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Panasonic HC-X920 review

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Awards

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Panasonic HC-X920 5
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  • Panasonic HC-X920 3
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  • Panasonic HC-X920
  • Panasonic HC-X920 with Android app

Summary

Our Score:

10

Pros

  • Class-leading image quality
  • Manual controls including lens focus ring
  • Extensive new WiFi features

Cons

  • Optional 3D just as limited as previous flagship model

Key Features

  • 3 x 1/2.3in BSI CMOS with 12.76Mpixels
  • 1080/50p AVCHD 2.0 format at up to 28Mbits/sec
  • Lens ring controlling focus, shutter, iris and white balance
  • WiFi control and viewing
  • Single SDXC card slot
  • Manufacturer: Panasonic
  • Review Price: £947.99

Introduction

We always have to wait for CES to end before the new camcorder ranges arrive, and Panasonic is usually first off the blocks once the bonanza of product announcements in Las Vegas is over. The 2013 collection is no different, and what better place to start than the new Panasonic consumer flagship, the HC-X920. Last year's Panasonic HC-X900 was a major design change from its predecessor, denoted by a shift in model naming strategy as well. However, whilst the HC-X920 only has an incremental name change, there is a bit more to it than just a minor update.

Panasonic HC-X920 1

Panasonic HC-X920 - Features

First of all, the sensor specification has seen significant improvement, even if it didn't need it. Where the HC-X900 sported a trio of 1/4.1in CMOS sensors, the HC-X920 incorporates significantly larger 1/2.3in units, and these are now openly being described as back-side illuminated too. This is a professional-grade specification, and each sensor has a whopping 12.76Mpixels. This makes a grand total of 38.28Mpixels – more than most premium DSLRs. However, not all of them are used for video or still images, with an effective 8.49Mpixels called upon in each case. This still means the HC-X920 can offer 20.4Mpixel stills in 16:9 mode, with a resolution of 6,016 x 3,384. In this respect, at least, the HC-X920 is a serious contender as a digital camera.

Video format options haven't changed since the previous version, but this generation had already moved up to AVCHD 2.0. So the top quality mode offers 1080p Full HD at 50 frames per second, with a data rate of 28Mbits/sec. It's also possible to shoot video in iFrame mode, which uses a standard MP4 format and a resolution of 960 x 540. No memory is built in, with an SDXC-compatible SD card slot provided. A 16GB card will be enough for around 75 minutes of footage at the top data rate.

Panasonic HC-X920 2

One specification that hasn't changed is the optical zoom, which remains at 12x. The Intelligent Zoom has been upgraded slightly from 23x to 25x, thanks to the extra pixels on the sensor. Image stabilisation is essentially the same five-axis HYBRID OIS, although this now sports an Active Mode for more effectively smoothing out the wobble introduced to your footage whilst walking. There's also a Level Shot function that uses an internal sensor to indicate a virtual horizon on-screen, allowing you to keep an eye on whether your shot is truly level. You can toggle this feature off and on using the quick menu towards the left of the screen, which is useful for just quickly checking. This also lets you enable the OIS lock function, which provides even greater handheld shooting stability. Our testing has shown Panasonic's OIS is the most effective image stabilisation in any consumer camcorder at the moment.

Panasonic HC-X920 3

The core features are as consistently good as previous generations, with the lens ring taking central stage. The knurled aluminium ring that encircles the front of the lens enables you to quickly adjust a number of settings. Aside from giving you an alternative control over zoom, the ring can also be used to operate the manual focus, iris, shutter and white balance settings, making all of these supremely quick and easy to set. As before, a button beside the ring changes its function.

The Intelligent Auto button now calls up a new menu of options, with iA adding control over exposure and colour balance to the automatic mix. This menu also provides rapid access to scene modes, plus creative options including a faux tilt-shift Miniature Effect, 8mm movie, silent movie, and a time lapse option.

Polly Ripley

January 19, 2013, 11:52 pm

Revealing my ignorance here but when I read this...

"...each sensor has a whopping 12.76Mpixels. This makes a grand total of
38.28Mpixels – more than most premium DSLRs. However, not all of them
are used for video or still images, with an effective 8.49Mpixels called
upon in each case..."

...I wonder, why? Why have all those Mpixels and not use them all?

Oberoth

January 20, 2013, 11:25 pm

It's all to do with money.

Its cheaper for Panasonic to buy those sensors than a custom made set. Not saying those are cheap sensors but they will have been the cheapest ones that ticked all the boxes.

Why does Panasonic not use all of the sensor? Optically it can't. The sensors are too large and the optics can't throw the picture across such a large area. All the pixels over 2.1mp (on each sensors in this case) is just used for the fancy digital zoom which in all fairness does actually work really well.

