When the Flip brand was axed by relatively new owners Cisco, it looked like the ultimate proof that the penchant for pocket Internet camcorders was just a fad. In design terms, focusing on one thing, and doing it really well, is a very valid approach. But as a camcorder for anything more than grabbing the opportune moment, the Flip format is rather inadequate. So the slightly more capable pistol-grip style has been growing in popularity, and Panasonic’s latest attempt to grab some of this market is the HX-WA2.
The WA2 has a better core specification than any pocket Internet camcorder. The sensor is a sizeable 1/2.33in CMOS with 14.4Mpixels, of which 14.3Mpixels are available for still images. It also has an optical zoom, rather than the digital ones pocket Internet camcorders generally offer. The WA2’s zoom abilities are a little confusing, though. It’s specified to offer a 5x optical zoom and 15x iZoom. But by default the maximum is 7.5x, dropping to 6x with the Active image stabilisation enabled, neither of which match the spec.
The secret sauce here is a little button on the rear of the camera labelled W/T. This behaves a bit like a macro, zooming in by an order of magnitude in one rapid motion. But it isn’t a macro mode. Instead, it’s more of a 2x tele converter, and Panasonic calls it the Double Range Zoom button. In W mode, zoom is limited to 7.5x with iZoom turned on as already described. But enable T mode and this is doubled, to make the 15x top figure.
Unfortunately, this means you can't go from 1x to 15x in one seamless zoom, but this is still superior to the digital zooms offered by most pocket Internet camcorders. Also, the iZoom uses extra pixels on the sensor (its 14.4Mpixels is much more than the 2.07Mpixels required for Full HD), rather than blowing up the video signal, so doesn't entail the loss in quality of a digital zoom.