Pocket video cameras were all the rage a year or so ago, but the ubiquity of smartphones able to record HD footage has seriously eroded their appeal. Panasonic is hoping to reinvigorate consumer interest with the addition of a touchscreen and a rugged design.
Panasonic certainly has the track record to pull it off. Its Toughbook laptops have long been favourites of workers who need computing power in the field, and the HM-TA20 (AKA HM-TA2GN-KA ) looks to have benefited from this experience.
Available in a bright, anodised blue or orange finish, the HM-TA20 feels solidly made. In typical rugged fashion, there are exposed screwheads, dramatically chamfered edges and, around the sides, a scattering of lockable, sealed flaps that allow the camera to be submerged in up to 3m of water - great fun at the beach. Even the pop-out USB arm is sealed away, and it's shockproof too.
The camera shoots 1080p video at 30fps, and there's even an LED video light next to the lens. Turn on the HM-TA20, however, and the positive first impressions quickly dissipate. The camera's user interface is cluttered and poorly designed, with large, clip-art style graphics. The software, stored onboard, isn't much better. Although it offers plenty of power, it's ugly and isn't easy to use.
The 3in touchscreen uses cheap resistive technology, which isn't particularly responsive. The integrated rechargeable lithium ion battery stops charging when you put it in “PC” mode (to transfer pictures and video) and there’s no built-storage – you have to supply your own SD card.
Quality makes up for this to some degree, with excellent results in good light. There's plenty of detail and footage looks more crisp than that of the Sony Bloggie Touch - our current favourite pocket video camera. In low light the difference is less marked, with grainy, but not murky shots the order of the day.
Where it really loses out to the Sony Bloggie, however, is in frame rates: drop to 720p and the Bloggie will shoot at up to 60fps for smooth panning and action shots; the Panasonic, on the other hand, remains steadfastly stuck on 30fps. We found the electronic image stabilisation to be less effective too.
Video quality may be good then, and the waterproofing is certainly a fun feature, but the Sony Bloggie Touch – with its bundled 360-degree lens, better software, superior stabilisation and smoother motion capture at lower resolutions – makes it look rather ordinary.
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk