We've finally got our hands on Panasonic's latest flagship HD camcorder, the HC-X920. This model's predecessor, the X900, currently holds a rating of 9.9 in our scoring system, so we're more than a little excited to see if Panasonic can improve its performance even further. Unfortunately, it seems like the X920 is largely an incremental updates, with the primary focus being on wireless connectivity and sharing.
Design & Usability
Panasonic doesn't seem to have made any outward changes for the X920.
The body shape is identical, and the LCD monitor is both the same size and has the same specifications. The multi-control ring surrounding the lens is also unchanged, as is the 12x optical zoom ratio.
The menu interface is predominantly touch-based, as it has been on the last few Panasonic flagships. Shooting options are overlaid in a thin column along the left side of the on-screen display, leaving most of the screen available for unobstructed preview. The menu is logically laid out, easy to use, and relatively responsive for a touchscreen; however it's also pretty ugly and low-res, especially for a $1,000+ camcorder.
Updates to this year's feature set target improved wireless connectivity, like so many of the products we've seen at CES.
The X920 has the ability to wirelessly upload video content to UStream in real time. This function is limited to 720p, but that's a UStream limitation that has nothing to do with the camcorder itself. The X920 can also simultaneously record the same video to memory.
While all this streaming and recording is going on, it's possible to control basic camcorder functions from a remote device. On the show floor, a nearby iPad controlled zoom and started and stopped recording. If you've ever wanted to be an armchair director, here's your moment. The iPad app is also capable of pushing content directly to other sharing sites, such as Facebook.
This product line uses not one but three sensor chips to produce an image. Panasonic brands this "3MOS" technology, and the end-result is 1080p video and 20.4 megapixel stills. The X920 also uses three chips, and this time they're actually very slightly smaller than the X900's. However, the new sensors are back-illuminated, so low light performance should be much improved. Just like the X900, the X920's Leica-badged lens is also extremely bright, maxing out at f/1.5.
The X920 seems to be only a small update to the X900, which itself was only a small update to the TM900.
That's fine, Panasonic's top camcorders have historically been great performers, after all. We were just hoping that—despite the fact that wireless features have become the connecting thread of imaging-related announcements at CES—this model would stand out in some other way. Maybe the new back-illuminated sensors will do the trick, but we'll only be sure after lab testing.
That said, we have to admit the new WiFi features are pretty darn cool. Controlling your camcorder from across the room via WiFi has compelling potential for amateur videography, and the ability to upload or stream footage instantly could be perfect for the right user. After this week we're pretty sick of making value judgements on connectivity features that may or may not take off, but Panasonic's solution seems to be one of the best.