Panasonic SDR-SW20 First Impressions Camcorder Review
The ocean is home to a plethora of organisms, lost treasures, and abandoned shipwrecks. Panasonic is now adding camcorders to the list. The company’s first dive into underwater video is a valiant attempt. The SDR-SW20 ($399 MSRP) is extremely compact, recording to SD and SDHC cards, and is coated in an easily grippable surface. Bright colors help it from getting lost, but with a depth safety of only 5 feet, you’ll have to stick to shallow waters. Will this be enough to win over land lovers?
The SDR-SW20 is equipped with a basic imaging set, so don’t expect breathtaking detail of Shamu the killer whale. Inside the SDR-SW20 is a single 1/6" imager with a 680,000 gross pixel resolution (340,000 effective pixel count in 4:3 shooting mode). This is the same imager found on Panasonic’s lower-end DVD camcorders, along with matching compression. The only difference is effective pixel count. The VDR-D230 has a 460,000 effective pixel count in 16:9 while the SDR-SW20 is only capable of 300,000. This means that shooting in widescreen will cost you image quality – a rarity in today’s widescreen-standard camcorder market
We reviewed the VDR-D230 and found its image to be pale, noisy, and bad with motion. You can expect a similar performance with the SDR-SW20. Both camcorders use the less-than-ideal MPEG-2 compression, even in the 10Mbps XP shooting mode. Compared to the MiniDV PV-GS85, which features an identical imager but with superior DV compression, there is no contest.
Low Light Performance
Panasonic states that the SDR-SW20’s minimum required lux is 2, though that’s cheating with MagicPix. The VDR-D320 displayed a decent image in low light. Despite its noise issues, the VDR-D230 was able to retain a fair amount of color detail and brightness. The camcorder even had some margin of correction to play with by allowing you to manually adjust the gain, even at 15 lux. This could be the SDR-SW20’s saving grace as certain parts of the ocean are ominously dark, even at 5 feet. A video light would have been a good idea—hopefully the SDR-SW20’s future successor will sport one.