Completing our three-part tour of the top models in Panasonic's new 2013 camcorder range, we now turn to the lower-end HC-V520. If the flagship HC-X920 is a more significant upgrade than its incremental name change would imply, and the HC-V720 about right, the HC-V520 is somewhere in between. It's still an evolution, but it has evolved a little bit further than its more expensive stable mate.
The HC-V520 uses a small 1/5.8in CMOS, the same size as in its predecessor the HC-V500 but now the sensor has 2.51Mpixels rather than 1.51Mpixels, and Panasonic is officially calling it back-side illuminated rather than the more ambiuous High Sensitivity. This means that compared to previous sensor types it should slightly more sensitive to light.
The resolution increase is significant because the HC-V520 now has an effective 2.25Mpixels, which is more than required for Full HD, rather than less. So there should be a clear improvement in image detail.
There's a major improvement in optical zoom, too. Not that the HC-V500's 42x optical zoom was poor, but the HC-V520's 62x is even better. Add on the Intelligent Zoom, and this rises even further to 80x. The HC-V520 has the improved version of Hybrid OIS , which now adds Active Mode and the Level Shot function on top of the OIS Lock ability that was already available. The Active Mode improves shooting whilst walking, and Level Shot will indicate when you are accidentally shooting at a slight angle.
The Panasonic HC-V520 offers an impressive zoom range
The HC-V520 shoots in AVCHD 2.0 format, so offers a top quality setting of Full HD at 50 frames per second and 28Mbits/sec. There is also an iFrame mode that uses a quarter-frame resolution of 960 x 540 and standard MPEG-4 compression. You can grab 10Mpixel stills at a resolution of 4,224 x 2,376, which uses quite a bit of interpolation. A single SDXC-compatible card slot is provided, with a 16GB card providing 75 minutes of video storage at the top quality setting.
There are far fewer provisions for the videomaking enthusiast on the HC-V520 than the HC-V720 and HC-X920. No accessory shoe is provided, and there are no minijacks for an external microphone or heaphones. Unsurprisingly, the viewfinder and lens ring of the HC-X920 are absent too.
You do still get a reasonable selection of buttons to give quick and easy access to features. A button beneath the LCD panel turns on the WiFi features, of which more later, and another cycles through the image stabilisation modes. As with the higher-end models, the iA button now presents five options, which you select via the touch-screen LCD. The standard Intelligent Auto has been joined by iA , which adds a basic exposure control plus red-blue colour adjustment.
There's a generous range of scene modes which should help users to best get the effect they were after. There is also a new Creative Effects section that provides a Miniature Effect, which mimics the appearance of tilt-shift photography, Silent and 8mm movie styles, plus there's a time lapse mode. You can also switch to manual mode, which exposes Panasonic's usual comprehensive array of settings.