If you don't want to spend more for the top-rated Canon Vixia HF G10 (*Est. $995), experts say the Panasonic HDC-TM900 is a fine alternative. The Panasonic can't quite match the Canon's stunning sensitivity in dim light, but the Panasonic does one thing Canon's flagship camcorder can't: It can record in 3D, if you buy Panasonic's add-on 3D lens (*Est. $285).
Both camcorders shoot generally excellent, full 1080p HD footage. The Panasonic can record in smooth 60p (progressive) high definition, as well as 60i (interlaced) and 30p; the Canon can't do 60p, but it does offer a true 24p mode that reviewers say results in lovely, film-like footage. (Progressive is higher quality than interlaced.) CNET's Lori Grunin winds up fiddling a lot with the Panasonic's white balance to get it right, though. The Canon gets higher scores for sound quality in one test, and some owners complain that the Panasonic's fan noise intrudes upon their video.
Both the Panasonic and Canon camcorders include 32 GB of built-in flash memory and offer a full complement of manual controls, with electronic viewfinders and lens rings -- but the Canon's lens ring only controls manual focus, while the Panasonic's more versatile ring controls "almost everything (focus, zoom, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, gain)," CamcorderInfo.com says.
CamcorderInfo.com and TrustedReviews.com both thoroughly test the Panasonic HDC-TM900, evaluating its 3D capability as well. CNET, ConsumerReports.org and the U.K.'s Which? magazine test the camcorder in 2D, but not 3D. Owners give feedback on the TM900's real-life performance at Amazon.com.
Despite some disappointments -- Jeremy Stamas says Panasonic didn't improve the HDC-TM900 enough over the HDC-TM700 -- it's still "one of the better camcorders we've used" and one of CamcorderInfo.com's top picks.
Review: Panasonic HDC-TM900, Jeremy Stamas, March 8, 2011
The Panasonic HDC-TM900 is the only camcorder to earn a perfect score of 10 at the U.K.'s TrustedReviews.com. Even though it's not much different from the earlier HDC-TM700, "image quality is outstanding in virtually all conditions, and even the price is reasonable."
Review: Panasonic HDC-TM900 Review, James Morris, March 23, 2011
With "generally excellent video quality," the Panasonic HDC-TM900 makes CNET's list of the best HD camcorders. Lori Grunin does find some flaws, including "wonky white balance."
Review: Panasonic HDC-TM900, Lori Grunin, Nov. 9, 2011
ConsumerReports.org has tested more than 50 HD camcorders, including the Panasonic HDC-TM900. Editors rate camcorders on several measures of video, audio and photo quality, ease of use and more before ranking them from best to worst.
Review: HD Camcorder Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
5. Which? magazine
Editors of this ConsumerReports.org-like British publication test 123 full-featured HD camcorders, including the Panasonic HDC-TM900. They rate each one's video quality, sound quality, autofocus and more before picking the best buys.
Review: Camcorders, Editors of Which? magazine
The Panasonic HDC-TM900 gets overwhelmingly positive reviews from more than 40 owners here, averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars. Negative reviews are posted, though, and a few owners complain that fan noise from the camcorder shows up in their videos. Panasonic has posted a response on the Amazon.com product page recommending that owners change the mic channel from 5:1 to 3:1 to solve the problem.
Review: Panasonic HDC-TM900K 3 MOS 3D Compatible Camcorder with 32 GB Internal Flash Memory (Black), Contributors to Amazon.com