Pros / This camera features best-in-class image quality.
Cons / The touchscreen isn’t as responsive as we’d like.
Verdict / This camera produces better image quality than anything else we tested and features a great set of physical controls. Any qualms we have with its touchscreen performance are dwarfed by these benefits.
Editor's Note: This review has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it no longer ranks as a top 10 product. The original review is below, but check out our current top 10 about HD Camcorders here.
Video-capable devices such as smartphones, tablets, MP3 players and handheld gaming consoles are ubiquitous in our modern world. In such a competitive environment, the appeal of a dedicated HD camcorder will inevitably be lost on some people. We get it – why spend hundreds of dollars on an extra device you have to lug around?
We began our research as cynically as anyone might, not expecting to find many reasons to purchase an HD camcorder. We found that while there certainly aren’t as many viable options out there as before, some of the cameras, like the Panasonic HC-X920, make a powerful case for a dedicated video camera.
That’s because the X920 offers variable optical zoom, better image quality and a better design for shooting than you can find in any current smartphone. In fact, the X920 offers the best image quality of any camcorder we tested. Though its zoom range isn’t quite as long as others and its touchscreen could be better, superior image quality makes this a high-quality camcorder.
Image quality in smartphone cameras has improved dramatically in recent years, but the best consumer-grade HD camcorders still have an edge over their more multipurpose counterparts. The most obvious image quality benefits of HD camcorders are a result of the space constraints of smartphones, tablets or whatever else.
Typically, HD camcorders can afford to have larger sensors than a smartphone might. Assuming sensor quality is constant, larger sensors perform better in low light and produce clearer details. The X920 features a 1/2.3-inch sensor. It’s pretty much the largest you’ll find in a consumer-grade camcorder these days, and it shows. In our tests, the X920 consistently outshined its competitors by consistently offering the best colors and clearest image.
Lens quality also plays a large part in the overall quality of your footage, and the X920 has one of the best lenses that we tested. Although its zoom range isn’t enormous when compared to the Panasonic HC-W580, it has the fastest lens that we tested with a max aperture of f/1.5. That means this lens can direct more light to the sensor than any other camcorder we tested, resulting in improved low light performance.
With a max resolution of 20.4 megapixels for still images, it offers respectable performance for a video-first device. We’d like to emphasize, however, that in most cases, still imaging performance shouldn’t be overly influential in your decision. Still, being able to produces high-resolution photos is useful if you need to shoot stills and video simultaneously – or if you’d like to zoom in and snap some shots in a way that you couldn’t on your smartphone.
How easy or difficult your camera is to use can mean the difference between fumbling with your device and capturing the moment at hand. After our testers spent some time with the X920, we found that it performed reasonably well in this regard, although there was room for improvement in some areas. First, the menus aren’t terribly intuitive to work with and so finding specific settings can be a bit of a challenge initially.
We also weren’t exactly in love with the touch display. While it is functional, it simply lacks the responsiveness that we’d expect from a camera of this caliber. There’s a slight lag between making selections with a touch and seeing the results on-screen. For that reason, it is at times difficult to have confidence while navigating through settings or the playback menu.
Fortunately, many of the camera's most important controls are physical buttons and are very well laid out on the body of the camera. In addition, we thought the X920 was very comfortable to hold and found its ports and battery easy to access. So while the touchscreen and menu system could be better, we still found it to be more than capable for the majority of shooting situations.
Editing & Extras
The optical zoom is a great reason to buy an HD camcorder. A smartphone may be able to record decent HD video, but during recitals, soccer matches or events where your subject may be far away, an optical zoom lens is invaluable. The X920 features a 12x zoom, which allows you to get close to the action, though not quite as close as its competitors. Most of the other cameras in our lineup actually average around a 30x optical zoom, although they’re not quite as adept at gathering light.
Optical image stabilization makes a big difference when you're shooting by hand, especially when zoomed in. Without optical image stabilization, a slight tremor in your arm is obvious and annoying, but when enabled, your footage will be buttery smooth. You’ll still need to be careful to keep your camera reasonably still, but OIS does an excellent job at picking up where you leave off and smoothing out distracting camera shake.
Panasonic offers great support for the X920. It's covered under warranty for up to a year after purchase, which is typical for HD camcorders like the Panasonic HC-V770K. You can also find support and answers to your questions through a number of channels. On the Panasonic site you’ll find access to support through FAQs, live chat, email or phone – you can even download a digital manual from the product page. In all, the X920 has every support feature we look for.
The best aspects of the Panasonic HC-X920 are its image quality and its physical design. Although its menus and touchscreen left us a little unimpressed and its zoom range is relatively short, we think these are fair tradeoffs for best-in-class image quality. Those looking for a do-it-all camera, however, may be better suited with a longer zoom lens.