smaller device. As mentioned, the display is not a touchscreen, a responsible decision on Panasonic's part that saves me the embarrassment of pressing the wrong on-screen buttons with my chubby fingers.
The screen is 230,400 dots, looking decently sharp, and handles glare respectably. For better or for worse, the screen reliably depicts the video that you're shooting, revealing shooting elements like the camera's tendency to rapidly adjust the white balance on the fly. And for the especially finicky types, brightness and color settings for the screen can be tinkered with in the menus.
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