There are a few useful options to be found in the quick menu on the left of the LCD as well. Software buttons are available for operating the zoom and triggering record, ideally positioned for two-handed camcorder operation. You can toggle the Pre-Rec function and video light, enable the stabilisation lock and AF tracking, and operate a touch-controlled zoom. We would like to see tele macro and backlight compensation added to the list (of which more later), but overall there's some pretty useful options here.
Switch to manual mode and an even more comprehensive range of settings becomes available. An additional quick menu page gives access to manual focusing, white balance settings, shutter speed and iris. The manual focusing is a little fiddly with the touchscreen, despite the assist mode that fringes areas in focus with blue, but white balancing options include two indoor and two outdoor presets, plus fully manual as well as automatic modes. You can adjust the shutter from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and the iris from F16 to F1.8, with up to 18dB of video gain available on top of a fully open aperture. These are not features you normally expect in a sub-£300 camcorder.
Particularly surprising to see are the picture adjustments, which let you set sharpness, colour, exposure and white balance offset. There's a Digital Cinema Colour mode, which enables high dynamic range x.v.Colour for use with Panasonic VIERA TVs. You can even adjust the microphone levels manually, despite the lack of connecitivity for attaching an external source. There's a zoom mic facility, and a reasonably effective wind noise cancellation system. However, although essentials like backlight compensation and tele macro are present and correct, they are only available in the full menu. These should really be located in the quick menu as well, as mentioned earlier.
Image quality is pretty decent for a camcorder this price. In good lighting, colour fidelity is very good and contrast is particularly impressive, with detail visible in shadows and with highlights not blowing out. The V500 can't quite compete with its premium siblings such as the HC-X900 for detail, but it's not bad for a third of the price. The High Sensitivity sensor proves its worth in low light, too. Performance isn't significantly better than our favourite budget models, but it's far better than sub-£300 camcorders of a few years ago. The HC-V500 should be more than up to grabbing family moments in dimly lit houses.
The HC-V500 is another camcorder from Panasonic that doesn't quite hit the price mark for a true budget model. If you're really tight on cash, we would still recommend a more keenly priced alternative such as JVC's HD Everio GZ-E205. But if you have a little more to spend, the HC-V500 has a more generous array of configuration options and superior image stabilisation, making it worth the extra money.