Panasonic HC-X920 review
3x 1/2.3 BSI MOS sensor, PAL, 1,920x1,080, 12.0x zoom
The Panasonic HC-X900 was one of our favourite camcorders of 2012, so we were very excited to get our hands on the HC-X920, the updated model for 2013. We loved the HC-X900 because of its excellent colour reproduction, optical image stabilisation and connectivity, so what has Panasonic done to improve things this year?
The first thing you’ll notice is built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you control the HC-X920 remotely and play recorded footage using your smartphone or tablet. The other major difference is the size of the 3 BSI MOS sensors with which the HC-X920 records video, which has increased to 1/2.3in, up from last year’s set of three 1/4.1in sensors - with each sensor having lots more pixels on it.
The X920 is very familiar-looking, but there's plenty of changes inside
The HC-X920 also has a Leica Dicomar lens that provides F values between 1.5 and 2.8, and a 30-400mm zoom range for 16:9 video. It also has a hybrid 25x Intelligent Zoom function that lets you zoom further than the 12x maximum optical zoom without introducing unwanted noise and other visual artefacts.
The HC-X920’s built-in Wi-Fi is one function that is completely different to any other version of this camcorder. The HC-X920 can connect to an existing network via your router or wireless access point and can be accessed using your tablet or smartphone.
Connecting to your network is fairly easy, and the HC-X920 remembers network settings once they’ve been entered, so you shouldn’t have to do it again. Conveniently, the HC-X920 can also create its own network to which you can connect mobile devices, which is incredibly handy if you’re shooting outside or at a location where you don’t have access to a wireless network.
Panasonic Image App Live Monitor Screen
We tested the HC-X920’s Wi-Fi features using the Panasonic Image app, which lets you control and monitor the HC-X920 remotely, on an iPad and an iPhone 4S. The monitor takes up much of the screen, with the zoom slider, record and mode buttons being located on the right-hand side, although we think the zoom slider is too close to the record, photo and mode buttons.
Even though the Panasonic Image app was updated while we were testing the HC-X920, its general performance could still be improved, as it felt a bit sluggish. The image quality of the monitor was great, and there was a lag of just over a second before our iOS devices displayed the updated video.
We like the app, but at the moment we’d prefer not to use it as a remote monitor and control. We did, however, like the app’s playback function, which let us swipe through the contents of an SD card and stream it to our iOS device. This feature is great for quickly reviewing your footage in the car or on location.
All Panasonic’s top-end camcorders use three sensors, known as 3MOS, instead of one sensor, and have done for a few years. The three separate sensors are responsible for a different colour, with one capturing blue light, one capturing red light and the other capturing green light. This helps 3MOS camcorders capture more accurate colours and detail while reducing noise compared to camcorders that use a single sensor. It’s a system that has worked well for previous Panasonic 3MOS camcorders, and it works well here.
We were impressed by how well the X920 handled our complex low light studio test - click through for 1080p version
The HC-X920 provides excellent reproduction of complex textures such as fur, although the detail of some fur-like textures did become a little fuzzy and pixellated when placed under a quickly changing light source. The HC-X920 captured a tremendous amount of detail, and the staining of some wooden train tracks was readily apparent. The high level of detail is seen throughout the frame, except right at the very edges of it. Only in extremely bright light is the detail, lost, with the subject becoming a flat, brightly coloured image.
This magnified image shows the Panasonic HC-X920's image quality in a dark environment with a range of textures
Colour reproduction is similarly excellent and there was very little noise, except in the darkest of environments. Certainly, colour reproduction was much improved over the HC-X900 on indoor footage, with furniture and clothing looking less saturated and gaudy.
The X920, like its predecessor, can shoot in Full HD at 50fps progressive (1080p50) with a variable bit-rate of up to 28Mbits. We didn't see any compression problems using this quality setting, and nor would we expect to. Some DSLRs can shoot at higher quality settings, but the resulting footage can be unwieldy to edit and store.
Even at full optical zoom, the HC-X920 captures a massive amount of detail
Optical stabilisation is excellent, defeating our special wobble board, with only the slightest hint of motion when it's activated (see video above). This year's model has a gravity sensor in addition to the usual 5-axis stabilisation system. This allows the HC-X920 to keep your shots level - handy as Panasonic claims that around 70% of handheld footage is off kilter. The sensor detects when the camera is slightly skewed to the ground and automatically compensates (much like electronic stabilisation systems) to set you level.