With high-definition technology becoming more ubiquitous and increasingly commonplace, so has the market demand for these options to shoot and capture private moments in HD video. The mid-range Panasonic HDC-TM55 provides users with exactly that, at a compact and stylish package. This offering from Panasonic combines a relatively budget price ($525.95 at time of writing) with new brand features, including a new Intelligent Zoom function that reaches up to 35x as well as its Power Optical Image Stabilizer that suppresses any hand-shake movements.
Latest Update: The Panasonic HDC-TM55K is Now On Sale at Amazon.com
The HDC-TM55K has a comfortable grip design that feels assuredly solid in built. Tipping the scales at a lightweight 258g, the camcorder’s portability adds to the users’ ease of use.
The key playback buttons (play, rewind stop) are conveniently located at the top of the camcorder. Photoshot button also allows for quick photo opportunities. A nice touch on Panasonic’s part sees a switch on the back of the camcorder that allows toggling between still, video, and playback modes; much more convenient in terms of bypassing the touchscreen controls.
A new improvement with the HDC-TM55 is the 35.7mm Wide Angle Lens with its 25x zoom in tandem. The wide-angled lens allows users to shoot indoors while ensuring all the intended subjects in the room are fitted into the picture. Large groups can be fitted into the frame even when shooting up-close.
The optical zoom capable on this camcorder also enhances the outdoor shooting experience with a zoom ratio reaching up to a relatively high 25x, a figure only boosted by the Intelligent Zoom function that expands it to 35x. This is touted by Panasonic as being superior to other forms of digital zoom capabilities as the image resolution is importantly not compromised when enlarged in focus on distant subjects.
The HDC TM-55 is loaded with 1/4.1 inch MOS sensors. The total pixel count for the camera stands at 3.32 megapixels with the effective pixel count coming in at 2.11 megapixels for motion recording. The rotatable LCD screen remains at 2.7 inches wide, but still offers and optimal playback viewing experience. These numbers translate into an overall improvement on the last batch of Panasonic HD camcorders.
The Power O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabiliser) is another mooted enhancement to this HD 60 series. Crucial to the zoom function, the Power O.I.S. helps reduce the slightest of hand-shake movements. This is especially handy when considering the previous possibilities of enlarged images being offset in quality by unsteady hands. Zoom tests, however, reveal otherwise (See zoom test video below).
Also not commonly available in this price range of camcorders is a rather useful LED video light for shooting in dimly-lit environments, capable of doubling up as an improvised flashlight as well. The camera automatically switches on the light if it decides that the ambient light is not bright enough.
It is notable that Panasonic has opted to increase the versatility of the new HD 60 series with regards to its memory storage. The HDC-TM55 has a flash memory storage capacity of 8 GB (up to 1 hour of video*, or 3400 still pictures**). Storage is also considerably beefed up with card slots compatible with both SD/SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) memory cards. Incidentally, the latter makes Panasonic the first producer of SDXC-compatible camcorders, affording a lot more space (up to 64GB extra storage) to work with these essentially flash-based camcorders.
* Motion image recorded at 17 Mbps
** Still images taken at 2816 x 1584 pixels (4.5 megapixels)
“After weeks of research and comparing the mid range models from Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic, I ended up with the TM55K. Some of the main features I was looking for was still picture capability and low light performance. The TM55K is taking very good pictures. The flash seems powerful and is fully automatic and the images are good. Not as great as my digital camera, but good enough to avoid needing to haul a camcorder and camera to every vacation or event.The low light performance is fantastic. No issues at all. The zoom was a huge bonus and blew away everything else I looked at. The 25x Optical Zoom works great and the image stabilizer keeps things steady, even when zoomed in at the max. Plus it’s a wide angle lens as well.There are a ton of features, but I pretty much use the “Intelligent Auto Mode” and it takes care of everything for me. If you want to navigate the menus and options, the touch screen works very well. “ – TnS “JE” (Phoenix, AZ USA) Amazon Verified Purchase
Even with the many new advanced features introduced with the HDC TM-55, the camera remains compellingly user-friendly, especially so for novices new to operating a camcorder. This is accentuated by the straightforward LCD touchscreen interface that caters to both experienced and beginner users alike. The touchscreen interface includes the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, an intuitive feature that lets users simply pick up the camcorder and start shooting fuss-free.
