by Eric Pettifor
Back in May I wrote a review of the Samsung U10 Pocket Camcorder, concluding “Because of the interface, I would only recommend this sweet little horror if you need something small and cheap which produces high quality vids right now.”
Time has passed, and I had the opportunity to look at a similar product produced by Kodak which some friends had purchased for fifty dollars less than what I paid for the Samsung. I didn’t put it through its paces, but could tell at a glance that my chief beef with the Samsung, the crappy user interface, had been addressed.
I’m not writing about a “flatty” this time, but rather a “fatty,” specifically the Panasonic SDR-S50, now discontinued. I got the last one they had at the local London Drugs, $20 off the sale price for being the floor model. I know, it’s hardly cutting edge to review something just as it’s being discontinued, but what I find of interest is the difference in the classes of device.
I noted in the Samsung review that regular camcorders were really shrinking in size, to the point now where the difference between a fatty and a flatty is not particularly great. Flatties are thinner, will fit in a shirt pocket. For a fatty you will need a more accommodating pocket, possibly trousers, certainly most jackets.
I don’t notice a huge difference in image quality, possibly because of the lense. The lenses on flatties leave something to be desired. HD compensates somewhat, since if you take a very large crappy image, and shrink it down, it looks better, but if you want high quality HD, then you’ll need an HD fatty at very least, and those are still something of an investment, just under a grand where I purchased the SDR-S50.
After messing with it for a bit, I took a look at the printed manual (not some annoying PDF on CD manual like the Samsung had), and was frankly surprised by all the features.
Control is provided for a variety of different lighting situations and subject matter, both for exposure and auto-focus.
USB isn’t just for downloading files to your computer. If you have an external USB DVD burner, you can burn files directly from the camcorder to the burner. The device can be charged via USB from a computer. The provided charger charges faster, but if you’re in a situation where you need that last shot and are prepared to sacrifice the remaining charge on your laptop, or you have the charger for the laptop, but not the camcorder, that would be a nice feature to have.
The enhanced optical zoom allows for 78x zooming, without loss of quality. (The last picture in the following series might have been a bit better if I had used a tripod.)
If you want digital zoom (and you are going to want to be using a tripod even for the optical zoom), you have to turn it on in the settings. I would be surprised if most bothered, but you can have 100x or 3500x. The price of digital zoom, of course, is quality.
And it has still more thoughtful features than can be listed in a short article. Like the Samsung flatty, it doesn’t come with protective sleeve or SD card, though in the latter case that’s fair enough, since the models up from this one have built in memory. If you wanted it with memory, you would have paid a little more for the next model up.
Given the greater variety of features, plus a better quality lens with generous optical zoom, plus not much bigger size, it really does come down to price. Even getting a good price on a discontinued model, I still paid $90 more than I could have picked up the Kodak flatty for at its regular price. But based on my experience so far with the SDR-S50, I have to conclude that fatty beats flatty.