Review: Panasonic HC-X900

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: May 22, 2012 3:00 PM
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Published: May 22, 2012 3:00 PM
By Edouard Maire
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
The HC-x900 is Panasonic's new Ferrari. This AVCHD digital camcorder has everything a videographer would need, with the highest quality Full HD resolution on the market.

Handling

The relatively large X900 may seem daunting at first: it is 15 centimetres long and weighs nearly 500 grammes with the battery attached. It has every function an enthusiast would want in his tool belt and is highly user-friendly. The Power button turns the machine on and off, and a battery saver switches it off automatically after a few minutes without use (the time settings can be changed in the menu). It also turns on automatically whenever you open the screen or pull out the viewfinder. By the way, the mere presence of a viewfinder is rare enough these days to point out. It's too bad it doesn't swivel and the hole is so small (6 mm). The LCD screen, on the other hand, is a hands-down success. At 8.8 cm large with 1.15-Megapixel resolution, it swivels all the way around for a mirror effect and is 3D-compatible.

X900 viewfinder X900 screen
The extendable (but non-swivelling) viewfinder
is 6 mm wide, for 263,000 pixels
The 8.8-cm LCD screen has remarkable
1.15-Megapixel resolution

Let me rant for a second: what's with the plastic body?! It has a satin finish, which is certainly higher quality than the glossy-glittery coating used on the last model, but it looks all too chintzy for our taste. And the connection ports are housed under plastic flaps that don't exactly scream longevity. It's a shame that Panasonic didn't use nicer materials for a high-end camcorder that costs upwards of £800.

When it comes to usage, in iA mode all the settings are automated: automatic white balance, exposure and (very fast) focusing. But we like the fact that you can quickly switch to manual mode simply by hitting the Manual button on the outside of the camcorder. This allows you to do your own focusing with the lens ring, control the gain and calibrate the white balance yourself. You can also deactivate the image stabiliser by pressing the O.I.S. button if you're filming on a tripod. And last but not least, there's a button for switching to 1080/50p mode to obtain the highest possible quality HD image. Simply put, the X900 can be used without ever having to go through the touchscreen menu. And that's a good thing. The competition could learn a thing or two...

X900 lens ring X900 zoom
The lens ring allows you to focus manually (very rare these days) The iA/Manual button allows you to switch instantly between manual and automated

Now for the menu. It opens via an arrow button on the touchscreen. A page with three submenus opens: 1) Record Setup, 2) Picture, 3) Setup. Here you can select the HD image quality (resolution, speed, scanning), the mic volume and the digital zoom. Basically, the kind of settings you rarely change.

The battery that comes in the box (VW-VBN130) provides only 50 minutes of customary use (recording, turning the device on and off, using the screen...). It takes 2 hrs 30 min to charge back up via an adapter with the battery attached to the camcorder. Unfortunately Panasonic decided to do away with the external charger, which would allow you to charge one battery while using another on the device.

The reason you can't see any accessory mounts on the outside of the body is because they're hidden beneath a protective cover on the front right-hand side of the casing. An adapter is included for attaching a DC light or stereo microphone.

Video Quality

Images filmed with the HC-X900 are extremely sharp thanks to the astounding 9-Megapixel resolution, distributed across three 1/4" 3-Megapixel MOS sensors. The signal is then down-sampled to 2 Megapixels to produce a 1920 x 1080 pixel Full HD image that's noticeably more precise than with lower-quality sensors. But contrary to photo/video devices like the Canon 7D whose oversized sensor produces a good deal of moiré (lines getting jumbled), with the X900 we detected none on our test chart. In fact, it's the sharpest image we've seen, along with the HC-V700, also from Panasonic.

X900 Image1 X900 Image2
12x zoom 29.8 mm wide-angle lens in 35 mm equivalent

The X900 performs equally as well in low lighting, giving a very "clean" image, in that there's practically no noise under 3 lux (gain up to 18 dB). In automatic mode the colours turn out bright, if not at times saturated in over-exposed areas. The automatic white balance tends to make the image a bit cooler, with a slight tendency towards blue-green.

As an AVCHD 2.0 camcorder, the HC-X900 features the same 1080/50p mode that Panasonic has integrated in all of its camcorders post-2009. This is the highest quality HD image right now, combining the smooth motion of 50 images per second with the close precision of progressive scanning (p). The files are stored on an SD/SDHC/SDXC card (min. Class 4, up to 64 GB) that is inserted in the slot on the underside of the camcorder. The X900 has no internal storage. One 32 GB SD card can store 2 hrs 40 min of 1080/50p recording. A warning to video editors: 50p files require more resources from video editing and playing software than AVCHD 1080/50i clips, primarily due to the high speed (28 Mbps) and Mpeg-4 compression.

X900 sd card X900 audio in/out
The SD card goes in the slot on the underside of the camcorder (not easy to do when you're on a tripod) The mic and headphone jacks are in the front, hidden underneath a cheap protective cover

The Leica lens offers a 12x optical zoom starting at a 29.8 mm wide angle in 35 mm equivalent. The lens is stabilised with Hybrid O.I.S. technology, a system for optical/electrical image stabilisation. This new system greatly reduces the effect of vertical and horizontal trembling of the hands when zoomed all the way in. During our tests we found that it was especially effective with minor, vertical trembling. On the whole, the stabiliser guarantees a sharp and stable image at long focal lengths.

And Panasonic hasn't forgotten the audio. The HC-X900 features a 5.1 microphone that picks up ambient sound all around the camcorder. The mic jack allows you to plug in an external microphone, and the headphone jack gives you control over the sound level (set manually). A USB cable is included for transferring videos onto a computer. However, it's often simpler to copy them directly from the SD card (most computers have an SD slot).

Let's end with a video we shot using the Panasonic HC-X900 in 1920 x 1080 pixel/50p with 5.1 audio:



4/5 Panasonic HC-X900 DigitalVersus 2012-05-22 16:00:00

Pros

  • Extremely sharp image (50p)
  • Good sensitivity
  • 29.8 mm wide-angle lens (in 35 mm equivalent)
  • Good stabiliser
  • Mic and headphone jacks
  • Viewfinder
  • Focus ring
  • Excellent LCD screen (with 3D mode)
  • 5.1 microphone

Cons

  • Viewfinder is non-swivelling and the hole is small
  • Plastic finishing a bit "chintzy" for the price

Conclusion

With 50p resolution, a wide-angle lens and a superb LCD screen, the Panasonic HC-X900 has remarkable advantages, including an exceptionally sharp image. It has all the makings of a high-end camcorder; the only thing missing is finer materials on the body...

OUR SCORE 4/5
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