Panasonic is offering a full line of new high-definition camcorders. Most of these new models employ the familiar compact, palm-held form factor (with a flip-out LCD screen) that video shooters have come to know and love. Most capture full HD video at 1920 x 1080 frame sizes as MPEG-4 AVC / H.264, and some models are even able to capture 1080p at 60 frames per second.
What follows is a roundup of the most significant features of each model. Some universal aspects are listed in the section below, but by and large, these camcorders are quite different from one another. As you go up the chain, of course, higher-end models incorporate most, if not all, of the software features present in the lower-numbered models. So whether you’re interested in internal flash storage, the capability to convert to a 3D video capture device, an extra-long telephoto zoom, or any other specific feature, pay close attention to the features of each individual model.
A range of software features are common to all the new camcorders, such as an Intelligent Auto mode that senses your video-shooting conditions and adjusts the camera’s settings automatically to compensate. Related to Intelligent Auto is Intelligent Scene Selector, which automatically switches the camcorder to the proper scene mode to get optimal results: Portrait, Scenery, Spotlight and Low Light. To keep your loved ones straight, the camcorders also feature Face Detection, which adjusts exposure for ambient lighting to properly illuminate faces, and prioritizes faces for focusing purposes. Up to 15 faces can be detected at once.
There’s also a pre-recording cache which ensures that you’ll never again miss a crucial moment. Just keep your lens trained at the intended subject, and whenever the awaited event happens, press RECORD—your camcorder’s already recorded the previous 3 seconds, no matter when you hit the button. A special feature saves that recording space for the times when you really intend to use it: AGS (Auto Ground-Directional Standby) automatically stops recording when the camera detects that it’s been placed in an odd shooting position, such as pointing directly at the ground.
Let’s start with the odd man out, which has a pistol-grip form rather than the more common palm-held style. Described as an “active-style” camcorder, the Panasonic HX-WA2 (available and Blue and Orange) is designed to plunge underwater to depths up to 9.8' (3 m) and return to the surface with gorgeous 1920 x 1080 HD video at 60i or 30p. With the camera’s 15x intelligent zoom (5x optical), individual fish scales just might glimmer.
Out of all the new camcorders, the HX-WA2 shares the title for the largest single CMOS sensor at 1/2.33", and that aids its dual purposes: Capturing both video and high-quality stills. Unlike most camcorders, the HX-WA2 is able to snap high-resolution still photos—up to 11.9MP, in fact. To make images sharper, the camera uses Intelligent Resolution Technology, which recognizes and enhances edges; there’s also 3D Digital Noise Reduction that lowers random noise, which is especially helpful in darker scenes. Specifically for photography, the HX-WA2 offers 180° and 360° panorama modes, and there are also two high dynamic range (HDR) modes and two burst-shooting modes.
Two large buttons on the HX-WA2 make it easy to snap photos or start video recording, even if you’re wearing gloves. The 2.6-inch LCD screen rotates almost a full circle, so you can accurately frame your subject from almost any position.
Like all the other camcorders in this article besides the HX-WA2, the HC-V10 has a palm-held form factor. This model features an astounding 63x optical zoom lens that features Power O.I.S. (optical image stabilization), which comes in extremely handy at telephoto focus lengths. At that level of zoom, even tiny vibrations are magnified to earthquake levels, so Power O.I.S. is there to correct even slight hand shake to produce sharp and clear video. With 70x intelligent zoom, you can use this camcorder as something like a telescope, viewing and recording details that even your naked eye can’t resolve.
The HC-V10 records to an SD card (including SDHC and SDXC) and records H.264 video at up to 720p60. With its iMovie-friendly iFrame video (960 x 540) recording mode, you can easily transfer and edit video on your Mac or PC without converting the format, and you can easily share it to YouTube or various social-networking sites quickly and easily.
The HC-V100M doesn’t have quite the same optical zoom as the V10, but it still reaches extremely healthy levels of telephoto performance at 34x optical / 42x “intelligent.” The lens starts at a fairly wide 32.5mm (35mm equivalent), which is helpful for shooting in tight indoor spaces, at events such as birthday parties. Especially for those telephoto focal lengths, the camcorder offers the same Power O.I.S. that the V10 has. The camcorder has a wide 2.7-inch LCD screen, so you can accurately monitor exactly what you’re capturing.
This camcorder model has 16GB of built-in flash storage, so you’ll always be ready to record video up to 1080i60, even if you find yourself without an SD card (which the V100M, of course, also accepts). That extra space will come in handy if you take full advantage of the powerful battery, which allows the HC-V100M to record for up to 155 minutes per charge.
As with the HC-V10, you can record in iFrame mode for an easier editing/uploading workflow, especially if you’re using iMovie. Or use the included HD Writer LE software for PC to edit, archive and upload the video you recorded at top quality with the HC-V100M.
The HC-V100 is identical to the V100M in terms of performance; however, it lacks the built-in flash memory and all footage must be recorded to a external memory card.
