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Panasonic’s HC-V700 is a powerful HD camcorder with a shockingly-low price tag. The V700 isn’t a flagship model, so you won’t get all the special features you’d see on a top-market model (no viewfinder, no lens ring or control dial). But Panasonic loaded this little guy with plenty of controls, excellent video performance, and a solid auto mode for beginners. With prices ranging from $400 to $600, the V700 is one of the best bargains on the market.
Panasonic offers two versions of the HC-V700: one comes with 16GB of internal memory (the HC-V700M) and one comes without any internal memory (the HC-V700). The model reviewed and scored here is the HC-V700M, but the performance of the two camcorders should be identical.
If you’re a fan of innovative, cutting-edge technology, then it probably won’t be love at first sight between you and the Panasonic HC-V700. The camcorder looks... well... it looks like a camcorder. It has that compact, rectangular shape that is specifically designed with handheld shooting in mind. The body is relatively sparse, with only a few buttons on the back, top, and sides. Lastly, the V700 is available in just one, boring color: black, with a bit of silver on the lens barrel.
Panasonic has long been known for loading its camcorders with confusing manual controls, but over the past couple of years the company has gone to great lengths to improve usability for beginners as well. Some of the features on the V700M—like the auto exposure/autofocus tracking feature—are great for newbies. Others, like the silly “shooting guide” that displays somewhat meaningless messages while you try to frame your shot, are more annoying than helpful. The V700 isn’t as portable as your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, but it’s not especially bulky either. Keeping the camcorder in a small bag or purse doesn’t add too much weight to your luggage, and while I wasn't impressed with the comfort of the hand strap, the V700 was light enough that it didn't tire out my wrist after a long day of shooting.
Panasonic didn’t skimp on recording options on this model, offering a plethora of high-quality HD options and one standard definition setting. Numerous manual controls are scattered throughout the V700's extensive menu system, including focus, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance adjustment. Despite this large set of controls, the HC-V700 does not have a sophisticated method for adjusting them, abandoning the user to a frustrating touchscreen interface as their only option for making changes.
Compared to most mid-range camcorders, the HC-V700 is loaded. It has the core features and it has a bundle of random features as well. There's a pre-record setting that ensures you never miss a bit of action, tons of still image options (including a built-in flash), and a full suite of audio controls. You can even strap a 3D conversion lens to the front of the camcorder and shoot 3D video, but you pay extra for that.
If you want great image quality, but you don't want to spend a thousand bucks on a video camera, the Panasonic HC-V700M is one of your best options. Performance in bright light was as good as the big boys, and most low light shots looked great as well. The only downside is that the camcorder requires more light to record a standard video image than a flagship model would, but unless you're doing lots of indoor, dimly-lit shots, this shouldn't be an issue.
In all of our tests, the Panasonic HC-V700M scored low noise values, rendered colors accurately, and captured a good amount of detail. The sharpness levels weren't quite on the same page as Panasonic's high-end model (the HC-X900M), but it was close enough that your eyes probably wouldn't notice a difference.
As a mid-range model, the Panasonic HC-V700M does not have high-end features like a viewfinder or a lens ring, but its solid performance, decent feature set, and budget-friendly price tag more than make up for these absences. Unless you’re obsessed about image quality, or you’re going to be shooting video in a lot of dark places, the HC-V700 will not disappoint. The camcorder’s top video mode produced sharp, high-quality images that went toe-to-toe with Panasonic’s flagship HC-X900M model.
Zoom Lovers, you can start your party now. The lens on the V700 is wide and powerful, with Panasonic offering 21x optical zoom and up to 46x using “intelligent zoom.” Controls, as usual for Panasonic, are plentiful, but the main difference between the V700 and the step-up HC-X900 from Panasonic is the way these controls are adjusted. The V700 relies too much on the touchscreen interface, so adjusting controls is not a smooth or precise experience. If you’re looking for a control dial or lens ring, you’re going to have to upgrade to a flagship model.
Even at launch the Panasonic HC-V700M’s $600 price tag was very competitive. Right now, the model is available for even less. Units have been spotted online for under $400, and it is likely that the camcorder's price will fluctuate in the $350 - $600 range for a few more months. If you can find the V700M for less than $500 bucks, it’s a bargain. Anything lower is an absolute steal.
But remember, the HC-V700 comes in two versions. One has 16GB of internal memory (the HC-V700M, which is the model reviewed here), and one has no internal memory (the HC-V700). Prices will differ for the two models, but not by that much, usually. Be sure to compare prices for both models when shopping, and if you factor in the cost of a 16GB memory card, the HC-V700M with its internal memory may often end up as the better buy.
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