The Panasonic SDR-H85 is like having a small telescope that's able to capture standard-definition video. With its 70x lens you'll have no problem getting closer to your subject, and its optical image stabilization is very good even if you're moving. (You'll still want to use a tripod or other support whenever possible; the O.I.S system is good, but not that good.) You get full manual controls, too, as well as an 80GB hard drive for storage and the ability to expand that with SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
The H85's video quality is merely OK, but it's typical of what you can expect from any current standard-def consumer camcorder. Low-light movies are particularly poor, though, due to heavy noise. Also, those needing jacks for an external mic or headphones won't find them.
This camcorder is simply an inexpensive, easy-to-use option for capturing average standard-definition video with a megazoom lens. Don't expect the fine-quality SD video found before HD camcorders took over the market. At this point, you're money is going for the lens and the storage, not the video results.
If you're interested in this model but you don't need and/or want the hard drive, check out the SDR-T50 with its 4GB of internal flash memory and slightly smaller body. Those who want to save some money can pick up the SDR-S50 which has no internal storage, but records to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
|Key specs||Panasonic SDR-H85|
|Dimensions (HWD)||2.8 x 2.8 x 5.5|
|Weight (with battery and media)||8.3 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||80GB hard drive; SD, SDHC, SDXC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||800K pixels (total), 1/8-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution||2.7-inch LCD, 123K dots|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||70x, f1.9-5.7, 33-2,571mm (35mm equivalent)|
|Minimum illumination||5 lux|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-2 (.MOD), AVC/H.264 (.MP4), Dolby Digital stereo|
|Resolution (video/photo)||704x480 / 640x480|
|Recording time at highest quality||18 hours, 30 minutes (80GB)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and electronic|
|Battery type, rated continuous life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 2 hour 55 minutes|
There's nothing out of the ordinary about the design of the H85 other than it being very small for having such a long zoom lens and an 80GB hard drive. The top and left sides are a mix of shiny black and chrome plastic, while the right side is matte black plastic. (It's available in blue and silver versions, too) The handstrap is attached low on the body, but with the camcorder being so small and lightweight it doesn't flop over to the left if you release your grip. The body is compact enough to slip in a large, coat pocket or handbag. However, the bump caused by the hard drive on the right side makes it a bit larger than the flash-memory-based T50 and S50 models.
Controls are pretty typical of this type of camcorder--at least of those without a touch screen--and everything is well positioned. Slip your right hand into the strap and your fingers will be in reach of the zoom rocker and shutter release on top, buttons for going between Intelligent Auto (iA) and Manual shooting modes and activating the optical image stabilization, and a slider on back for going from record to playback and back again. The movie record button is positioned under your thumb to the right of the battery pack, which juts from the back of the camcorder. There is no need to change to a photo mode to take a still picture--just press the shutter release.
Flip open the LCD and to the left of the screen you'll find a button for activating the tracking autofocus, a five-way joystick for navigation and making manual shooting adjustments, and a Menu button. Pressing in on the joystick brings up mode-specific shooting options like accessing focus, white balance, shutter speed, and aperture in Manual mode.