3 CCDs, HDD, and SD - acronyms are a good thing
Hard disk storage, high end sensors, ease of use
Somewhat pricey, requires a fairly new computer to handle video processing.
The Bottom Line:
The SDR-H200 is the top of the line in standard definition camcorders. Hard-disk storage, 3CCDs, and a rich set of features make it hard to beat.
The Panasonic SDR-H200 is one of a new generation of camcorders based with hard drive storage. The advantages to this are almost too numerous to mention, but here are a few: You never have to look for media – not tapes, not discs – it's built in. Storage capacity is amazing – the 30gb disk holds over 13 hours of video at full resolution. You can't accidentally overwrite something you have already recorded. You can easily delete scenes that you messed up or simply don't want. Downloading content to a computer is a breeze. Battery life is dramatically improved. Need I go on? In addition to the hard drive, you can opt to store video or still images on a standard removable SD card.
I chose the SDR-H200 for a number of reasons. First, I wanted the advantage of HDD storage. Second, I did not want High Definition, as I don't have an HDTV, don't plan on getting one any time soon, and didn't want to sacrifice the storage space required to handle HD content. Panasonic uses standard camcorder batteries, which are relatively inexpensive, while some other brands use proprietary batteries. The 2MP still photo capability is better than most camcorders. I already have other SD-card devices and cards.
The most important reason I chose the SDR-H200, however, was for the 3 CCDs. A CCD can be though of as the sensor that captures the video. 3 CCD systems separate the colors among different sensors, improving picture quality. Until recently, this was available only on very high end and professional cameras.
Using the Camera
The SDR-H200 is very small, light, and comfortable to hold. Most necessary controls are easily accessed at a thumb's reach. The smooth zoom switch is under your index finger. The monitor screen is a nice size and has a 16:9 aspect ratio for shooting in widescreen format. There is no optical viewfinder. Menu access and navigation is done with a simple directional joystick near your thumb. Menus are fairly intuitive and easy to navigate, although some features are on "page 2" of a menu, which you have to know is there. Documentation is very good.
The real test of any camera is the picture quality, and here I have no complaints. The video is smooth and crisp, colors are good, and low lighting is handled well.
There are lighting, editing, composition, and scene features galore; I have only begun to explore them. Image stabilization is quite effective – my videos are noticeable less shaky than with my older camcorder. You can watch you video playback through a television, which is handled through a special (included) cable with standard composite video hookups.
The SDR-H200 connects to a computer via a standard (and included) USB cable. Hook it up, turn it on, and the computer will recognize the camera as an external drive. You can copy the images across to your computer, then use the included software (or your own, if you have it) to begin the editing process. Each scene comes across as a separate file, recorded in MPEG2 format. The software is fairly basic, but gets the job done for file management and editing. I was able to do some basic editing, including fades, titles, etc, with no trouble, and without consulting the less-than-complete online documentation.
There is also a one-button feature that will drop your video directly to DVD, assuming your computer has a DVD burner.
One general caveat, which is true for any digital video processing: you need a fairly fast machine with plenty of memory to make editing and a smooth process. My older P4 1.5 w/512mb RAM is barely adequate.
Overall, I am very happy with my purchase.