Panasonic HC-X1000 4K Camcorder Review
Want pro 4K video and control without the pro price? The X1000 has arrived.
If you want to get into high-end video these days, you've got more options than ever before. Interchangeable lens cameras have stoked a creative fire in many filmmakers, often combining large sensors with decades of legacy lenses to provide a refreshingly new aesthetic at a refreshingly affordable price.
That's all well and good, but what about traditional camcorders? While DSLR and mirrorless cameras that are excellent for shooting video seem to garner all the attention, traditional camcorders have been continuing to develop at an equally impressive rate. The New Panasonic HC-X1000 (MSRP $3,499) is just such a camcorder.
While not as extensible as something like the Sony A7S, the HC-X1000 sticks with a tried-and-true form factor that has proven functional for decades. Furthermore, it houses an incredible amount of power, combining dual Venus processing engines, a 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor, and a 20x Leica-branded lens all designed to provide excellent video at resolutions up to 4K/60p.
What's more, the X1000 includes all of this with a full suite of pro-ready controls at a very reasonable price. Panasonic's done this by deftly cutting costs everywhere possible. Though this looks more like a professional device than it actually is, the result is a camcorder that will suit a wide variety of needs at a price point well-suited to even budget-conscious videographers.
Design & Usability
Ready to get to work
If you've ever used an ENG camera, or an old MiniDV camera, then the X1000 should feel instantly familiar. Though it's smaller than shoulder-mounted models, it has a similar form factor with a large rectangular body, a decently-sized (non-removable) top-mounted grip, a hand strap, and a lens barrel long enough to fit multiple manual control rings.
As with most cameras of this ilk you've got a wide selection of ports and manual controls on the sides, including controls for gain, white balance, focus, iris, shutter speed, and a small dial for navigation. Behind two plastic doors you'll find dual SD card slots, physical controls for both of the camera's XLR inputs, as well as controls for zebra patterning, stabilization, and toggling information on the display on and off. There's even a handy selector for the camera's built-in ND filter.
There are two primary methods of shooting with the X1000. The most natural way to hold it will be by the hand strap, which is comfortable and gives you easy access to the on/off button, zoom rocker, and record button. The top handle is permanently built right into the body and features an additional zoom rocker and record button (both of which are smaller than the ones on the right side). The articulating touchscreen LCD also flips out from this handle, stowing safely away when not in use.
Shooting with the X1000 is easy thanks to the comfortable placement of the controls. Though some key components like the zoom rockers feel chintzy and hollow, they nicely approximate what you'd expect from any high-end documentary or news gathering camera. This is where the ENG form factor really sings, as a single person can get very smooth focus and zoom pulls as long as you can keep the camera stable. And, while perhaps daunting, the sheer volume of physical controls mean you almost never have to make a trip to the menu.
While the HC-X1000 is loaded with controls, not all are equally-simple to adjust. Settings like focus, iris, and zoom can easily be controlled with lens rings, but others like gain, shutter speed, and white balance are more difficult to manipulate. These settings often require use of the tiny control dial on the left of the camera—and that's not the best method for making adjustments on the fly. Still, the presence of three lens rings for the most important video controls is greatly appreciated.
The other thing we'd caution here is that while it's lighter than most ENG cameras, the X1000 can still be a bit tiresome over longer shoots. The hand grip is decent, but the camera is just small enough to not need a shoulder mount. We found that you'll probably want to use the EVF to help offset some of its weight when shooting without a tripod.
All in all, the X1000's control setup is more robust than you'd expect given the price point. Normally at this price we will see a few controls cribbed from ENG-type camcorders, but this is more or less the full load. The rings on the lens all provide a healthy level of resistance, as well, making for a camcorder that doesn't feel as nice as a high-end ENG camera, but will certainly be instantly familiar to anyone who has used one in the past.
Just about everything you'd need
When you start outlining all that the X1000 has to offer, it's actually remarkable how little Panasonic has left on the cutting room floor. From a hardware perspective you've got dual SD card slots, a 3.5-inch (1.15m-dot) LCD, and a 20x zoom lens with a 3-stop ND filter and rings for zoom, focus, and iris. For audio there's dual XLR inputs with phantom power, a built-in two-channel stereo microphone, and a headphone jack. It also includes built-in WiFi, letting you use a smartphone as a remote viewfinder and controller.
The only port we'd like to see is a 3.5mm mic jack in addition to the dual XLR inputs, but you could always purchase an XLR-to-3.5mm adapter to solve this issue.
Once you've recorded video you can output via the camera's HDMI port. It also features analog composite output (not input), making it a functional (if more expensive than you need) choice for older video setups that have yet to be upgraded to digital. For power you've got a 12V DC input that can be used to run the camera and/or charge the battery pack.
The X1000 records all media to the dual SD card slots using MPEG-4/H.264 compression. The beauty of H.264 compression is that it is fully hardware-compatible with pretty much every computer that you'd buy today, making editing a breeze compared to the new (and downright painful) H.265 compression that cameras like the Samsung NX1 are using to record 4K video to SD memory.
You will need to pick up newer (and more expensive) UHS-3 SD memory cards, but we have to applaud Panasonic's choice here. Other types of flash media like XQD, CFast, expressP2, and full 2.5-inch SSDs are all either more cumbersome or more expensive (or both). Even with just SD memory, the X1000 can still record in MP4 at variable bitrates up to 200Mbps for 1080/60p and 150Mbps for 4K/60p. Just keep in mind that these are H.264 bitrates we're talking about. H.265 compression would be vastly more efficient, getting better quality while taking up less space, but it's infinitely more time-consuming to edit with today's computer hardware and software.
