Panasonic HDC-TM40 Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
Ease of Use
The HDC-TM40 is reasonably easy to use, especially if you don't like touchscreen LCDs. The camcorder's user interface is a throwback to the days when almost no manufacturers used touchscreens (now, it's actually hard to find a camcorder that doesn't). Still, the TM40's menu navigation system is far from perfect. The buttons on the left of the LCD panel aren't huge, and they don't offer the best tactile feedback, but, in all honesty, we prefer them to most of the touchscreen systems we've used. A crummy d-pad is better than a poorly-built touchscreen in our book.
Panasonic incorporated a help mode on the TM40 that is meant to provide bits of information about certain menu options and features. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Panasonic really thought out this help mode, as the information is displayed on the bottom of the LCD in scrolling text that moves hilariously slow. So, if you want to find out what Intelligent Contrast does, for example, you can turn on the help mode and wait 30 - 45 seconds for the "helpful" text to scroll by. Other, more complicated features may have more text, which means by the time you're done reading about the features you've probably missed your chance at getting a good shot.
You can put the TM40 into its dedicated auto mode by pressing the iA/manual button inside the LCD cavity. This button switches between Intelligent Auto (iA) and manual control of the camcorder, with iA being the TM40's dedicated auto mode. In iA mode, the camcorder features a truncated menu system, although you can still access the menu (some camcorders lock you out of that ability entirely when using the dedicated auto mode). It also puts all controls to automatic, so you can't make any manual adjustments in iA mode. The mode works fine, and we were impressed with the way the camcorder's automatic controls responded, but we do wish the option for Intelligent Auto mode was more front-and-center on the TM40. The little button inside the LCD cavity is both hard to find and hard to read—and the "iA" label doesn't really mean anything to someone who doesn't know what it stands for.
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.