What I would really like to see is a someone make a nice high camcorder like this but with just 1 large sensor at the same size as what optically the camera is capable of using. I am not sure how much of a difference 3 sensors really makes over 1 good one. The next model down from this V720 uses just 1 sensor but only uses 1/5th of the overall size of the sensor so while on paper it looks like a great sized sensor it may as well be tiny. But again in fairness to Panasonic it still manages a good image quality.

Polly Ripley

January 22, 2013, 2:02 am

Thanks for taking the time to explain that to me. Greatly appreciated.

Oberoth

January 22, 2013, 7:22 pm

No problem Polly, I think its really misleading when a manufacturer boasts its got a massive 16mp, 1/2.1" sensor but then in tiny small print you realise that actually it can only use about 1/5" of this sensor and give you 5mp photos.

Most of the time you can tell by what resolution it can take photos at, if its got a 16mp sensor but only taking photos at 5mp then chances are it is only able to use a small proportion of this sensor. You have to watch out for interpolarisation though, this is what a low res sensor 'upscales' images to higher res but in reality they never look very good and just give you bigger file sizes without more detail.

E.G.: Panasonic V700, it has 1/2.33in CMOS with 15.3Mpixels but can only take 6.1mp photos (they are also pretty awful photos, but video is top notch).

But the new Panasonic V720 is very misleading, it has a 1/2.33in CMOS with 17.52Mpixels and takes photos at 20.1mp. So you think ok, it interpolates a little but no, when it takes a photo it only uses 4.1mp and then interpolates that image up to 20.1mp. This is totally pointless and never gives you anything like a proper 20.1 image.

Again this is a manufacturer trying to boast about a large, high resolution sensor but actually only uses a tiny portion of this sensor whether taking photos or in video mode.

DarthDave

January 22, 2013, 10:38 pm

Some enterprising individual should get to work on a firmware hack to open up the full capacity of the sensor. ;)

Oberoth

January 22, 2013, 11:24 pm

If only they could.

Optically the most the lens on this camcorder can project onto is around the 4mp. The rest of the sensor may as well be made out of cheese.

Ed

January 24, 2013, 10:56 am

Wow that's misleading. These camcorders do use all of the sensor. What they don't do is use all of it all of the time.

For the normal optical zoom range the whole of the sensor is used and the extra pixels are used for over-sampling. This is where several adjacent pixels are combined to form an average. This is done for a number of reasons but the main one is that it allows the camera to be much more sensitive to light without losing any colour accuracy, i.e. the image doesn't become noisy and grainy in low light conditions.

When using Panasonic's iZoom function the camera steadily reduces the rate of over-sampling until it's only using exactly 1920 x 1080 pixels (i.e. a smaller portion of the sensor). So while you don't technically loose resolution and thus detail, the accuracy of the image will drop as the sensor is less 'sure' of what colour each pixel should be.

It's a similar story for still images, though actually, as you mention they often interpolate as well to give you a higher resolution than the resolution of the sensor.

Oberoth

January 24, 2013, 6:32 pm

Hello Ed, this infomation is coming directly from Panasonic so not sure what part you think is wrong.

Firstly: Look at Panasonic's spec, they state 'Effective Pixels' are only 4.1mp. Effective being another word for pixels in use. http://www.panasonic.co.uk/htm...

Secondly: If Panasonic has a 15mp sensor like in the V700 why can it only take photos at 6.1mp? And even then they look awful because actually it is data from only 2.8mp http://www.panasonic.co.uk/htm...

Thirdly: If my superstition is correct and the optical zoom for the V720 is 21x and it uses around 4.14mp (around double what 1080p needs) to make this image using oversampling, as Panasonic's own specs tells us, then its not hard to see how it gets to 50x losing the extra mega pixels to get to full HD with no oversampling.

Ed

January 25, 2013, 4:46 pm

Effective is not another word for pixels in use. Effective is used as a reflection of the fact that the resolution that is output is created, as it were, out of thin air. Through the various techniques for improving image quality, such as over-sampling and motion compensation, resolution is lost so the effective resolution is used to denote the maximum achievable resolution once all those processes have been applied to the raw sensor data.

It's a bit like the pentile matrix issue on AMOLED screens; the pentile sub-pixel arrangement means their effective/equivalent resolution is actually much lower than that of RGB sub-pixel screens.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P...

Ultimately, if what you're saying was correct then how would you explain the V210 having a near enough pixel for pixel match between the sensor resolution and effective resolution? Surely they would do the same trick here.

Avidreader

February 5, 2013, 11:10 pm

I have seen videos online of the of the x900 & x900M :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

But I cannot find any new videos using this, is it because it's so new? if anyone finds footage can they show me?
Thanks

Sami S.

February 14, 2013, 9:36 am

This is great, but Does it work Pal and NTSC?,

Francisco Penedo

February 18, 2013, 10:46 am

A Panasonic camera getting a 10/10 on this site? Really? Not biased at all...

Brian Forty

June 20, 2013, 11:40 am

Can a wireless portable HD be used to back up directly from the x920 (i.e. without a router/computer). Is there a suitable battery portable HD available?

simon owen

August 23, 2013, 4:52 pm

I have just purchased this camcorder, as it is yet to arrive I need to buy memory too, i was looking at this card from Amazon "Lexar Professional 64GB Class 10 600X 90MB/s High Speed SDXC Memory Card"

can anyone advise me if this is overkill, I have noticed that the OP stated " the top quality mode offers 1080p Full HD at 50 frames per second, with a data rate of 28Mbits/sec"

does the 28mb/s have any bearing on the speed of the memory card?

i apologize in advance for being a numpty, and i have googled this, i also contacted mymemory who simply told me that i needed a class ten card for HD recording

shomas

August 24, 2013, 7:08 pm

it's not just panasonic check out the jvc px100

Klaaky

October 6, 2013, 2:16 am

Oberoth, I think you really are just guessing about what is going on inside this Panasonic camera. What you are saying is that they only use a tiny fraction of the sensor to create video and even that the lens is only projecting an image onto a small part of the sensor and that the rest is just wasted (cheese in your words). Whilst I understand your reasoning from effective pixel count, this is clearly nonsense. No engineer is going to build a system many times larger than necessary and waste it by only using a small portion. This also makes no sense economically, if only a tiny sensor was required to get this image quality they could build the camera much cheaper with smaller sensors. The lens focal length is consistent with a still camera with a similar size sensor or other video cameras such as the Canon HFG30 which has a slightly smaller sensor but only 3M pixels and similar focal length. So optically this indicates they are using the entire sensor. Excess pixels are used for the image stabilisation features. At the max. end of the iZoom no doubt only the central part of the sensor is used, but at wider angles (within the optical zoom range) the full sensor must be used and down-sampled to HD.

Also note that the 3 MOS system uses 3 sensors with the light split by prisms into separate RGB streams going to each 12.7M pixel sensor so the max. resolution is 12.7M pixels at most and not the 38M pixels suggested in the review. Panasonic also uses pixel shift technology to create additional resolution by offsetting the green sensor by half a pixel. This is all explained on the Panasonic global site for those who want to learn more. How valuable this is over a single sensor I don't know, the review of the JVC PX100 (which has a single sensor of the same size and pixel count) said they could not tell the difference in image quality. Presumably pixel shift does something or they would not bother using it, but to detect the the difference may need a much more detailed comparison than is provided in this review.

Oberoth

October 7, 2013, 6:10 pm

Yes that is massively overkill for this device, that card is rated at 90MB/s which is equal to 720Mbits/s (8 bits in a Byte) or you could look at it that the camcorder only really needs 3.5MB/s if its running at 28Mbits/s.

Personally, I would save your money and get a good 30MB/s card which is plenty fast enough.

Oberoth

October 7, 2013, 6:40 pm

hello Klaaky, you make some valid points about focal lengths, and you might be right, but the way i look at it is look at the spec sheet for the V700 (my camcorder this is why i use this one): http://www.panasonic.co.uk/htm...

Image Sensor = 1/2.33
Total Pixels = 15.3 megapixels

So with those spec in mind why do you think Panasonic only 'allows' this camcorder to take 5.1mp photos? And believe me they are awful, awful images. Any camera-phone from the last 5 years would knock socks off the IQ from this device.

So do they limit it to 5.1mp instead of 15.3mp just because the components are so poor that it needs all the over-sampling just to get it close to presentable? possibly. I my opinion it looks like the camera just uses something like 2-3mp and then interpolates to get to 5.1mp. This is just based on the quality. Also though it ties in with what it says about 'Effective Pixels' on the website, although what this actually means is up in the air.

To answer most of your questions though its all about marketing, the reason why they would use bigger more expensive sensors is just so they can boast that this camcorder uses a massive 1/2.3" sensor at a whooping 15.3mp, and all of that is true and 99% of the customers don't really know much more than more is better.

Pixel shift, imo, is nothing more than another marketing gimmick to sell the device. I haven't seen anything to show me otherwise.

But who knows, i might be totally wrong.

Ctb.studios

November 1, 2013, 12:06 am

Hello can you tell me what is the color sample of the camera please?

idic5

April 29, 2014, 10:03 pm

Does this camcorder have the ability to record and show date-time stamp info as it is is rolling?

David Wilson

September 10, 2014, 8:31 am

Does the USB input (data and power) mean that I can connect another camera and record into the 920? If not, what does this mean, data input? And is MP4 file format an option with this camera? I see conflicting info on this.

David Wilson

September 10, 2014, 8:55 am

What is the function of the USB (data) input?

friedman

December 14, 2014, 9:18 am

I had a problem using the premier adobe (my first trial to move the video i took from the flash card to my PC).
I got the pictures with no voice.
What can be the solution?

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