Better yet, the Panasonic SDR-S26 came out only at the start of the year, which means it's likely to see significant discounts in coming months.
We were soon sold on the Panasonic SDR-S26's design. Being able to cradle a lightweight camcorder in your palm with a handstrap means you get steadier footage without even trying. It also feels far more natural than holding a ‘candybar' lump of plastic and, of course, that lovely large 2.7in display with full 180-degree swivel means you can capture footage or follow the action with ease.
Headline features of the Panasonic SDR-S26 include its 70x zoom and the accompanying optical image stabiliser. You'll need a rock-solid tripod if you want to make proper use of this, however. At this degree of zoom, even a tiny tremor results in extremely wobbly footage.
Testing out the zoom using the length of our open plan, naturally lit offices, we were staggered not only at how easily we were able to focus in on someone 200ft away, but the accuracy and the speed at which the Panasonic SDR-S26's face recognition kicked in.
When you're not using the hardware rocker switch to zoom in, it doubles as a volume switch. There's also a separate web mode for recording webcasts and similar purposes. The mode dial at the back of the Panasonic SDR-S26 locks so you don't accidentally go from recording video to playback mode and subsequently find you missed the action. It also has separate photo and video recording modes.
Scene modes and other menu options are absent, but this is an entry-level model; Panasonic has far more advanced camcorders if your needs are more extensive. There's no HD recording facility, but we're not quibbling, considering the price and Panasonic's pedigree.
In strong sunlight or well-lit interiors, the Panasonic SDR-S26 is highly impressive. It’s less so in dimmer conditions – what you see on the LCD doesn’t necessarily translate to a nice, bright set of footage when played back on a PC. Nonetheless, this is a fantastically light, highly portable and compact model.