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Panasonic HX-WA2 First Impressions Review
Ease of Use
The WA2's control layout is poorly designed. What should be an elegant button scheme created with this camcorder's unique form factor in mind, is instead a disjointed combination of three button areas that only take minimal advantage of the pistol-grip shape.
On the back of the lens barrel is a small directional joystick used for operating the main menu system. Above that are shooting buttons for still and video modes, along with a criss-crossed zoom rocker between them, in an arrangement that looks very much like a directional pad itself. Pretty redundant in our opinion. The buttons themselves are imprecise, shoddily manufactured, and offer almost no tactile feedback.
Instead of placing the remaining controls on the front of the hand grip (you know, like a pistol), the very important keys for power, menu, playback mode, and iAuto have all been placed underneath the LCD, on the side of the "hilt." This makes two-handed operation necessary all the time.
Physically holding the WA2 is, thankfully, much less painful than operating it. The grip is thick enough to hold comfortably, and the camcorder is quite light and painless to support even for long periods of time.
Even though their layout didn't impress us too much, most buttons are at least within reach. An exception to this is the joystick, which is way too low and requires resetting one's grip often.
The WA2 uses Panasonic's Active Electronic Image Stabilizer. This model is a 4-axis correction device and may be used with any shooting mode.
LCD & Viewfinder
This camcorder's LCD monitor is small and low resolution: only 2.6 inches and only 230,000 dots. It was difficult to get a sense of performance on the aggressively-lit show floor, but dynamic range seems to be a problem for this LCD. Blacks were decent but bright areas seemed to blow out early. We'll need more time with this model to be sure though.
The WA2's menu system is shockingly bad. Pressing the menu button, which is foolishly located underneath the LCD and far away from the most common controls, brings up a drab, gray menu system that is operated via the joystick. That joystick is floaty and imprecise, hindering the navigation process rather than aiding it. Many of the little things we've come to expect from imaging products are missing from the WA2. For example it's not possible to jump back to the shooting screen by pressing the capture buttons, you must reach around and press the menu key again. Same thing for the playback menu, you can't quickly jump out of it, you must press the same key again.