If you’re looking for a step up in optical performance and higher recording quality, the HC-V500 / HC-V500M might fit the bill, with its 1080p60 video capture, 50x intelligent zoom lens (38x optical) and Hybrid O.I.S., which corrects shake across five different axes to ensure that you capture sharp, smooth handheld video. Press and hold a button for O.I.S. Lock to increase this image-stabilizing effect. The brains of the V500 / V500M are enhanced by the Crystal Engine PRO, which enhances image clarity and reduces noise that frequently occurs because of dim lighting.
The cameras add some helpful shooting functions that are also included with the higher-end V700/V700M and X900M models below. Face Recognition allows the camera to recognize up to six different people’s faces so it can track a face throughout a scene, keeping it properly exposed and in focus. You can also use AF/AE Tracking to track any chosen subject in similar manner, simply by touching its image on the 3.0-inch touch screen LCD monitor. The touch-screen LCD also offers touch zooming, and touch shutter lets you instantly focus on a subject and take a still picture.
The camera powers on in just one second (depending on shooting conditions), or it can stay in Quick Start mode so it’s ready to shoot in only 0.6 seconds. The V500/V500M also feature a Focus Assist function and composition guide lines to keep everything sharp and in line with the horizon; the built-in LED light illuminates your subjects in low-light situations; and there’s a zoom microphone with wind-noise cancellation for capturing clear audio.
The camera also features several innovative playback modes. Advanced Highlight Playback relies on algorithms that determine the level of “excitement” contained in your video and plays back a selection of only the least sleep-inducing clips. There are four playback effect modes to choose from, so you can apply the correct mood for your viewing parties.
What sets the HC-V500M apart from the similar HC-V500 is the “M” model’s 16GB built-in flash memory. (Both camcorders feature an SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot.) The V500M can keep recording even if you fill up the built-in memory—it simply switches recording over to an inserted card.
The Panasonic HC-V700 and HC-700M have a 46x intelligent zoom (21x optical zoom) lens that offers quite a wide angle, starting at a 35mm-equivalent 28mm, which is great for indoor shooting and for capturing broad vistas outdoors. Like the HC-V500, it features a 3.0-inch touch screen LCD and Hybrid O.I.S. to suppress the effects of roll, pitch, yaw and horizontal and vertical motion. Besides the zoom specification of the lens, essentially everything the HC-V500 / HC-V500M has, so do the HC-V700 and HC-V700M.
As one improvement over the V500/V500M, the V700 and V700M have a relatively large 1/2.33" sensor that’s capable of still photography at 6.1MP, for highly usable image capture while you’re also shooting video. Intelligent Auto mode applies to these still images, as does Smile Shot, which detects and captures the best smiles while you’re recording motion video. There’s even a macro mode for zooming into small objects from as close at 2' (60 cm) away and capturing highly detailed, sharp portraits of your subject while the background takes on a pleasing blur.
With an optional 3D Conversion Lens (the VW-CLT2) and a step-up ring that attach to the front of the lens, the V700/V700M is capable of shooting left-eye and right-eye imagery for capturing stereoscopic 3D video. With a Panasonic VIERA 3DTV and proper eyewear, viewing your 3D home movies is an easy process: Just slide an SD card from the camera into the slot of your compatible 3DTV. Or you can use an HDMI cable or AVCHD-compatible player/recorder to serve your 3D content to any other compatible television.
As with the V500/V500M, the difference between these models is the built-in 16GB flash memory of the V700M.
The HC-X900M edges somewhat close to professional performance with its 3MOS imaging device, its 24p mode and its manual ring for intuitive, real-time control over focus, zoom, white balance, shutter speed or iris. With three 1/4.1" CMOS elements, the camera is much more capable of capturing vibrant, accurate color with minimal noise, even in dimly lit conditions. Like the V500 / V500M, the X900M offers 1080p60 AVCHD video capture, Focus Assist, Hybrid O.I.S., a broad range of software features and the capability to accept an optional VW-CLT2 3D Conversion Lens.
But the X900M also offers several unique features that set it apart. Its touch-screen LCD is significantly bigger at 3.5", and it enables auto-stereoscopic (glasses-free!) 3D playback if you have the aforementioned special lens attached. Furthermore, the camera features a 5.1 surround sound microphone that zooms 12x. Still-picture recording is possible at a very high 16MP resolution. There’s also burst shooting mode, which captures up to 180 2.1MP still images over only 3 seconds. The camera offers time-lapse recording, to capture the slow blooming of a flower, the patterns of traffic from dawn to rush hour, or anything other long-term event that tells its story best in a compressed playback time frame.
The HC-X900M also offers a Digital Cinema Color mode, which expands on the colors defined by the HDTV specification. This means that with certain television sets that feature x.v.Color, such as Panasonic’s VIERA line, you’ll be able to view richer colors with subtler shades than is possible with standard camcorders and standard TVs.
The camera features a 12x zoom lens that starts relatively wide at 29.8mm (35mm equivalent) and has a maximum iris of f/1.5. Like the other “M” models in this roundup, the HC-X900M features both an SD/SDHC/SDXC slot and 16GB of internal flash memory.