The iA mode dovetails most perfectly with features like the face recognition and AF/AE tracking function. The face recognition function is capable of recognising the faces of up to 6 registered subjects, consequently able to keep track of the subject’s movement within the LCD frame. It is with this AF/AE tracking feature that the HDC TM-55 is quite impressive. Simply touching the subject to indicate it on the LCD prompts the camera to lock onto it and keep it in sharp focus even as the subject moves around.
While the Power OIS claims to reduce blur images and suppress hand-shake movements when zooming in focus of a subject, it doesn’t deliver on all counts. It has to be said that the picture quality is satisfyingly crisp up to 35x of its Intelligent Zoom mode. Even so, the image becomes increasingly unstable and ‘shaky’ as it is enlarged.
Here’s a short clip of the HDC-TM55 Full Zoom test:
But credit where it is due, and in this case, the HDC TM-55 is more than competent in motion picture recording, a fact made all the more impressive given it is recording in the 1080 interlaced format.
Audio recording capabilities on the HDC-TM55 are also a step up from previous models with the new evolved Wind Noise Canceller. Doing what it says on the tin, the Noise Canceller automatically detects and aids in the suppression of wind noise with technology not dissimilar to that of noise-cancelling headphones.
The rechargeable battery provided is said to last for 110 minutes of actual recording time (start and stop usage), considerably sufficient for a day’s worth of shooting, although it may prove handy to acquire an additional battery.
Videos are recorded in both the MPEG-4 and AVC/H.264 (default) formats. This means compatibility with most Windows-based editing tools, including the provided HD Writer AE 2.0. Mac users are able to edit their videos with the iMovie application which is not supplied along with the camera. Videos in HD formats are considerably large in size however, and users are encouraged to have sufficient hard disk capacity to store and edit said files.
Connectivity issues are kept to a minimum with multiple modes of hooking up the camcorder to an external device. The LCD recess lays home to the full complement of ports and connectors of the HDC TM-55: mini-HDMI out, dual AV/Component Out, USB as well as the afore-mentioned SDXC card slot. This might present inconveniences though, as the LCD has to stay open when connected to other devices.
Overall, the HDC TM-55K presents a well-rounded camcorder at the consumer level. The features while being advanced are intuitive and user-friendly enough not to discourage the less-experienced user from experimenting or simply just pointing-and-shooting. Adding to the mix the comparatively lower cost as compared to the other high-end models such as those in the HD 700 series ($999-$1399), this budget camera can serve the needs of the average consumer well enough. A slight unsteadiness at high zoom ratios should not be enough to deter consumers from what is an extremely cost-efficient camcorder.
More user reviews:
• “Did a lot of research before purchasing this camera and cannot say enough how pleased I am with it! True 1080p videos that play back beautifully on my Blu-ray DVD recorder. I think this camera offers many of the great features found on cameras that are much more expensive. This camera is very ‘user friendly’ Wonderful zoom capabilities . . . face recognition that WORKS! . . . sharp still photos option even while you are shooting a video. We purchased the Panasonic DVD Burner (model VW-BN2PP)which burned 1080p HD disks with no problems at all. Highly recommend you purchase the burner also. Software included that allows you to watch these disks on your home computer, however at only a ten frame per second rate which results in a minor ‘chopped’ effect. Burned disks play perfectly on your Blu-ray DVD recorder. Battery life has been great, but have purchased the Panasonic VW-VBK360 Lithium Ion Battery Pack which doubles the recording time. Going out with these two batteries in hand should allow you to record as long as you would want in a day before recharging them. By the way, this battery has only just become available in the past few weeks. If you order an extra battery, make sure you get the VW-VBK360 as others will not fit this camcorder. Again, great camera and well worth the price!” – T.Owens (USA)
• “I wanted to say “Idiot Friendly” but decided not to enter that in the title. I have never owned a Camcorder before and this is my first Camcorder purchase. It is VERY simple to operate so I purchased this Camcorder based on the previous reviews and my experience with a Panasonic product. I was right on too. I have only used it for one weekend but it is very easy to operate and understand.
Now for the good part, the software is also easy to navigate. After importing my video’s into my PC, I was very surprised as to how excellent the video quality is. Even for a newbe, I did not do too bad but I attribute the quality to my camcorder.
All in all, this was a great birthday present from my hubby and I hope to continue to enjoy many years of videoing now! Thanks Panasonic for another great product.” – S.Cooks (Eastern NC, USA)
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