In a product unveiling just before PMA, Panasonic touted two features on their new HS700 and TM700 high definition camcorders. Those features were facial recognition and Intelligent Zoom, an enhanced digital zoom that uses Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution Technology to offer a clearer image once the digital zoom kicks in.
Panasonic rep Matt Frazer was very excited about the new zoom/resolution technology and it was the first thing he mentioned when we spoke at PMA 2010. "I'm telling you... the quality of the extended optical zoom is unbelievably good," he said.
We are naturally skeptical of manufacturer claims on new features, especially those of the lofty variety. To this point, no digital zoom has ever matched an optical zoom in terms of image quality. This is because digital zoom isn't really a zoom at all. What you are seeing when a camera expands past optical zoom is essentially the digital image enlarged, which results in pixilation and image grain.
Could Panasonic really have a digital zoom that eliminates resolution loss? Here's Frazer with a quick rundown of the new camcorder and its technology.
Low light performance
My initial impression: it's too soon to judge. While Panasonic is certainly confident that Intelligent Zoom will defy skeptics, the chaotic hustle and harsh lighting of the show floor really isn't a proper setting to fairly test out its functionality. However, Frazer was quick to point out that low-light environments are exactly what Intelligent Resolution Technology is designed to overcome.
"It also makes a substantial improvement in the low light sensitivity of this model," he said. "Last year, the 3MOS piece from us was very well reviewed for having good low-light sensitivity, but there were concerns about a little bit of noise in the image. This is one of the quietest camcorders that Panasonic has ever produced in terms of noise and grain, especially in low-light conditions."
That said, the low-light performance of the camera is promising, at least when viewed through the 3.0 inch LCD display. Image noise and grain was noticeably lacking and compared favorably with my own camcorder (which, to be fair, is an entry-level model well below the 700 Series class). How that translates to any footage remains to be seen.
Never forgets a face
The other new feature, facial recognition (not to be confused with facial detection, which some manufacturers label as facial recognition), allows users to input and label up to six faces. The device will then recognize, prioritize with focus and exposure, and track each time the faces appear in frame, up to three faces at a time. Panasonic's Frazer answered a few questions about the technology.
How much can it shoot?
The Panasonic 700 Series camcorders comes in two varieties, the HS700, complete with 240GB hard drive, and the TM700, with 32 GB of flash memory, both SDXC compatible. The 700 Series shoots full 1080/60p footage, which can quickly take up storage space. With the new 64GB SDXC cards costing approximately $700 at launch, we asked Frazer how much footage users could shoot with the 32GB model before springing for the pricey card.
HDMI not included
Finally, any HD camcorder worth buying has an HDMI out, but a common complaint has always been that devices rarely ship with a cable, meaning users have to pick up their own if they want to broadcast the HD footage from the camera to their HDTV at the best possible resolution. We asked Frazer if the 700 Series would ship with an HDMI cable, and if not, why not?
As Panasonic's flagship camcorder, the 700 Series was set to impress. After getting our hands on it at PMA 2010, it's certainly poised to meet the high expectations set by Panasonic's previous prosumer models, the TM300 , HS300, and HS250. The device has a great, sturdy feel and seems very well-built. The 3.0 inch touchscreen LCD monitor is a bit smaller than the competition in the same class (Sony and Samsung both sport 3.5 inch displays), so the navigation felt a bit cramped on first impression. Thankfully, the 700 Series does have a manual ring around the lens to control the zoom, focus, white balance, shutter speed, and aperture.
We look forward to getting our hands on a review unit to put the Panasonic 700 Series through the rigors. If it lives up to the hype, it may just set a new standard for digital zoom.