Despite Panasonic admitting that volume and value sales of camcorders being in decline, the company stills sees that there are opportunities for its high-end consumer camcorder range. This is where the new Panasonic HC-VXF990 camcorder comes in.
One of those areas of opportunity is those users who may be shooting video on a smartphone, and want better quality, but without having to use an intimidating DSLR camera. So what exactly does the HC-VXF990 bring to the party?
The most obvious feature is the 4K video capture. Given that even the latest Panasonic compact cameras can now shoot 4K video footage it is no surprise to see this in the companies top of the range camcorder. In terms of quality the 4k uses a data rate of up to 72Mbps, which is fairly good for this level, but obviously pales when compared to the Canon XC10 which clocks in at around 300Mbps, however that is only as a comparison and it is important to remember that these are very different cameras aimed at different users.
Capturing the 4k footage is a 1/2.3rd in BSI (Back Side Illuminated) CMOS sensor that has a high speed readout to avoid any rolling shutter effect. Obviously with a large amount of data being generated by the sensor and image processor a lot of heat is generated by the camera. To counter this all of the processing takes place in one location on the camera circuit board, and very cleverly copper has been used internally to help disperse this thermal heat to prevent the camera from overheating, which would of course also stop recording.
One of the most interesting features is Slow/Fast mode. This records footage at half speed, but a onscreen button can be press that then switches to recording at twice the speed. When the footage is played back the clip seamlessly jumps between the fast and slow motion recorded in the clip.
It can be tricky to use the Slow/fast mode with real precision, but with some careful timing of when you want to make the switch, the results can look very effective. Again, it is nothing that can’t be achieved in post production by recording at 100fps and then speeding up or slowing down the footage when editing, but for those that want to get as much as possible done in-camera it is a neat feature.
Another cinematic style effect is Dolly Zoom. This recreates the famous Vertigo effect, whereby the camera is pulled backwards away from a subject, whilst at the same time the cameras lens zooms in, keeping the subject exactly the same size within the frame, but altering the background depth and angle in relation to the subject. If it sounds complicated, it is, and it is a tricky shot to master. The mode in the HC-VXF990 does make it a little easier, but there is still some trial and error involved in getting this to work as it should, and for best results you will still need to use a slider or dolly.
Picking up the HC-VXF990 you really that there really is nothing to it. It is extremely small and lightweight, and will fit quite comfortably inside a large jacket pocket. This is quite an impressive feat given the feature set of the camcorder.
Part of the reason for this weight is the use of lightweight polycarbonate, or plastic as it used to be called, to form the body of the camera. This is certainly great for reducing weight, but it in turn it does also make the camera feel like it is very much a consumer product, and a little hollow on the inside.
The plasticky feel of the camcorder is a little deceptive as it is well constructed, albeit with a few little niggles. For example the sliding door for the headphone and DC inputs is a little clunky and lacks refinement.