Panasonic HC-V500 review
A step up from last year's HDC-SD80, especially in low light, but overall image quality from the small sensor isn't spectacular
Review Date: 8 Feb 2012
Price when reviewed: £400
Reviewed By: Andrew Unsworth
Panasonic calls the HC-V500 an ‘intermediate’ camcorder, sitting around the middle of Panasonic's range of single-sensor camcorders, just below the upcoming HC-V700. Based on its sensor size alone it's the successor to last year's Panasonic HDC-SD80.
Alongside the V500 is the essentially identical HC-V500M. This variant adds 16GB of internal storage, alongside the usual SDXC card slot, for an additional £50 in price.
Despite only having a 1/5.8in sensor compared to the HC-V700's 1/2.33in - or the separate red, green and blue sensors on high-end models such as the HC-X900 - the HC-V500 has an otherwise impressive specification, with features such as optical image stabilisation, intelligent zoom and 3D support.
The HC-V500 is light, perhaps too light when it comes to getting a steady shot, but components such as its touchscreen hinge and zoom control feel as if they’ll last a long time. The downside of this is that some of the buttons, such as those on the I/O panel, require a solid push, but the camcorder as a whole feels child and everyday-use proof.
The 3in LCD touchscreen might be half an inch smaller than that of the high-end Panasonic HC-X900, but it’s still more than big enough to view and record the action. It's not particularly responsive, though, and the relatively small size makes it tricky to hit some of the smaller menu icons.
Compared to the HC-X900's three 1/4.1in sensors, the HC-V500 only has a single, smaller 1/5.8in sensor. This means that the camcorder can't capture detail or colour information as accurately. When filming in daylight with the HC-V500, bright colours (such as whites and very light blues) within one to two metres of the lens can look a bit brash, lacking the sharp, accurate and life-like colours you’d expect to see. There is still detail, but large areas of colour tend to look uniform rather than having the subtle variations in shade we'd expect from high-end camcorders.
We noticed some compression artefacts towards the left and right extremes of the footage, and while objects up close showed plenty of detail, there was far less detail further down the field than on the HC-X900. There was also the slightest amount of noise present in footage shot in broad daylight. Low-light footage was impressive given the price, and definitely much better than last year's HDC-SD80, despite this year's model having the same-sized sensor. There's also a video lamp for use in really dark conditions. The camcorder's optical image stabilisation meant we had no problems taking steady handheld footage; video was rock-steady during our image-stabilisation tests, where we screw the camera to a vibrating platform and compare the video recorded with image stabilisation switched on and off.
It’s hard for us to make a definitive recommendation for or against Panasonic's new camcorder range, as we haven't seen the main competition from Canon and Sony. However, while the HC-V500's image quality can't match Panasonic's high-end three-sensor model, the camcorder's build quality, detailed up-close footage and excellent image stabilisation make it a definite step up from last year's HDC-SD80. However, you can currently buy last year's Panasonic HDC-SD800 for £400 from www.amazon.co.uk, which is a far superior camcorder to the HC-V500, so snap one of those up instead if you still can.
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