Here's the thing about bringing a new product to a crowded market: you have to either offer something different and/or better or something similar to the competition at a lower price. This is especially true for pocket video cameras, and Panasonic's HM-TA1 minicamcorder delivers neither. With plenty of models already available from camera and camcorder manufacturers, as well as competition from multifunction devices like the iPod Touch and a bevy of smartphones, the TA1 is fairly undesirable in terms of price and features. Add to that the overall poor design and there's just not much here to like. It is small and the video quality is very good--at least in bright conditions--but the device is otherwise unremarkable. Unless you can find it for cheap, there's little reason to pick the TA1 over minicamcorders from Flip, Kodak, or Sony.
|Key specs||Panasonic HM-TA1|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.1 x 2.1 x 0.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||No internal storage; SD/SDHC/SDXC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/4.1-inch CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||2-inch LCD, 153K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focus, f2.8|
|File format (video, audio)||H.264 video, mono AAC audio (.MP4)|
|Resolution||1,920x1,080 at 30fps (12Mbps; progressive)|
|Recording time at highest quality||30 minutes|
|Image stabilization type||Electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||Rechargeable lithium ion pack, 80 minutes|
The TA1 is a candy-bar-style minicamcorder that is held vertically. The device is attractive, lightweight, and very compact. Unfortunately, the design goes downhill from there. For starters, the body is made from glossy plastic (available in three color choices) with silver edges that show every fingerprint, and is somewhat slippery to hold. The power button and battery/memory card compartment are on the right side and, depending on your hand size, your thumb may either accidentally hit the power or slide the compartment door open if you hold it too firmly. The door feels cheap and flimsy, too.
On the left side under a door at the top is the sole AV output, which is composite only (a cable is included); there's no option for a component cable accessory and no HDMI output. That means there's no direct viewing from the TA1 of content at HD resolutions on an HDTV. On a side note, since Panasonic's HDTVs have SD card slots, I tried to view the video that way, but no luck: Panasonic's sets don't support MPEG-4 playback from cards.
At the bottom of the device is a slider for a built-in USB connector that pops out from behind a door on the lower left side. A USB extension cable is included for getting to those hard-to-reach ports. Though it is removable, the battery is charged by USB and takes roughly 4 hours to fully power up. It drains in about 80 minutes of continuous recording, so if you're going to be out doing a lot of recording you may want an extra battery. For most people, though, that should be plenty of battery life.
In an attempt to simplify controls, Panasonic assigned only one function to each button. This only really adds two buttons to the number typically found on minicamcorders, but it makes the control panel a cluttered mess. And because all of the buttons are flush with the body and made of slick plastic, they can be difficult to press accurately. At least the record button is front and center, so all you need to do is turn the TA1 on and press it to start recording.
Recording resolutions include VGA, 720p, and 1,080p, all at 30 frames per second. Panasonic also hypes the availability of Apple's iFrame format, a smaller-than-HD 960x540/30p (24Mbps) size designed to be easily imported into iMovie (though you can easily import standard HD MPEG-4 formats into iMovie).