The Panasonic HC-V520 ($399.99 direct) is an entry-level camcorder with an impressive 50x zoom lens, built-in Wi-Fi, and 1080p60 video capture capability. There’s no internal storage, so you’ll have to add an SD card to record footage, and stills are limited to 10 megapixels, but the video quality and zoom range are impressive when you consider its price. It impressed with its long zoom lens and Wi-Fi connectivity, but another Panasonic camcorder, the V720, is our Editors’ Choice for consumer camcorders.
Design and Features
The V520 is relatively compact, measuring just 2.4 by 2.1 by 4.6 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 8.1 ounces. There’s an adjustable hand strap on the right side of the camera; using it gives you access to the top-mounted zoom rocker and photo button, while the record button and function toggle switch are located on the rear next to the battery. To charge the V520 you open a flap on the right side to reveal a power input—an AC adapter is included.
Additional ports are located on the left side and are only accessible when the LCD is open. These include a mini USB port, a mini HDMI output, an analog A/V output, the power button, and buttons to enable Wi-Fi sharing, toggle image stabilization, and engage iAuto shooting. There’s no mic input, nor is there a shoe, so you’re limited to using the internal mic for audio capture. Video is recorded at up to 1080p60 quality. There’s no memory built in, but a 16GB card holds about 83 minutes of top quality footage, and a fully charged battery can keep the camcorder going for 105 minutes.
The lens features an impressive 50x zoom ratio, covering a 28-1,400mm (35mm equivalent) field of view. Its aperture starts at f/1.8 when zoomed all the way out, but narrows to f/4.2 at its maximum reach. A digital zoom is available that extends the reach to 80x (2,240mm). The optical stabilization system makes one-handed operation possible at the maximum optical zoom setting, I was able to keep my subject framed and relatively steady, but you’ll want to use both hands to steady the camcorder when moving to 80x.
There are some manual exposure controls available via the menu system, including focus, white balance, shutter, and iris adjustment. But adjusting these settings using the touch interface isn’t that efficient; this is a camcorder that is designed for automatic operation. The display is a 3-inch panel with touch input capability and a 461k-dot resolution. It’s noticeably sharper than the 230k-dot displays found on the Sony HDR-CX230 and HDR-PJ380.
Wi-Fi is built in, and there are a number of functions available. The camcorder works with the free Panasonic Image App for iOS or Android. You can use your phone or tablet to remotely control the camcorder, or to view recorded footage. You’ll also be able to view footage stored on the camcorder, and select highlights to pull from the video and share to social networks. Other Wi-Fi features include broadcasting via UStream, home monitoring over the Web, and wireless playback to a compatible HDTV.
Video Quality and Conclusions
Video is recorded at up to 1080p60 quality in AVCHD format. The footage is rife with detail, even at the upper limit of the 50x optical zoom. The stabilization system does a good job keeping things steady there, but if you move into the digital zoom territory (80x) things start to get shaky. There is also a noticeable, but not drastic, drop off in video quality when engaging digital zoom. Audio is clear, although as with the other camcorders I tested, wind noise is more of an issue when the lens is zoomed in than when it’s set at a wide angle. The dynamic range of the footage is a bit better than the Sony CX230 and PJ380; the V520 managed to capture details of a sky at dusk without underexposing buildings in shadow, a feat that neither Sony camcorder was able to manage. You can capture 10-megapixel still images, but the image quality is just not that good. Images are pixelated and dynamic range suffers, just as you would expect from a so-so cell phone shot.
The Panasonic HC-V520 does a good job balancing features, video quality, and price. Its Wi-Fi works well, although some may prefer the built-in projector that Sony puts in its PJ380. The V520 is less expensive than the Sony, and its video quality is just slightly better. Another Panasonic camcorder, the V720, earns our Editors’ Choice award, as its video quality is noticeably better than both the PJ380 and V520, and it offers a few extras that armchair movie makers are sure to appreciate.
|Mic Input Jack||No|
|Optical Zoom||50 x|
|Dimensions||2.4 x 2.1 x 4.6 inches|
|Video Recording Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||16|
|LCD size||3 inches|
|Focal Length (Telephoto)||1400 mm|
|Focal Length (Wide)||28 mm|
|Interface Ports||mini USB, mini HDMI|
|Sensor Size||1/5.8" mm|
|Still Image Recording Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|CCD Resolution||2.5 megapixels|
|Sensor Type||BSI CMOS|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc