Arrived at Amazon August 17, arrived at my house August 19. Today is August 21, 2010.
Panasonic USA website still has this new camera on "Backorder" so Amazon seems to perhaps be the first place to have this! I placed a pre-order and have been waiting weeks for this . . .
What's in the box:
*USB "Extension Cord" About 40-inches long
*"AV" Cable about 4-feet long (composite Video-yellow connector, mono sound--white connector)
*Attachable hand strap
*Manual, misc. addenda, warranty/return survey
Stuff I wanted to know and could not find on web:
*(Real) Compatibility with IPAD--no direct support (the highly touted Apple iFrame capability means nothing as far as I can tell as to easily shooting video and directly bringing it into the IPAD). Of course moving any video into the IPAD is a big challenge. I own the Apple CCK Camera Connection Kit and was hoping this would allow me to plug the USB plug of the camera into this CCK adapter or the SD-card itself and import the video into the Apple photo app. I did easily get the still photos into the IPAD and it seems maybe the video too--but the video won't play (so how good is that). I believe this is because the high def 1920x1080P I was using at 12 Mbps (VBR) over exceeds the Apple allowable spec. (And it did not work with the iFrame content I shot at 960x540/30fps (approx 24 Mbps) (VBR). Perhaps if I had used the 640x480/30fps (approx 3 Mbps) (VBR) it would have worked--but who wants to save their precious moments in low def? (I believe the IPAD max bit rate is limited to 5 Mbps in the published spec). But don't dismay, here is the workaround: you can watch your videos on the IPAD (at the highest quality setting) by bringing them in through iTunes, directly into the GoodReader app (you can buy on iTunes). It's a fairly hidden capability of GoodReader (probably not to upset Apple too much)--but GoodReader allows you to play videos AND at higher resolutions and bit speeds than the Apple specs . . . but shhhhh, don't tell anyone, don't think we are supposed to know this. I was also able to import the video into iMovie and FCP 7.
[Addition Aug 28, 2010: Been using the above GoodReader technique on my vacation. It works, but is not perfect. There is an occasional stutter. If you demand perfect, stutter-free video on the IPAD, you will need to transcode the 1080P content to an IPAD compatible resolution/bit rate, then bring it into the Video area of the IPAD.]
*How long can your really shoot--apparently the references to 29min 59 sec (startlingly low) are the "single clip" time. Once you click stop, you seem to be able to continue to shoot (perhaps a total of 45 minutes as described in the manual)
[Addition Aug 28, 2010: The battery MUST be charged in the camera hooked up to a PC. Purchased a USB car cigarette charger for my road trip and it does not work. Also purchased an iGo portable USB charger and it did not work. Confirmed with Panasonic Tech Support you MUST charge the battery connected to a computer. If you choose to experiment with other in-camera charging techniques and the battery starts showing weird amounts of power in the on-screen meter, you will need to pull the battery out of the camera and wait 1 minute for it to sorta reset--before trying again.]
[Addition Oct 21, 2010: See important new info below on a $13.38 knock-off battery available through Amazon . . .]
*The AV out (I believe is called mini-USB connector) is only composite--no higher def cables or instructions on using it for higher def.
*There is no external microphone jack
*There is no external earphone jack
*Lens has no screw threads for attaching other lenses (see Flip Ultra HD lens wide/macro hacks on net)
[Addition October 21, 2010: Purchased magnetic Wide Angle Conversion lens from Amazon seller New World Video Direct = Panasonic TA-1 (HM-TA1) 0.45x Wide Angle Lens (HD) Black Finish W/ Macro (Modification Style) Magnetic Type. $59.00 Worked great. See my review on its product page on Amazon. Includes magnetic rings which have peel-and-stick super glue of some kind.
*Manual does not reference any other accessories other than a spare battery and SD-type memory cards (what I still found today on the Panasonic website).
*UW Housing - I am still dying to know if Panasonic will offer a low cost underwater housing for scuba diving (100 ft.)--and as of today, there is no sign that this may be a future offering.
[Addition October 21, 2010: Discovered a cool looking Underwater Housing from Ikelite on Amazon $246.95. Have not purchased at this point. On the manufacturer's site they show you some cool looking tiny video lights which go with it.]
Ikelite Compact Video Underwater Housing for Panasonic HM-TA1 Camcorder
*Video quality is awesome--what I'd expect from Panasonic (I own a Panasonic AG-HMC150--the AVCHD camera the Indie film makers love) and I am sorta a novice wanna-be indie video maker (it sometimes seems almost comparable in quality to images from this $4K-ish camera). Although this mostly automatic camera has few adjustment options, if you optimize lighting and other conditions it looks great. Certainly acceptable for point-and-shoot video kinda stuff. I am hoping I can use it for risky camera shots in future productions, where the camera might get damaged--then use the clips in "higher grade" productions.
*Still pics--seem good. Have not done extensive still pic study/comparison, but some quick looks confirmed they seem very adequate.
*Sound quality--seems good. Again note the sound is mono.
*Simplicity--more buttons that a FLIP, but they are logical/straight forward.
