Pros / The Panasonic HC-WXF991 shoots ultra high definition 4K video for stunning visual impact.
Cons / It is a rather large camcorder.
Verdict / The Panasonic HC-WXF991 is our top choice in HD camcorders. It shoots clear, high quality video and is ideal for capturing memories.
It might seem unfair to compare 4K camcorders against others that shoot lower quality 1080p. Put simply, 4K ultra high definition has nearly four times the pixels – that’s four times the clarity – of 1080p video. We decided that in a day when even some smartphones can record video in ultra high definition (UHD) 4K, that our comparison should include camcorders with that upgraded technology. The Panasonic HC-WXF991 has a Crystal Engine 4K image processor that supports 4K UHD video at 24/30 frames per second and 1080p video up to 60 frames per second. Keep in mind that shooting higher quality video will take up much more space on your SD card.
It might be easy to reach for your phone, but this Panasonic camcorder has extra features that can really improve the variety and quality of the footage you’re getting. One such feature is its nifty rear-facing camera, like the one on the thriftier Panasonic HC-W580. Located on the edge of the LCD viewfinder, this small extra camera can rotate to face back toward the person filming or off to the side. This unique feature means you can capture all the action in front of you and get a reaction shot too. The LCD screen can also flip for easy viewing from almost any angle. This camcorder also has a front-facing light to improve the footage you take in dark places.
The Panasonic is the only device we reviewed that includes an eye piece, or ocular lens. It allows you to flip the lighted LCD screen down and see what you’re recording through the eye piece, eliminating obnoxious light while sitting in the audience. It’s also practical for shooting in bright light because LCD screens can appear washed out under these circumstances. The eye piece can also be flipped upward so you can hold the camera in your lap while filming but still see what you’re doing. This way, your neck and arms are less likely to get tired.
The LCD monitor is a touchscreen, so you can access the camera’s various functions with your fingertip. There are pros and cons to touchscreens. The screen smudges easily and we found ourselves frequently hitting buttons on accident. On the other hand, a touchscreen feels modern and guides you easily to the camcorder’s settings and editing capabilities. And speaking of editing, this Panasonic gives you the option to crop footage on the camera. You can also turn on other features, like image stabilization if you’re going to be moving around a lot or zoomed in while filming.
This camcorder comes with a battery pack, an AC adaptor, USB cable, DC cable, HDMI micro cable and lens hood. This is the only camera we tested that comes with a lens hood, which is for blocking light and creating images with deeper, richer colors. The hood also adds a layer of protection to your lens.
To turn the camcorder on, you just slide the battery pack into the slot on the back of the camera. While some battery packs can stick out awkwardly, this Panasonic is large enough that the battery blends in with the rest of the machine. Recharging is done with the DC cable and AC wall adaptor and, according to the instructions, should only take about two hours. The whole thing weighs 14.2 ounces, the heaviest of any camera we tested. While this might make your arm tired during prolonged filming, some people prefer cameras with a little heft because the very light ones feel cheap and breakable.
This camcorder takes a full-sized SD card for storing your footage. We prefer cameras like this, including the JVC Quad Proof GZ-R550 EverioR, because using a microSD card means you also must keep the full-size adapter to insert it into most computers. Once you install the SD card and set the camcorder’s time and date, and you can start filming. This camcorder has integrated Wi-Fi, though, so you can use that feature to transfer your videos and eliminate the need to remove the SD card altogether.
We took video both inside and outside and analyzed it, comparing all nine cameras we tested against each other. Using rankings from seven reviewers, this camcorder got an A- for overall video quality and clarity. It was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit when we did our outdoor testing, and this camera did turn off a few times at random while we tried to record video. We also had our video experts run the footage through the editing software Adobe Premiere Pro and evaluate the color using RGB graphs on the program. We rated this camera a B- in color correctness because the outdoor footage had some higher blue levels which gave everything a slight gray appearance.
Zoom lenses can really make a camcorder stand out. This Panasonic model has a 20x optical zoom, which is low compared to other models we tested. Optical zoom gives you the best-quality magnified image by adjusting the camera’s lens. This camera’s 60x digital zoom merely crops whatever you’re seeing through the viewfinder, resulting in a more pixelated video.
This camera also has intelligent zoom, which is a combination of optical and digital zoom but still isn't quite as clear as a straight optical zoom. This Panasonic has 25x intelligent zoom while filming in 4K and 40x intelligent zoom while filming in 1080p high definition. You can also use this camcorder to take still photos in 4K quality.