When we reviewed Panasonic's flagship model for 2009, the TM300, we thought it was a great camera. Our reviewer found the full 1080p HD video quality to be stellar, the dual hard-drive/SDHC memory to be an ample (even excessive) amount of storage space, and overall offered great performance and control. But the major downside was the exorbitant price tag, weighing in around $1,300 (it has dropped to $1,100 since then).
Well, Panasonic now offers a cure for the sticker-shock blues: the TM10, the half-pint little brother to the TM300. The specs are largely the same, but some luxury features have been pared down; the whopping 32-gigabyte hard drive has been chopped down to a "mere" 8 gigabytes and the optical zoom lens is no longer hand-adjustable (though it has been cranked up from 12x to 16x), among some other minor tweaks.
As a casual videographer myself, I didn't miss any of it. Despite a few beefs I had with the physical design and layout, I had a great time shooting with the TM10. It's small enough to fit in a coat pocket but the quality is superb, making it great for long sessions like recitals or sports games. I can confidently recommend this powerful camcorder to anybody in the market for a quality HD model.
The video quality is simply fantastic. At the highest setting, 1080p at 17mbps in the 24fps Cinema setting, I felt like I could've been shooting Good Will Hunting: Part 2 out in Harvard Yard (see the videos below). The image stabilization was effective even at full optical zoom and added a nice semi-professional flare to my simple films, while the stereo microphone worked reasonably well for a built-in unit.
1080p, 17 mbps, 24fps
Eight gigabytes is plenty of space for a hard drive, I discovered. After a two-hour shoot, the battery was totally drained but the hard drive was barely two-thirds full, even filming at 13 mbps (the second-highest quality setting). With a large 16 or 32 GB SDHC card in the slot, I'm hard-pressed to think of a situation where I could conceivably run out of space, as long as I transferred the videos to a computer every week or so.
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.
My only major issue was with the physical design and layout, which prevents this from being a must-have. Panasonic placed the record button awkwardly on the back of the unit, so it was uncomfortable (even for my big hands) to reach it without causing notable camera shake, even with the stabilization on. There's another record button on the frame around the touch-screen, but I didn't use it very often. In fact, I tried to ignore the touch-screen as much as possible. It's too small to use comfortably; even when I was sure I had tapped a certain function, something else triggered. The menus were a chore to navigate, and the design was a bit cramped for my liking.
I'd still highly recommend the TM10 to anybody in need of a high-quality HD camcorder—new parents, soccer moms, and even budding film hobbyists. It's a treat to use, and at under than $500, reasonably priced for the quality of video you'll get.