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Panasonic HDC-SX5

Here’s the most versatile camcorder of the bunch, letting you record 28 minutes of its best-quality video per 3-inch DVD. If you don’t feel like dealing with discs, you can cram 80 minutes of HD footage on an 8GB SDHC flash memory card instead. If you do record to a DVD, you can pop that disc into a compatible Blu-ray player (our Sony BDP S-300 played the disc perfectly) or play the disc back directly from the camera. But the DVD format has its drawbacks—it’s slow to read when you turn on the camera, taking seven seconds from a cold start. And once you’re done shooting, unless you’re using DVD-RAM, you’ll need to finalize the disk before you can read any of the files on the computer or play them back, which takes about five minutes for each minute of footage shot.

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Panasonic HDC-SD1

The HDC-SD1 was the smallest and lightest camcorder we tested, and the easiest one to use. It offers few buttons to confuse you and no viewfinder, but wait a minute—that’s a frickin’ 3-inch viewscreen, which seems huge compared to the others’ 2.7-inchers. And it’s bright enough to show you its crispy video even on the sunniest of days. The zoom lever gives you just the right amount of speed right when you need it, and the navigational joystick is right there under your thumb. Its optical image stabilization holds those shots rock-solid unless you zoom all the way to 12x.

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