The Panasonic SDR-S15 has a generous 2.7in screen for near instantaneous startup (officially 0.6 seconds) plus shot composition and review. And it's easy to hold, if you closed your hand around it to make a fist the camcorder itself would almost disappear. It feels a little plastic-y, but not so much as to be off-putting.
However, where the Panasonic SDR-S15 might fall down in the eyes of some is that it offers only standard definition Mpeg format video capture and there's no USB arm for plugging it directly into your PC. That shouldn't necessarily put you off though, as the pocket camcorder features a few neat image enhancing tricks that the others don't, including Panasonic's intelligent auto mode that automatically adjusts camera settings dependent on surrounding conditions to deliver more natural results.
Also on board the Panasonic SDR-S15 is optical image stabilisation to counterbalance the possible blurring effects of any hand wobble - useful when filming at maximum 10x optical zoom - plus a stereo microphone to deliver better, fuller sound. A carry over from the manufacturer's still cameras is on-board face detection that biases focus and exposure toward human faces in the frame. There's even a front mounted torchlight that can be switched on for shooting in low light.
Shooting modes are selected via the side-mounted mode dial. You can grab basic stills, though at a very poor VGA (640x480 pixels) resolution, as well as video if so desired. Dipping into the Panasonic SDR-S15's equally basic on-screen menu options reveals five pre-optimised scene modes covering common subjects including sports and portraiture.
With no internal memory to fall back on, there are optional yet essential SD/SDHC card slots in the camcorder's base. This compartment is shared with a rechargeable lithium ion battery, and there's a screw thread just in front for mounting the device on a tripod.
As you might expect given the sophisticated (albeit standard definition) feature set, quality is pretty good as regards both sound and visuals, suggesting the Panasonic SDR-S15 is also packing a much better quality lens than its slim-line competitors and a CCD rather than CMOS sensor to boot. Less noteworthy is the fact that the S15 is available in reddish brown, black, silver or pink.
The Panasonic SDR-S15 shoots only in standard definition but is armed with a vast set of features for ‘proper’ video recording, including a 10x optical zoom, a front-mounted light and stereo sound. If you want a ‘real’ camcorder, this would be a decent choice.