Panasonic HC-X920 review

The Panasonic HC-X920 is one of the better camcorders we've tested, but it falls just short of our Editors' Choice rating.

The Panasonic HC-X920 ($999.99 list) is the most expensive consumer camcorder in the company’s lineup, and also the most full-featured. It uses a 3-sensor design, one to capture each primary color, and includes a manual focus ring, an accessory shoe, and an EVF. It’s priced in between our Editors’ Choice for entry-level camcorders, the Panasonic HC-V720, and our winner for more expensive models, the Canon Vixia HF G30. The G30 is a $1,700 camcorder, making the X920 an appealing option if that’s out of your budget and you want a bit more functionality and video quality than the V720 can provide.

Design and Features
The X920 measures 2.8 by 2.6 by 5.9 inches (HWD) and weighs about a pound. It’s larger than entry-level video cameras like the Sony Handycam HDR-CX230, but dramatically smaller than the Canon G30 (3.3 by 4.3 by 7.2 inches, 2 pounds). There’s an integrated hand strap on the right side, along with the power input port, accessory shoe, and memory card slot—all of which are covered when not in use. The record button sits on the rear right, next to the EVF, and the majority of controls (a mode switch, the zoom control, the photo button, the iAuto toggle, and the Wi-Fi button) are on the top, near the rear of the camcorder.

Connection ports are on the left side, and are covered by the flip-out LCD panel when the X920 is not in use. There’s a mini HDMI output, a mini USB port, and an A/V port that can output video using an included analog cable set. There’s no built-in memory, but a 16GB SD card holds about 82 minutes of 1080p60 footage at top quality. The included battery is rated to run for 75 minutes on a full charge.

The lens is a modest 12x design that covers a 29.8-357.6mm (35mm equivalent) field of view. The aperture opens all the way to f/1.5 on the wide end and narrows to only f/2.8 when zoomed all the way in. A modest screw-in lens hood is included to block stray light from entering from off-kilter angles. There’s a digital zoom that extends the reach to 25x (745mm), and even at that extreme range the optical stabilization system impressively minimizes shakiness when shooting handheld. The X920 focuses quickly, even at the maximum zoom.

There aren’t a lot of physical controls, although there is a manual focus ring around the lens, a feature that is absent from lower-end models. Manual control is available; you’ll just have to adjust settings via the touch-screen interface. A physical control wheel, like the one that’s on the front of the Canon G30, is absent, so be prepared to dive into a menu if you want to adjust the brightness or white balance of a scene.

The LCD is a 3.5-inch panel with touch input. It sports a 1,152k-dot resolution, a big step up from the 3-inch, 461k-dot display found in the V720. There’s also an eye-level EVF, which is useful on bright days or when shooting handheld. Panasonic doesn’t publish its resolution, but it seems acceptably sharp to my eye, although the display is on the small side. When looking at them side-by-side, the Canon G30′s EVF seems to be slightly larger and sharper, but the Panasonic viewfinder is brighter with a bit more contrast. The G30′s EVF also has the ability to tilt up 45 degrees, which is missing from the X920.

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 wirelessly 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
The X920 uses a three-chip design, one for each primary color, each of which is 1/2.3-inches in size. The configuration delivers some impressive video quality, noticeably better than lower end models that we’ve tested. The zoom lens doesn’t have nearly as much reach as Panasonic’s 50x V520, but a 375mm lens with a 2x digital extension is more than most people need.

The dynamic range of the video is impressive. I shot footage on the terrace of our office at dusk on a winter day. The color of the sky created by the setting sun was well represented, and details were sharp. The brightest part of sky wasn’t clipped, although it was a little overexposed, and shadow detail was well preserved. The footage looks sharp, even when engaging the digital zoom, and the stabilization system kept footage steady. The X920 can also capture 20-megapixel still images, but the quality is just lacking. The dynamic range and detail leave a lot to be desired; if you want to capture still images, get a still camera.

Audio quality from the 5.1-channel mic is impressive; there’s very little wind noise in outdoor footage at wider angles, but as with other camcorders, the wind noise creeps back in when the lens is zoomed as the camcorder is attempting to pick up audio from further away. There is a mic input, so you can attach a higher quality microphone, which mounts on camera using the included shoe accessory.  The X920 also features a headphone jack, so you can monitor audio as you record.

The Panasonic HC-X920 impresses with its video quality, although its zoom range lags behind the competition and limited physical controls will leave serious videographers wanting for more. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for remote control and live streaming, and the image stabilization system is excellent. Video quality is a notch above our Editors’ Choice for entry-level video cameras, the Panasonic V720, but the X920 doesn’t quite earn that award for higher-end consumer camcorders. The Canon G30, which is a lot more expensive at $1,700, delivers the control system that more serious video shooters are after, and is our Editors’ Choice in this category. But if that price point is too high for you, and the V720 doesn’t quite fit your needs, the X920 is still a solid choice.

Specifications
Mic Input Jack Yes
Optical Zoom 12 x
Dimensions 2.8 x 2.6 x 5.9 inches
Weight 14.7 oz
Video Resolution 1080p
Video Recording Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum Aperture f/1.5
LCD Aspect Ratio 16
LCD dots 1,152,000
LCD size 3.5 inches
Image Stabilization Optical
Focal Length (Telephoto) 357.6 mm
Focal Length (Wide) 29.8 mm
Interface Ports mini USB, mini HDMI, Headphone
Touch Screen Yes
Sensor Size 1/2.33" mm
Still Image Recording Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
CCD Resolution 12.8 megapixels
Sensor Type BSI CMOS

Verdict
The Panasonic HC-X920 is one of the better camcorders we've tested, but it falls just short of our Editors' Choice rating.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc