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Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK review

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Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
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  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK
  • Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Pros

  • Great 4K image quality
  • New slow-motion modes
  • Capable manual controls and the return of the EVF

Cons

  • Lens control ring hasn't returned
  • Accessory shoe cover ungainly
  • Not a full camcorder/stills camera hybrid

Key Features

  • 1/2.3-inch CMOS with 18.9 megapixels
  • MP4 recording at up to 4K at 72Mbits/sec
  • 20x optical zoom; 25x/40x iZoom (4K/HD)
  • New slow-motion recording modes
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • Wi-Fi remote control functions
  • Manufacturer: Panasonic
  • Review Price: £799.00

What is the Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK?

The HC-VXF990EBK is Panasonic's new flagship consumer camcorder for 2016. The conventional camcorder market has contracted considerably of late, and is now about 30% smaller than it was at the end of 2013. As a result, manufacturers have been looking for ways to differentiate themselves. With Panasonic, each new range brings a host of new features, and 2016 is no different. The top resolution may still be 4K, but there are some snazzy new capabilities as well.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK – Main Specification

The HC-VXF990EBK hasn't diverged greatly from its predecessor when it comes to the core specification. It's still based around a 1/2.3-inch back-side illuminated CMOS with 18.9 megapixels, although the effective area used is just 1/3.1-inch. Still images can be captured at up to 25.9 megapixels, exactly the same as the HC-WX970, and ahead of the 20.4 megapixels of the HC-X920.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK

Video formats are the same as those on previous 4K models, with the latter available at 30fps and 72Mbits/sec, using MP4 format. But now there's a cinema-friendly 24fps mode as well, which has 4K and Full HD options. There's also Full HD available in MP4 and AVCHD, with the former available at up to 50Mbits/sec, whereas AVCHD tops out at 28Mbits/sec in 50p mode. MP4 can be captured at 720p as well, and iFrame MP4 uses a 960 x 540 resolution.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK – Advanced Features

The HC-VXF990EBK has a host of new advanced shooting features, a number of which reside in an additional section of effects. The Slow and Quick Video effect puts a button on-screen that switches between high-speed and slow recording, so you can grab a quick slow-motion section dynamically between two fast ones. There's also a regular slow-motion option, which grabs footage at high speed up to three times when you press the on-screen button.

An automated slow-zoom function is included too, because it's quite difficult to achieve a consistently slow zoom manually. Finally, the dolly zoom creates the effect where the camera zooms in or out as it moves away or towards the subject, so the subject stays in the same position in the frame whilst the background appears to move. It's potentially a cool effect if you can get it right, but I had real difficulty making it work.

There's no secondary lens on the edge of the LCD panel for capturing a narrator on this model, but the wireless picture-in-picture system has been enhanced. It's now possible to have up to three smartphones connected to the HC-VXF99EGK, and choose two of them to superimpose inside the main image. So the camcorder can become the hub of a multi-camera shoot.

A few generations ago, top-end Panasonic camcorders such as the HC-X920 offered electronic viewfinders (EVF). But the past two years has seen Panasonic remove the feature. Now, the HC-VXF990EBK heralds the return of the EVF for the top-of-the-range model. This sports 0.14-inch diagonal and 1.55 megapixels, which is a decent level of detail for an EVF.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK

The location of the EVF means the standard-sized accessory shoe is now permanently built into the camcorder, and doesn't require an extra bracket to be attached at the rear, as was the case with the last few generations. However, the shoe is under a flap that gets in the way a little when open.

Unfortunately, one feature that hasn't returned to the fold is the lens ring. There's a wheel next to the lens that performs the same function, but it doesn't provide quite the level of intuitive control that earlier models such as the HC-X920 afforded. At least there are still mini-jacks for an external microphone and headphones, so enthusiasts will be well served in most areas.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK – Manual Controls

Panasonic's usual impressive array of manual settings is available. The intelligent auto (iA) mode leaves everything to the camera, whilst iA+ merely provides exposure and colour bias controls. Then there are 11 scene modes, a HDR option, special effects including miniature (quasi tilt-shift), 8mm movie and silent movie, plus a time-lapse option with intervals between one second and two minutes.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK

However, the manual mode reveals separate controls for focus, white balance, shutter and iris. All of these can be configured with the touchscreen, but this is also where the wheel located by the lens comes into play.

Rotating this toggles between the four options, then a press chooses one, and the wheel can then be used again to alter it. White balance options include two indoor and two outdoor presets plus manual mode. The shutter can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8,000th, and iris from f/16 to f/1.8 with up to 18dB of video gain available on top of a fully open aperture.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK – Image Quality and Performance

The HC-VXF990EBK doesn't really progress further than last year's top Panasonic 4K camcorders when it comes to 4K image quality. But, as consumer-grade camcorders go, these were already at the top of their game.

The footage offers plenty of detail and great colour fidelity. Low-light performance is commendable, too, with graceful introduction of grain in very poor illumination, and none at all in most everyday conditions. Panasonic's Hybrid OIS+ is also the best image stabilisation I've seen in a consumer-grade camcorder.

Click here for sample footage of the Slow & Quick Video shooting option.

Although 4K should by definition offer better quality than Full HD, at least in terms of detail, in reality there's a lot more to a great image than more pixels. The HC-VXF990EBK undoubtedly produces one of the best performances I've seen from a sub-£1,000 consumer-grade camcorder. But I'd still like to see a larger sensor (one-inch or greater) in a true hybrid device that offers the great camcorder functions of the HC-VXF990EBK.

Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK

The Canon XC10 hinted at the possibilities, but its professional focus and price keep it beyond most budgets or needs. No stills camera that offers video hits the spot yet either. Even if some offer amazing video quality, they remain painful to use if you just want to whip out your camcorder and quickly grab an important family moment. So I continue to wait for the perfect hybrid.

Should I buy the Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK?

Panasonic's top-end camcorders have held onto the premium spot at TrustedReviews, and as a regular camcorder the HC-VXF990EBK maintains that position. Until a proper sub-£1,000 camcorder-DSLR hybrid comes along that isn't primarily a stills camera with the ability to record video, the much greater range of camcorder features on the HC-VXF990EBK makes it the premium consumer camcorder of choice.

Verdict

Some elaborate new features and the return of the EVF make the Panasonic HC-VXF990EBK the most capable consumer camcorder on the market, assuming a standard camcorder is what you want.

Overall Score

9

Scores In Detail

  • Design 9
  • Features 10
  • Image Quality 9
  • Perfomance 9
  • Value 8

Oberoth

January 12, 2016, 2:55 pm

I think calling this a 'review' is a bit of a stretch. How many hours of footage did you shoot with this camera? How many different lighting setups? Where are these videos to show us?

I would suspect this is a review of the specs, an analysis/preview of a new product that is on the horizon. I would be quite surprised is you had even used it outside the CES hall so I think scoring it is a little premature.

How does it have 10/10 on features? Is that to say there is nothing else that could be added that would make this camera better? I for one can't buy a 4k camcorder until it offers 60fps recording (at 4k). Other things like projectors, second cameras, GPS, focus ring, etc are a little gimmicky to me but none the less are 'features' some people really want, yet this camera has the highest possible score already without these.

Dr James Morris

February 17, 2016, 5:31 pm

Okay, since you appear to know a lot about camcorders, name a better 4K camcorder for under £1,000.

Oberoth

February 17, 2016, 6:24 pm

I would not like to be so brazen as to give you an answer to that. I have yet to try or read genuine reviews on the new crop of camcorders due out in the next month or so.

I am not saying this Panasonic VXF990 will be poor, far from it, I am normally a big fan of Panasonic's work at this level but without genuinely and exhaustedly testing something I don't know how such sweeping conclusions can be drawn.

Purely based on the specifications and PR and nothing more the new Sony FDR-AX53 looks to be a very promising camcorder. Claimed improvements in the sensor, optics and already market leading image stabilisation sound very positive. I love the fact it's got an 8mp sensor to record 8mp video, no wasted or tiny pixels to contend with. On top of all this, it's significant cheaper too, certainly pre-order price on Amazon anyway at just £675.

Again, time will tell and I will need to see and try both to give an informed opinion.

Dr James Morris

February 17, 2016, 6:41 pm

Sony makes great big-chip camcorders for professionals - the FS7 is currently the camcorder of choice for indies. But unfortunately Sony never, ever sends me products for review despite me continually pestering them. It's like they don't care about reviews because people buy them anyway because they're Sony. The FDR-AX53 looks good, but not particularly better than the Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K, which I'm currently putting through its paces. Other than the 100Mbits/sec 4K data rate compared to 72Mbits/sec, there's not much in it - and the Panasonic is £650. The 8MPixel video you mention is Sony being misleading. The spec page doesn't tell you the actual resolution of the sensor, just the EFFECTIVE resolution, which is 8.29Mpixels - exactly the same as Pansonic's 4K camcorders, and (as I'm sure you realised) the exact number of pixels required for 4K. I'm sure the FDR-AX53 will be a brilliant camcorder, but I can't tell from the specs whether it has standard minijacks for external microphones and headphones. I also have a hunch that the accessory shoe will be a Sony proprietary one rather than standard. So you will only be able to buy Sony peripherals, or get a clunky adapter.

Oberoth

February 17, 2016, 11:45 pm

Sony do love their own peripherals don't they.

You are right, on closer inspection the actual sensor res isn't divulged but they do say the pixel size has increased by 1.6x which i would expect they achieved by reducing the res rather than increasing the size of the sensor but maybe its a bit of both.

Oberoth

February 18, 2016, 12:17 am

I can't believe no one brought 4k at 60p to the table this year, massively disappointed. I only really use a camcorder to record my club football were I would like the quality of 4k but the ability to do a few slow-mos every now and then. If they were worried about bitrates or file sizes they could have just switched to H.265.

Dr James Morris

February 18, 2016, 2:07 pm

What is the 1.6x increased in relation to? It could be in reference to non-Exmor CMOS sensors. Exmor is Sony's branding of back-side illumination, which does significantly increase the area per pixel compared to conventional CMOS technology.

Dr James Morris

February 18, 2016, 2:09 pm

What I can't believe is that nobody has stuck a bigger sensor in a standard camcorder like this. There's Canon's XC10 with its 1-inch sensor, but that's £1,500 and aimed at professionals.

Oberoth

February 18, 2016, 9:03 pm

1.6x bigger pixel size than FDR-AXP33/FDR-AX33 which already had a 1/2.3 type (7.76mm) back-illuminated "Exmor™ R" CMOS Sensor.

Interestingly the new AX53 using a smaller sensor, 1/2.5 type (7.20 mm) back-illuminated Exmor R™ CMOS Sensor, so the increase in pixel size can only come from using a lower resolution.

Dr James Morris

February 19, 2016, 11:36 am

I could do the maths there, but my head might explode. I'd estimate the CMOS still has more than 12Mpixels, which is good for things like hybrid image stabilisation and zooms that make use of extra sensor pixels. Sony doesn't state the native pixel count of its sensors so it's hard to tell. The current generation of camcorder CMOS sensors at this level have about 20Mpixels natively.

Oberoth

February 19, 2016, 8:36 pm

This is very helpful:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/...

Oberoth

February 19, 2016, 9:01 pm

When did the normal consumer and the prosumer camcorder market just become Sony and Panasonic? JVC seem to keep trying but whatever happened to Sanyo, Samsung, Hitachi, Xiaomi, Toshiba, Canon (taking it seriously), etc?

Dr James Morris

February 19, 2016, 10:04 pm

Yes, alhtough it has a few holes. Shows there's not much in it feature for feature.

Dr James Morris

February 19, 2016, 10:07 pm

JVC is still in the game, but they've never really been at the Prosumer end. They are targetting waterproof / rugged usage. The problem is that the camcorder market is contracting, because people just make do with their smartphones. So there's less call to update the ranges. Canon has new camcorders, but like Sony I can't seem to get them to send me any for review. And they used to be great for this. Five years ago Canon consumer camcorders were brilliant. They really should have produced the big-chip crossover device we all want. The XC10 is not it.

Oberoth

February 19, 2016, 10:35 pm

Canon never really got out of 1080p25 era, everyone else was bringing faster frame rates, better low light performance, smaller bodies and Canon still had a massive hard drive in their cameras!

JVC have a few entry level 4k pro cameras like the GY-HM170 which can be had for less than £1000 in the right places but the reviews have never really impressed me much.

In terms of reviews, can you not do a link up with some online camera company, they send you stuff to review and you gently push customers their way?

Oberoth

February 19, 2016, 10:35 pm

Precisely why the camcorder market is contracting, give me one reason why I should buy this if I own last year's?

Dr James Morris

February 21, 2016, 9:53 pm

The EVF? But you wouldn't buy it for image quality. That's pretty much the same as last year. If your current camcorder isn't 4K, though, then there's reason to upgrade.

Oberoth

February 21, 2016, 10:11 pm

If either had 60p i would have mine pre-ordered already. The reason why markets slowdown is because manufacturers stop giving customers good enough reasons to part with their hard earned money.

I realise there is only so much they can add to a camera so this would happen eventually but 60p is a fairly easy step to take. Then like you said put a bigger sensor in, better optics, throw in a new tech like Hyperlapse or Britecell. They wonder why they are losing customers to mobile phones but look at the speed at which mobiles innovate at, the Galaxy S6 was a brilliant camera and they have just made it significantly better.

Oberoth

March 27, 2016, 6:26 pm

Hi James, do you know if Panasonic are bring a dual lens version out this year, looks like America go one: Panasonic HC-WXF991K
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/...

Dr James Morris

March 28, 2016, 11:08 am

Hi Oberoth,

Panasonic didn't mention this at all when I went to the press briefing around Christmas time. But I will definitely chase this up with them and get back to you. If they are selling this in the UK and they have sample units, I will review it immediately!

Thanks for the eagle eyes!

James

Dr James Morris

March 29, 2016, 11:49 am

Okay, I've checked with Panasonic's UK PR and that model is a US special. It will not be coming to the UK. So I won't be able to review it...

Kaloyan Mokrenov

April 6, 2016, 10:15 pm

guys, just love your discussion here, am curious which one of the reviewee and sony's ax53 would perform better in dynamic to low-light conditions (especially the latter), as my intention is to be shooting 1. concerts; 2. creative movies... curiously enough, thorough online research pointed to exactly those two for the purposes in question, there are several things taken into consideration like sony shooting hd at 120p vs panasonic's 60p, bigger pixels (perhaps better for low-light) versus a slightly wider sensor (UHD-1 vs DCI 4k res), lux vs hdr video recording etc... 2/3 of spec pages of ax53 include '1.6 bigger pixels... better for low-light...' in the first sentence/paragraph but i have bad experience with 'bigger' pixels promising more (well talking smartphones but still - my old htc one has a big sensor with 2.4x greater 'ultrapixels' and makes kinda nice pics in the dark but still sports only a crappy 4mp for its gen, and then the inner child in me protests against 'better pixels' actively), the sony might be a bit better in terms of built-in sound, but panasonic has crazy functionality including up to 2x smartphone picture-in-picture wi-fi support and probably better (more functional/cheaper) periphery accommodation capability, which of course is more important for quality sound recording at live events...

James how happy are you with HC-VXF990EBK in (changing and especially) low-light conditions, saw everywhere that grain and noise are reduced to a very pleasurable level... but then one of the main sell points of the ax53 is low-light... my head will explode, really hope both of you will have at least something to say... thanks in advance!

ps Oberoth - not even the ax100 (with 1'' sensor etc) supports 4k in 60p from what i see... do you guys expect any more news from both companies (in terms of camcorders) next week? cheers

Oberoth

April 9, 2016, 1:31 pm

Thanks James, I appreciate you asking. I guess the second camera thing didn't sell too well in the UK. Was is a totally separate file when you recorded it? So you can have both lenses pointing forward and use either video on its own or have picture in picture if you wanted?

Dr James Morris

April 9, 2016, 1:44 pm

I can't really answer a lot of this because I haven't tested the AX53, but I'd expect low light to be pretty much indistinguishable between the two unless you do a professional comparison. That's what I've been finding with the premium models for a few years now - they use very similar sensors, with very similar results. You will only get better results with a much bigger sensor - such as the Canon C100/300 or Sony FS5, or Canon XC10 (or a DSLR). However, note that shooting high speed in low light will reduce image quality, because (for example) if you're shooting at 120fps then you have to use 1/120th shutter speed or faster.

Oberoth

April 9, 2016, 1:44 pm

hello Kaloyan, firstly i would say the consumer camera announcements are finished for a good 9 months, we really should be seeing a replacement for the Sony AX100 which was announced back in January 2014, we might also get a new Panasonic HC-X1000 which can actually record at 3840 x 2160p / 59.94 fps (150 Mbps) but nearly all reviews have said the quality is pretty poor so that is why i am not really look at that, plus its much bigger than what i really want.

I am playing with the HC-VX980 at the moment so will let you know what i think.

First impressions though, totally blown away with the image quality under bright daylight, so crisp with so much detail. This is lost/blurred with even the slightest movement of the camera though but a very good OIS stops most of these movements but you can't avoid this when panning or tracking etc.

I have filming a football match under not so great floodlighting, to the human eye the pitch is fine, bright even, but shooting with my Canon 7D at around f-4/5 it was choosing ISO 6400 and still longish shutters of 1/20s so it was clearly challenging conditions to film under. I haven't had a chance to review this footage full but i will let you know. You will be pleased to hear we won 6-1!

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