Small Camera Big Picture

The HMC40 is Panasonic’s latest AVCCAM camcorder, an entry-level professional unit that records in the AVCHD format to regular SDHC memory cards. At a suggested retail price of $2,295 ($1,995 estimated street price), it’s even less expensive than the standard-def Panasonic DVX100B, but it’s jam-packed with features. These include a full HD 3MOS imaging block, and most of the best features of its bigger brothers—a waveform monitor, zebras, a spot meter, two scene files, 1080/24p and 720/60p, a repeatable focus ring, uncompressed HDMI output, optical image stabilization, dynamic-range stretching and more. It even adds new features to the AVCCAM lineup such as time-lapse, still photo capture and a touch-screen display.

The AG-HMC40 looks a lot like a “mini-me” version of the AG-HMC150; it’s much smaller (45%) and lighter (just 2.16 pounds). That tiny size does mean less room for manual buttons, but Panasonic managed to combine features to still provide full manual control. For example, there’s only one ring on the lens; you choose whether the lens ring adjusts focus, zoom or iris. On the other hand, the power zoom is much more flexible and capable than the three fixed speeds of the HMC150; the HMC40 offers a variable-speed zoom ranging from ultraslow to not-too-shabby fast. I’d rather have a manual zoom ring, but this is a workable compromise. Some buttons now do double (or triple) duty—for example, the iris control. On the HMC150, it consists of a button (toggles between manual or automatic iris) and a wheel (adjusts the iris position). On the HMC40, there’s only the wheel, but Panasonic has kept the same functionality because the wheel also is a button. Push the wheel to toggle between manual and auto, and scroll the wheel to adjust the iris. It’s a clever way of offering the same level of functionality (keeping the buttons finger-sized) while taking up less physical space. Another example is the white-balance button. Instead of using a three-position toggle switch and a button, the HMC40 has only one button. Pressing it changes through the various options of automatic, preset or manual white balance, and holding in the button starts the manual white-balance function. It takes up half the space, but works.

The Panasonic AG-HMC40 uses a touch-screen LCD on which you can use your finger or a stylus to access the camera menus.

The HMC40 looks a lot like a “mini-me” version of the HMC150; it’s much smaller (45%) and lighter (just 2.16 pounds).

There are three user buttons and 14 choices of functions to assign to them. A few merit special attention, primarily the wave-form monitor. Other great options include the ability to delete the last clip you just shot, the shot marker (“good take/bad take”) function and, if you really need it, a monstrous +34 dB of gain.