The Panasonic SDR-S50 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, but you have to supply your own storage--SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are accepted.
The S50'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.
|Key specs||Panasonic SDR-S50|
|Dimensions (HWD)||2.5 x 2.2 x 4.2|
|Weight (with battery and media)||8.3 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||None; 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||50 minutes per 4GB|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and electronic|
|Battery type, rated continuous life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 1 hour 20 minutes|
There's nothing out of the ordinary about the design of the S50 other than it being very small for having such a long zoom lens. The top and left sides are a mix of shiny black and chrome plastic, while the right side is matte black plastic. The S50 is available in gold-and-blue 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, and a slider to the left of the lens controls the lens cover for easy protection.
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.