Here we are in 2010 with another mid-range HD camcorder from Panasonic. Presumably, the TM60 replaces the TM10, which we thought was a solid product when it came out last fall, and which went on to become respectably popular on this site for a few months. The TM60 is about the same price as the TM10 was when it came out, and the feature set is nearly identical, as are the looks and user interface. Fine by us. We think the same type of consumers will go for this too: casual videographers with some disposable income, like parents filming youth sports, and hobbyists in the market for a quality, yet affordable HD cam.
Like the TM10, I found the TM60's physical design to be kind of uncomfortable, though better than its predecessor. The record button is still in a slightly awkward spot on the back of the unit, so a bit of camera shake was all but guaranteed whenever I reached for it. The menu system is pretty much unchanged -- that is, marginally intuitive but far from stellar. The 2.7-inch touch screen was still kind of a pain; I'm just not a fan of touch screens at all, if you've read any of my other reviews here, but this one had some calibration issues that were particularly frustrating. Even when I was sure I had tapped a certain function, something other part of the screen was triggered.
Start-up is fast, and the video starts rolling about as soon as you hit record. The twin memory function works as well as I remember it did on the TM10. When one storage device fills up, the camera switches over to the other instantaneously, as far as I could tell. 16GB is still several hours of filming, even on the highest quality setting (1080p, 17MB/second), and outlasts the somewhat meager battery life. Soundwise, the built-in stereo zoom microphone is solid. It picked up my voice pretty well, as well as ambient outdoor noises. The wind did occasionally overwhelm everything, but it's above average for a mid-range camcorder.
The huge 35x zoom is impressive (and much longer than its predecessor's 16x zoom). I cranked it up all the way to the highest telephoto, and I could see details of fresh buds on tree branches across the street even on the TM60's run-of-the-mill LCD. I really should have used a tripod, but the resulting camera shake is to be expected at such a high zoom. Seriously though, very impressive. Impressive too was the Power optical image stabilization. I filmed as I was walking down the street, with and without the stabilization, and the image was clearly more balanced when it was on. It was also probably why those full-zoom shots without a tripod were usable at all.
I'd say that the overall video quality of the TM60 (in AVCHD format, of course) is superior to its predecessor (the 1/4.01" MOS sensor certainly has a part in that), and seems to be on par with its competitors this year, though I'll have to revisit this statement once we get our own hands on some newer cameras. The colors were flat in certain situations, though I wasn't filming in particularly well-lit locations, and I noticed in one particular scene that the colors were kind of sickly green. Odd. I do wish Panasonic had kept the 24 fps shooting mode they had on the TM10. The cinematic quality was a very classy touch.
The still camera feature was respectable for a camcorder, though lackluster in general. Images lack a bit of clarity and the colors are bland, but it takes better photos than a number of low-to-mid range dedicated point-and-shoot cameras. Thankfully, there is a dedicated video button so there's no awkward menu-toggling mid-shoot, and it captures still photos seamlessly during video recording. Burst Mode (unavailable in video mode) fires up to 60 shots per second as well. I can't think of a situation where I'd use something like that, unless I was printing a flip-book, but it's nice to have, for whatever reason you may find.
If you have $600 burning a hole in your pocket and want to spend it on a quality high-definition camcorder, I'd recommend giving the TM60 a serious look, just like I recommended the TM10. I'll have to wait for some hands-on time with the new Sony models before I can call it a best buy, but it's certainly a worthy one.