camcorders

Panasonic HDC-Z10000 Review

The HDC-Z10000 is a 3D camcorder geared towards professionals, students, or video enthusiasts.

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Introduction

The HDC-Z10000 is a dual-lens, 3D camcorder from Panasonic that is geared towards professionals, students, or video enthusiasts. The Z10000’s $3500 price tag is high, but it's a reasonable cost for a pro-level camcorder so loaded with controls, features, and what is likely to be impressive video performance.

I got a chance to spend some time with the Z10000 at the 2011 Photo Plus Expo in New York City, and while certain design flaws on the camcorder bothered me, it's hard not to be excited about its potential as a pro-level 3D camcorder.

Design & Usability

A touchscreen interface on a professional camcorder is nothing short of strange.

Obviously, the HDC-Z10000 isn’t the easiest camcorder to use—it is a model geared towards pros, after all—but the camcorder still has a fully-automated mode (iAuto) if you don't have time to set anything manually. For serious videographers, the Z10000 probably won't be that much of a challenge, but there are a few things that bring the camcorder down; the lack of a dedicated button for switching between 3D and 2D recording is one of them. Since 3D capability is the most important feature on the Z10000, there should be a front-and-center button for it. Instead, you must navigate through the menu system to make the change.

Thankfully, most of the important controls on the Z10000 can be altered using lens rings, dials, and buttons, rather than with the touchscreen.

The Z10000 also makes use of a touchscreen interface, which is something you don't commonly see on camcorders that cost in excess of $3000. The touchscreen is helped by the fact that the screen is a large 3.5-inches, and the touch interface is fairly responsive, but the screen will undoubtedly attract plenty of haters. Many experienced videographers simply can't stand touchscreens. Thankfully, most of the important controls on the Z10000 can be altered using lens rings, dials, and buttons, rather than with the touchscreen. However, there are a few controls, like shutter speed, that must be controlled via the touchscreen.

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Features

The Z10000 has (almost) as many controls for 3D mode as it does for 2D recording.

The HDC-Z10000 has a full suite of manual controls in 3D record mode, which means you can adjust aperture, shutter speed, focus, and white balance in this mode just like you can in 2D mode. The only limitation is the optical zoom, which is reduced to 10x for 3D recording (from 12x in 2D recording). The camcorder also adjustment to the 3D effect by controlling the "lens convergence" on the Z10000's dual lens system. Many 3D camcorders offer this feature, but the system on the Z10000 was particularly impressive for two reasons: First, the camcorder issues a warning message if the convergence levels aren't ideal for 3D recording, and second, the camcorder's LCD has two different view options to assist with 3D adjustments.

The Z10000 felt like a great camcorder, and the $3500 price tag is weighty, but it pulls that weight.

Like the Sony HDR-TD10 and the JVC GS-TD1 3D camcorders, the Panasonic HDC-Z10000 has a 3D LCD that doesn’t require special glasses with which to view your 3D video. The quality of the 3D, however, isn't very good when viewed in this manner. But Panasonic takes things a step further by offering a secondary 3D view called "3D Mix" that shows you an overlapped image of your two recordings—basically, the view from each lens on the camcorder. This view is fantastic for adjusting the 3D effect, as it provides the perfect visualization of what each lens is recording.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Panasonic HDC-Z10000, take a look at these other camcorders.

Performance

The dual lens and sensor system on the Z10000 means you can shoot 2D or 3D video with the same camcorder.

To record a 3D image, the HDC-Z10000 makes use of a dual lens system, which is the best way to obtain a high-quality 3D image (other than by strapping two camcorders side-by-side). The sensor system on the Z10000 is more unique, however, as the camcorder employs two of Panasonic’s 3MOS chip array. This means the model is loaded with a total of six 1/4.1-inch CMOS sensors, each with a pixel count of 3.05 megapixels (three sensors for each lens). It sounds a little over-the-top, but it makes sense when you think about it. Panasonic is simply doubling up on its 3-chip system in order to record full HD 3D video.

Since the dual lens system is built into the camcorder itself, the Z10000 requires little to no calibration or setup when you switch over to 3D record mode.

Each lens on the Z10000 has a wide aperture setting of f/1.5 (for both 2D and 3D recording). Impressively, the camcorder has the ability to record 3D imagery on a subject that is just 45cm away, as long as the camcorder’s macro mode is engaged. For regular 3D recording, the minimum shooting distance is 2.5 meters. Since the dual lens system is built into the camcorder itself, the Z10000 requires little to no calibration or setup when you switch over to 3D record mode. Compare this to the extensive setup process required by the HDC-SDT750.

Conclusion

Even with its twin lens setup, the Z10000 doesn't feel much larger than the average prosumer camcorder.

With its plethora of manual controls and its excellent 3D features, the HDC-Z10000 is a very impressive camcorder. The Z10000 has not come through our labs for a complete test, but I was able to shoot some video with it and watch the material on a 3D TV during my hands-on time with the product. Even under terrible office lighting conditions the camcorder's 3D images looked solid, and the 3D effect was more prominent than what I've seen from the Sony HDR-TD10 or the JVC GS-TD1.

Then again, it's impossible not to express skepticism as to the usefulness of dual-lens 3D camcorders. Why would anyone want to lug around a bulky camcorder that has two lenses, especially if you’re not planning on shooting that much 3D footage? But with the HDC-Z10000, this issue isn't as big of a deal. The added size and weight of the second lens aren't that significant on the whole. Since it's a professional camcorder, the Z10000 had to be somewhat hefty to begin with, so the camcorder doesn't feel overly large or bulky compared to your average prosumer 2D camcorder.

The problems with the Panasonic HDC-Z10000 should be noted, though. A touchscreen LCD on a camcorder of this caliber feels silly, and there were some issues with finding menu options and changing controls via this interface. More dedicated buttons and dials for changing important settings would have been helpful. Other than that, the Z10000 felt like a great camcorder, and the $3500 price tag is weighty, but it pulls that weight.

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