*Design/build quality--disappointing for a Panasonic Camcorder. It has two user access doors: Battery/SD-card and USB connector ejector. Both are very "flimsy." They have what appears to be a thin rubber "string-like-thing" holding the door on. Now as I told my buddy, in the past on many devices these would break in a few days. But I've been noticing on more modern electronics, these are more frequently being used--but now seem to be made of higher-tech materials so they seem to not break. Time will tell. This is my biggest concern over the longevity of this device.
*EXPENSIVE BATTERY--This camera (of course) seems to have a proprietary and very expensive battery--almost half the price of the camera ($74.95 list on the Panasonic website VW-VBJ10)--this is plainly price gouging. Shame on you Panasonic. And the manual scares the heck out of you, if you are even thinking about a clone/equivalent battery (threats of potential explosions, etc.). I searched and searched for the closest equivalent, but when it arrive the specs seemed like a 98% match, but I am not an electrical engineer and afraid if I use this $14 battery I'll damage the camera.
[Addition August 28, 2010: According to Panasonic Tech Support you can purchase other equivalent batteries but they MUST be 3.6 V/940mAh. The charging time when connected to a PC is 4 h 10 min for "45 min actual recording time." If you plan to use it on a vacation where you shoot more than 45 minutes of video per day, you will probably need a second battery . . .]
[Addition October 21, 2010: Purchased from Amazon $13.38 Battery from by "Panasonic Digital Camera Battery" = "Battery King" and it worked great. 3.60V, 1000mAh, Li-ion.] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003N6O02W/ref=oss_product
[Addition October 21, 2010: Purchased from Amazon $28.00 Charger for above battery "Synergy", ships from and sold by Super Deal = Yan Kwong Leung and it worked great.]
*"Exposed" lens--The lens does not have any fancy barn doors to protect it, like many of the modern digital still cameras (wish it did). There may be some kind of protective glass over it--but this old fashion, perfectionist is nervous over this. I'd feel better if they would have at least had a protective lens cap.
*No lens hood capability(?)--I'd love to put some kind of lens hood over the lens to protect the lens from reflections/glare, but again, there does not seem to be provision to attach one. And yes I know this is a "low cost" camera.
*Software--Is preloaded into the Camera and is nothing impressive as far as facilitating the use of the video on mobile devices, etc. (transcoding/conversion, etc.)
The build quality of the Flip Ultra HD--far exceeds the quality of this device. The USB connector ejector slider should win the prize for "Best throwback to Plasticky Trash to come out of Japan since 1960." I am embarrassed for Panasonic. This is definitely the Panasonics equivalent to the Toyota debacle of 2010. Sliding this "slider" to pop-out the USB connector, inspires me to prayer every time I go to use it--I am terrified the slider itself will break off at the almost microscopic stem/mount.
The anti-shake feature was another concern--since the few of these style camcorders which seem to have it, have not implemented it very well. This seems to work ok, but I need to shoot more video with it. I also just bought a camera stabilizer for this camera--since I want rock steady shots and want to achieve some Hollywood crane/action style movement . . . check this out . . . had to buy it from the UK and it ended up costing more than the camera, but WOW this is soooo fun "Mini Motion-Cam" [...]
(You also need a special adapter piece for ultra light cameras . . .) I would expect that future reviewers will complain about the shakiness of their video from a small camcorder like this--ATTENTION, all video cameras need tripods if you want to shoot rock steady video. No small hand-held camcorder to my knowledge shoots rock steady shots, becasue our arms/hands move! So calibrate your expectations accordingly. (If you surf the web, you may find video shot on a Flip Ultra HD camera using a tripod--that had the production value/quality of a Hollywood/Indie production . . . the FLIP I believe produces 720P video--this does 1080P and the image is even better.)
My dream camera for this genre would feature two user selectable resolutions/ qualities. High to allow you to watch on a big screen TV and low for today's super small screen/mobile devices. They would both be shot in parallel, so the user would not have to convert/transcode for instant gratification on a mobile device. After all, isn't this camera a mobile device? It is sorta implied that these quick, point, shoot and watch cameras are all about this. "Fast watching."
Would recommend this camera to friends and family without reservations. It does provide very high value and fun. Gave this 4 out of 5 stars due to the flimsy feeling doors/design/build quality and the outrageously expensive proprietary battery.
[Addition Oct 21, 2010: I am loving this camera more and more. None of the cheesy looking doors have given me any problems. The sound is pretty good. I took it to work and recorded a telephone conference call with it, then later transcribed the audio track. It was great--worked like a mini digital audio recorder. Also used it in this mode to record a narration for another movie I made. Pretty good quality sound--not as good as using pro microphones on a PC, but good enough for home movies. I've also learned about how to work with the MP4 files in FCP 7 Apple Final Cut Pro for editing. The MP4 files must be transcoded from the MP4 "capture codec" to Apple ProRes 422 (LT) "editing codec." Then, once you finish editing, you need to transcode again, back to an "output codec" (e.g. something which you can burn to a DVD or Blu-Ray disk, etc. I created a "Droplet" using Apple Compressor and now just drop my raw MP4 files onto it and it converts it to ProRes 422 (LT). Using the correct file format will save you from stuttering and hair pulling. And please use all video cameras on a tripod, hand-holding even with anti-shake still makes most people dizzy.]