Panasonic HX-A500 review
Optical zoom: N/A, Sensor: 1/2.3in BSI MOS, LCD screen: 1.5in, 115,200 dots, Size (HxWxD): Camera: 26.5x68.5mm Operating Unit: 59.5x94x26.7mm, Weight: Camera: 31g, Operating Unit: 128g
Wearing the Panasonic HX-A500 action camera, you can’t help but feel like a cyborg sent from the future to hunt someone. Maybe it’s the fact that you wear it strapped to the side of your head, or perhaps it’s the metallic orange design. Either way, it’s conspicuous.
The Panasonic HX-A500 is the first wearable Ultra HD camcorder, and it’s capable of capturing footage at 25fps. Like the Panasonic HX-A100 before it, the camera consists of two parts: the camera lens and the main operating unit, with the two connected by a 70cm cable. You wear the camera lens on your head and then wear the operating unit in the supplied armband. The included head mount positions the camera next to your left ear, which means it captures your point of view as you move through the world.
You can also purchase some optional mounts that increase the versatility of the HX-A500. These include the handlebar mount (RP-CMC10, £30, www.cameraworld.co.uk), suction cup mount (VW-SCA100, £40, www.cameraworld.co.uk) or multi mount (VW-MKA100, £25, www.cameraworld.co.uk).
LIGHTWEIGHT AND WATERPROOF
The operating unit weighs 119g and the camera 31g, so they’re not heavy to wear. We found the cable connecting the two parts could do with being a little longer, as it could potentially impede your movement during certain activities. It’s a shame there’s no shirt clip included to stop the cable moving around. The headband is adjustable and the Velcro on the armband was secure, so we were never concerned about the HX-A500H coming loose. The camera isn’t rugged, but it is waterproof to three metres for a maximum of 30 minutes, and it’s also dustproof, so you’re okay to use it at the beach or when on a desert safari.
The main unit has a built-in 1.5in LCD screen that you can use to control settings. It’s a low-resolution screen, but is adequate enough for its purpose. We had no problem viewing the screen in bright sunlight with it set to maximum brightness.
You control the unit with a joystick that’s located below the screen, but we found it to be too small and fiddly to use. Happily, it’s simple enough to navigate the menus and adjust settings.
The HX-A500 lets you shoot at a resolution of 3,842x2,160 at 25 frames per second (fps), which is mightily impressive. If you reduce the resolution to 1,920x1,080 you can record at a frame rate of 50fps, and at 100fps at a resolution of 1,280x720. If you don’t mind the low resolution of 484x480, you can even record at a frame rate of 200fps, which is great for making slow-motion videos. We must say that the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition is more versatile when it comes to slow-motion shooting, as that can shoot at a frame rate of 240fps at 484x480.
You can choose between two Field of View settings for recording: Normal and Wide. The Wide setting provides 160o of coverage, but results in some barrel distortion. We tested the HX-A500 by zorbing, which involves sitting in a giant ball while it rolls down a hill, and also by using it in a baseball batting cage. In both scenarios the camera coped with fast motion excellently and we were generally pleased with the image quality from the HX-A500 which was sharp, with smooth motion.
^ For the launch event, Panasonic took one of our staff, but not this reviewer, zorbing
Shots were nicely exposed in both the shadows and highlights, and the camera captured a lot of detail, performing particularly well with the difficult grass and foliage in our test footage but also admirably in low-light thanks to its large 1/2.3in sensor.
The built-in electronic image stabiliser also did an excellent job of reducing nausea-inducing camera shake. If you wear the camera pressed against your cheek, this will dampen camera shake even further. However, we did find the footage lacked some saturation, with colours looking slightly muted. We were hoping for a bit more vibrancy and pop.
The HX-A500 lasted two hours and 42 minutes in our battery test when shooting at a resolution of 1,920x1,080 at 25fps. That’s just over just over an hour longer than the Toshiba Camileo X-Sports or GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition. The battery isn’t user replaceable, which is disappointing.
The HX-A500 has a built-in Wi-Fi adaptor that lets you connect a smartphone or tablet to the HX-A500 and use the free Android or iOS Panasonic Imaging app to control the HX-A500 remotely or play pre-recorded footage. However, there’s a delay before the HX-A500’s image is seen on your mobile device when using the remote control option.
Connect the HX-A500 to an access point and you can broadcast live through the internet service Ustream. To broadcast on Ustream, you must register your camera with Panasonic Lumix Club, and you must do this through the HX-A500 itself. This means you must use the fiddly joystick to enter passwords, which is a frustratingly slow process. Fortunately you’ll only ever need to do it once per access point.
We had no problem broadcasting via Ustream, and people were able to tune in and watch live over the internet. Unsurprisingly, you’re only able to broadcast at a resolution of 1,920x1,080.
Overall, the Panasonic HX-A500 was comfortable to use and produced some fabulous video footage. Our only wish was for more mounts to be included as standard. Otherwise, the HX-A500 is a great Ultra HD action camera and is a solid alternative to a GoPro Hero 3.
|Max recording resolution||3,840x2,160|
|Sensor||1/2.3in BSI MOS|
|LCD screen||1.5in, 115,200 dots|
|Video recording format||MPEG-4 AVC/H.264|
|Video recording media||microSD, microSDHC|
|Maximum still image resolution||5,376x3,024|
|Memory slot (card supplied)||MicroSD, microSDHC (none)|
|USB outputs||Micro USB|
|Battery type||1,450mAh Lithium-polymer|
|Battery life||2hrs 42mins|
|Battery charging position||Camcorder|
|Size (HxWxD)||Camera: 26.5x68.5mm Operating Unit: 59.5x94x26.7mm|
Operating Unit: 128g
|Price including VAT||£355|