Panasonic HDC-TM40 Camcorder Review
There are three options for displaying guide lines on the TM40: horizontal strips, horizontal and vertical strips that make a 9-sector grid, and an option for a checkerboard pattern with many lines. The lines won't end up on your recorded video, as they are meant to help you frame your shot.
When you turn on the TM40's tele macro mode, the camcorder automatically zooms to its fullest optical zoom setting (which happens to be 16.8x zoom). From this position, the camcorder can then focus on ultra-close subjects that it wouldn't be able to focus on without the tele macro setting engaged. If you change the zoom at all, the tele macro setting cancels automatically.
Intelligent Contrast attempts to improve the look of bright or dark scenes captured by the TM40. The mode won't always improve the look of your video, but it may help the camcorder capture more detail in mixed lighting, or help with scenes that may be too bright otherwise. The option can be turned on and off using the on-screen control menu.
Color Night Record
Color Night Record is the TM40's low light shooting mode, but using the mode will make your footage look very different. Color Night Record uses a very slow shutter to boost the brightness in low light situations, and this slow shutter gives your footage image trails and makes motion look choppy. The mode can be good to use, but you need to understand how it can have a detrimental effect on your videos.
We liked the speedy, accurate adjustments the TM40 made to focus and exposure when the camcorder was in auto mode. Exposure changes were smooth and happened quickly, and we noticed none of the choppy, step-like changes that we've seen from many budget camcorders as we shoot at different lights sources. White balance was the least effective of the camcorder's auto controls, and we saw the color temperature shift frequently when we shot under indoor light.
In addition to the basic auto controls, the TM40 also has face detection, an auto slow shutter function, backlight compensation, and a 16.8x optical zoom. Don't ask us why Panasonic couldn't have just bumped the zoom up to 17x to make the spec sound better. The TM40 also offers a variety of scene modes: portrait, action, snow, spotlight, beach, sunrise, fireworks, landscape, night, and candlelight.
Since it lacks an external mic and headphone jack, the HDC-TM40 certainly isn't the camcorder for someone who wants to capture professional-grade audio. But the camcorder has a few audio features that are impressive for a budget model. For starters, you can adjust the audio recording level for the built-in stereo microphone manually. You can also set the mic level to auto, or give it a slight boost while still having the mic adjust automatically. Additionally, the mic has a wind cut option to reduce the noise associated with shooting video in a windy environment.
The TM40 ships with HD Writer LE version 1.0, which is a slightly different version of the HD Writer software that ships with Panasonic's higher-end consumer camcorders (the TM90, for example, comes with HD Writer AE version 3.0). Either way, the bundled software's main purpose is that it helps you import video clips to a computer, perform minor edits, and assist with uploading content to the internet. If you want to do extensive video editing, your best bet is to buy a good editing program like Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Avid, etc. For an overview of the software that ships with this and other camcorders, see our article: Video Editing Software For Your CamcorderPanasonic-Included-Software.htm.