One thing we didn't like about this camcorder's predecessor, the HC-V700, was its very plastic-feeling casing. Unfortunately, the 2013 version isn't a whole lot more impressive build-wise, since it's still made from a relatively low-grade material. But don't be put off by this first impression, as the V720 is actually a comfortable and practical camcorder to handle. The V720 is light and fits easily in the palm of your hand, even if the finish is a little on the smooth, slippery side. The 3" LCD flips out from the camcorder body and swivels. With a 460,000-dot display, it doesn't have the most precise of screens, but the image displayed stays smooth in most situations (it sometimes glitches slightly in low light). In bright, sunny conditions, the screen is too glossy and reflective. That's something we see in most camcorders, but since the HC-720 doesn't have a built-in viewfinder, there's no way around it here.
The HC-720 is a relatively compact camcorder.
The main controls and connections are on the left side of the body.
Mains charging port.
The accessories shoe isn't built into the camcorder directly.
It has to be plugged into the back manually.
With the battery supplied (VBT190, 7 Wh), the V720 can film for almost an hour with standard, day-to-day use. The camera plugs straight into the mains to charge, which means it's out of use during that time.
The HC-V720 has a built-in LED for use when filming in darker conditions.
The memory card compartment is on the underside of the camcorder. It therefore can't be accessed with the V720 on a tripod.
One nice feature of the V720 is a built-in LED lamp that can illuminate subjects around 1 m from the camcorder when filming in darker conditions. However, it won't be that useful if you use an adapter ring or another kind of add-on for the lens, as the LED will end up being hidden.
Seeing as there's no physical settings wheel or lens ring, switching to manual focusing mode may not feel like the most obvious way of using this camcorder. Still, manual focusing is available in the HC-V720 via onscreen buttons and a focus peaking function highlighting which parts of the picture are sharply focused. In manual mode, the white balance, shutter speed and aperture (iris) can also be changed.
Thankfully, this camcorder has a fully automatic mode that works pretty well. The screen is like the camcorder's nerve centre from where almost everything is controlled. Only the optical stabilisation, the recording mode (photo/video), Wi-Fi and iA mode have their own physical controls. The internal menus are easily accessible and the V720 has a good range of options for a mid-range camcorder, including image composition grids, an electronic level, focus peaking and exposure correction. You can also use the touchscreen to select a subject for the camcorder to focus on.
Panasonic's V720 has ditched plain old stereo sound in favour of a 5.1 microphone. This does a good job of capturing and reproducing audio environments. The camcorder's 28-730 mm zoom lens is also nice and versatile.
The HC-V720 films AVCHD 2 video, shooting 1080/50p HD footage with a maximum bitrate of 28 Mbps. If you switch to interlaced video, you can shoot with bitrates of 24, 17, 13 and 5 Mbps. It's a shame that there's no 720p HD mode, as this can be handy for keeping file sizes down and for keeping your computer running smoothly when post-editing. A high-speed mode (100 fps) would also have been nice for smooth slow-motion filming. It is, however, possible to convert files from the camcorder into standard definition (640 x 360 pixels, 25p).
With a 17.3-Megapixel 1/2.3" sensor, this camcorder is actually over-equipped for video, even HD video! Panasonic's product documentation explains that just over 4 Megapixels are actually used in video mode. So why does the V720 need so many pixels? And do they really bring anything to image quality?
The HC-V720 does a very good job with our test card for precision. It's no match for the X920, but the results are impressive for a camcorder at this price point. The image looks a little too over-emphasised for our liking (with an "unsharp mask" kind of look to it) and the effects of compression are a little more noticeable in certain conditions. Still, on the whole, the sensor and lens work together to give very good results. Low-light performances are decent too. Sensitivity isn't amazing, but the image stays clean. And with an effective optical stabilisation system onboard, you can really make the most of that 21x zoom. Even when using the camcorder handheld, you can still film reasonable-quality video with a focal length of more than 700 mm. Plus, an "Active" mode takes the stabilisation system up a gear for static shots at long focal lengths (and you should probably stick to static shots, otherwise the image hangs and tends not to look smooth). It's a bit like having a virtual monopod to hand. The results in "Active" mode are fine even if the image is still a bit too gaudy.
You can shoot 9-Megapixel (via extrapolation) still shots while filming video. These come out looking more or less OK. In photo mode, the HC-V720 can shoot at up to 20 Megapixels (even though the sensor only has 17.3 Mpx), again by using extrapolation. The results are a little better. Detail is decent even if shots have a bit of an over-exaggerated look. It's perfectly acceptable quality for small-sized prints or onscreen viewing.
- Image quality
- Lightweight build
- Wi-Fi with easy set-up and good range of functions
- 5.1 audio
- Built-in LED light
- 21x zoom lens starting at 28 mm
- No viewfinder, glossy screen prone to reflections in bright sunlight
- No slow-motion video or 720p mode
- Accessories shoe has to be manually connected to the camcorder
- No headphones socket
- SD card slot on the underside
- Very plastic finish
Although it's a shame that there's no headphones socket, the Panasonic HC-V720 is still an attractive camcorder with good image quality and an interesting selection of specs, including a 21x wide-angle zoom lens, 5.1 audio recording, Wi-Fi and an effective optical image stabiliser.