The Panasonic HDC-HS900 is a Full HD camcorder that is capable of shooting in 3D. It uses a detachable 3D conversion lens (sold separately) that records left-eye and right-eye images simultaneously to produce stereoscopic video. These videos can then be viewed on a 3D-capable monitor or television with the use of 3D glasses.
Read our 3D camcorder and 3D camera buyer's guide
Other product highlights include 220GB of inbuilt storage, a 35mm Leica Dicomar wide-angle lens with 12x optical zoom, 1080/50p Full HD recording and an advanced optical/electrical image stabilisation system that cuts down on camera-shake.
Panasonic HDC-HS900 with VW-CLT1 conversion lens.
The Panasonic HDC-HS900 is an immensely capable camcorder both in its 2D and 3D guises. However, setting up the 3D conversion lens is a bit fiddly (see below) and the entire package is somewhat over-priced.
Still, if you require a top-notch camcorder that can also shoot in 3D, it remains one of the better options on the market.
Panasonic HDC-HS900: Using 3D Video
One of the HDC-HS900's main selling points is its 3D video capabilities. This requires the use of Panasonic's VW-CLT1 3D Conversion Lens, which is sold seperately for $449.
Calibrating 3D images is a tricky process that involves four separate steps. The first stage involves fastening the lens attachment to the camera's body — a task that is easier said than done.
On each occasion, it took us several attempts to properly align the VW-CLT1 with the HDC-HS900's lens. You need to slot the head in with the utmost precision; otherwise it will refuse to lock into place. As you can imagine, this quickly leads to frustration.
Attaching the 3D conversion lens requires some dexterity.
Once the lens attachment has been properly fastened, you need to adjust the position of the lens using three separate dials. The trick is to get both stereoscopic images perfectly aligned on a vertical and horizontal axis.
We think this may frighten off novice users, although after a bit of practice it soon becomes second nature. This is just as well, as you need to recalibrate the camera every time you switch it off or remove the lens.
When shooting in 3D, the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 shuts off the majority of manual controls, which essentially turns it into a point-and-shoot camera. That said, you can now make time-lapse videos in 3D, which should present creative types with some interesting opportunities.
Unfortunately, the camcorder cannot be used to capture 3D photos, as seen on digital cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix FX78. A missed opportunity there, to be sure. (To find out how the 3D looks, read the Video Performance section on Page 2.)
Design & Handling
In terms of design and build quality, the HDC-HS900 is virtually indistinguishable from Panasonic's previous Full HD camcorders. It's reasonably attractive without drawing too much attention to itself.
We had no qualms with how the HDC-HS900 handled - it fits comfortably into the hand and all major controls are within easy reach of fingers. The 3.5in touchscreen is a bit basic looking, but it gets the job done and is rarely confusing.
The Panasonic HDC-HS900 comes with a highly coveted manual servo ring.
Hands-on videographers will be particularly pleased by the inclusion of a manual servo ring around the lens barrel. This allows you to make minute adjustments to the focus, shutter speed, iris, white balance and zoom. If you're a budding film director or documentary-maker, this tool is indispensible. It also comes with an AVF/viewfinder, which is particularly handy when shooting in bright sunlight.
Casual users are equally well catered for, with the Intelligent Auto mode doing a stellar job of adjusting camcorder settings on the fly. It even has its own dedicated iA button, which allows camcorder Luddites to bypass the menu completely. For the truly camera-challenged, hints and tips appear on the LCD screen, telling you when you're panning too fast, for example.
In other words, the HDC-HS900 offers the best of both worlds — it has plenty of advanced controls for serious users yet remains accessible to beginners.
Panasonic HDC-HS900 with 3D conversion lens attached.
In 3D mode, the HDC-HS900 is a little unweildy. The lens attachment is almost as big as the camcorder itself, measuring a whopping 88x56x73mm. This gives the device a 'top-heavy' appearance and can lead to wrist strain after prolonged shooting periods. For this reason, we recommend investing in a tripod.
NEXT PAGE: Video performance, value for money and conclusion.