Speaking of recording frame rates, the X1000 gives you quite a few to choose from. You can record in MP4, MOV, and AVCHD, suiting a wide variety of workflows. In MP4 you can choose from 4K, UHD, and 1080p modes, at all 60, 30, and 24p framerates (as well as PAL variants). In MOV you can choose from the same frame rates, but just at 1080p, while in AVCHD you can select from a range of bitrates with 1080p, 1080i, and 720p resolutions.
A consumer 4K camcorder, all dressed up
Camcorders generally come in two flavors: single-chip and three-chip. Three-chip sensors split incoming light over three sensors, with one for each channel (red, green, and blue). Single-chip sensors usually have a combination of red-, green-, and blue-sensitive pixels over one sensor, interpolating that information to provide one color signal. The three-chip variety seems to be a dying breed, with more manufacturers focusing on interchangeable lens options (like the Sony A7S or Panasonic GH4), or fixed-lens large-sensor camcorders (like the Sony AX100).
The HC-X1000 uses just a single (relatively small) 1/2.3-inch sensor with a fixed lens. This gives it the readout speed necessary to record and process 4K/60p video, but it does mean that quality in some situations (notably low light) won't be quite as good as a three-chip camcorder, and without the distinct advantages of a large-sensor video option (like shallow depth-of-field and improved low-light performance).
The biggest area where the HC-X1000 suffered was in color accuracy and noise. While the color accuracy is acceptable—and very consistent across light levels—it's not as tonally rich as it is with three-chip cameras. The video output also looks quite grainy in low light, with a noisy, consistent pattern that isn't aesthetically pleasing. We also found the X1000 provided only limited dynamic range, holding onto about 12 stops total where some 4K cameras can manage 13 or more.
Where the HX1000 did deliver was in resolution. As we've seen with other 4K cameras, even small sensors can record extremely sharp 4K footage. In bright light we saw an average resolution of 1350 line pairs per picture height (LP/PH) horizontally and vertically. That's well above what even the best 1080p camcorders can do, so it's a strong result.
Despite having a small sensor, you can push the X1000 in low light if need be. We found it was able to return a usably bright image (50 IRE) with just 6 lux of ambient light. That's a very good result, and the camera's IR-sensitive nightvision mode will let you go even dimmer, though with the usual, obvious green cast over your footage.
Within the 4K-capable sphere, the X1000 is an example of choosing portability and practicality over aesthetics. What you lose in terms of dynamic range and depth of field you gain in the form of razor-sharp image and a 20x zoom lens that is compact, easy to use, and highly functional. This makes the X1000 perhaps a poor choice to realize your artistic visions, but an excellent one if you need to just record consistently high-quality 4K footage without needing a bunch of speciality gear.
A winning all-in-one package.
For its $3,500 price point, the Panasonic HC-X1000 is something of a unique camcorder on the market. And like most (relatively) low-cost camcorders that mimic their higher-end cousins, it's all about compromise. It's single-chip, but it shoots 4K at 60p to SDXC memory cards. It is relatively compact and lightweight, but it has a full suite of audio and video controls. It doesn't have interchangeable lenses, but it does give you a sharp 20x Leica-branded f/1.8 zoom lens with excellent control rings.
Though there are similar cameras on the market right now, there simply isn't a comparable all-in-one solution that also lets you utilize relatively cheap, ubiquitous SD memory. You can gain different advantages that might appeal to your use cases, but you're either going to have to pay quite a bit more, or sacrifice features while paying less.
We were blown away by Sony's AX100, which costs about $1,400 less than the X1000. While it has a simpler build and control set, its 1-inch sensor is fantastic, and the lens it's paired with impressed us with its fast aperture. It's half the cost, but you also get half the max frame rate (4K/30p is where it maxes out) and not nearly as many manual controls or inputs as the X1000.
Reach upmarket and things get more expensive, but can net you some really amazing quality and features. If you've got the cash, we're smitten with Blackmagic's Ursa. That's a whole nother kettle of fish, though, and it's not designed to be as straightforward—you'll want to outfit an Ursa to meet your needs with rigging, lenses, and other accessories. The X1000 is a no-brainer in comparison since you only have to buy one thing.
In our opinion, the X1000 will likely appeal to small professional operations that are replacing aging equipment, want to dip into 4K video, and have the knowledge, (and accessories) to take advantage of all that this camcorder has to offer. Houses of worship, journalism schools, and college news departments who aren't already invested into higher-end cinema gear could certainly find a lot to love about this camcorder.
While it might not be the most exciting 4K-packing option you can buy today, it's not designed to be anything more than a straightforward workhorse. Its 1/2.3-inch sensor can't match the aesthetic quality of a full-frame 35mm—or even Micro Four Thirds—image sensor, but it's decent in low light, shoots tack-sharp video, and renders motion quite well thanks to its 4K/60p mode.
Overall, we think Panasonic has done an excellent job of giving the X1000 everything that you'd expect from a high-end camcorder, without the high-end price. The result isn't the best-feeling camcorder we've ever used, but given the cost of entry—and the fact that most comparable 4K cameras can get spendy really fast—we think this is one of the most artful examples of prudent, cost-conscious design we've seen in some time.
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