I reviewed the brilliant Panasonic SD900 Camcorder last year and this year Panasonic has released the Flagship HC-X900, promising an array of improved features.
The build and design of camera still has the Panasonic look. The size and weight isn't at all bad, it's remarkably small and compact and you won't get an achy hand from constant use either. The whole body is matte black plastic including the 180 degree flip out screen and it feels very rugged and well built. The lens is of course situated at the front of the camera and has a nice sliver trim running around it. The battery is situated at the rear of the camera and I get around two hours of recording out of it but bigger batteries which extend out of the camcorder a little more can be purchased for some extra recording time. Something which is making another return from Panasonic is the full colour view finder, I never use it but I know that many of you do. And the comfy carrying strap is located on the right hand side and still has a nice marshmallowy feeling when in use.
Simplification has been sprinkled across the operations inside of the X900. Buttons surrounding the touch screen have all gone for one. Most buttons are placed on top of the Camcorder, these include the OIS (stabilisation) on & off button, the IA mode/ manual button to enter menus, the zoom trigger, the photo taking button, a slider for photo, movie & viewing mode and of course the record button which is right of the battery and that positioning is perfect for my thumb. The touchscreen is the place to go for adjusting settings and viewing content you have taken and is easy enough to use but the screen should be capacitive for fingers to work properly. One huge flaw in this camcorder os that the image quality from X900 screen looks grubby. The clarity has disappeared due to the gimmicky 3D being tacked on claiming to double the resolution and this is not what it looks like and is a real shame because everything you take looks slightly messy. The 3D feature doesn't work and isn't worth talking about and should be stripped from this camcorder in my opinion.
With a jump of 1.8 megapixels from the SD900 this thing still takes some very acceptable still photos. The photos are sharp and crisp and the colours are vivid and true to life. It also incorporates a flash for those low light scenarios. But that's not the X900's main priority, it's all about the video.
When I first began to playback the HD footage taken in my test footage on my iMac and compared it to the SD900 I couldn't see any real differences. The camcorders seemed to be pretty much identical but I realised that it was all indoor footage. When used in the brightness of the outdoors, huge differences were seen. The X900 can definitely take better video of the two because it’s inbuilt technologies do more with extra light. The LEICA lens and a 16 mega pixel sensor and an improved Advanced 3MOS System and Hybrid I.O.S and 12x Optical Zoom all combine to create an awesome video capturing experience. The stabilisation has been noticeably upped and you can have intensive zoom and still receive a stable image. Auto focusing seems slightly quicker and before it was almost instant. Also fast moving objects are captured and focused on rather well, such as cars and people running. As I mentioned the Lens lets in more light but performance in low light situations doesn't look any different from the SD900. But outdoors the colours, contrast, the jet blacks are all notched up and picked up perfectly and create close to cinema quality like results.
The onboard microphone is the same as we saw in the SD900 and uses DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1 and is crystal clear. Sound is recorded in a 360 degree perspective which does genuinely work rather well. When you play the audio back the zooming and overall camcorder noise operations are unfortunately partially heard when the audio is near to silent.
Importing the footage into my iMac was a breeze. iMovie and Final Cut have no problems working with the footage and when trying Core 2 Duo Macs they also had no issue with the importing side of things. Playing back and editing the footage was also relatively easy, the Core 2 Duo machines are going to have a harder time working with the footage but they do it. If you want to import footage onto the iPad you'll need to record in iFrame mode on the X900 and then you can import the footage and edit it in iMovie on the iPad. iFrame unfortunately downgrades the footage slightly but it still looks good.
A few other additional features and things worth noting on the HC-X900 are that it can shoot in 3D with an accessory in full HD, you can playback footage over HDMI, it also works with VIERA Link and if you choose to do so you can plug an external microphone and have a place to hold it on the camcorder. On the font of the X900 you can setup manual focus or zoom via a twisting mechanism.
Overall the Panasonic HC-X900 is a nice bump up from the HDC-SD900. If you own the SD900 I wouldn't recommend this as the differences are not worth £700-£900 but if you don't own either then maybe this is worth looking at. The only major fault stopping this from being a perfect five star product is it's touch screen looking grubby and unsharp. Other than that this is a better camcorder in terms of it's main purpose which is capturing video.