Buying an inexpensive camcorder normally means that you have to accept some of the compromises in place. But with technology in general becoming less expensive every year, it is easier for manufacturers to hit affordable price points while offering a fairly complete set of features. The Panasonic HC-V500 released back in 2012 was proof that people don’t have to spend more than $500 in order to get something that has decent video quality and a fun overall experience. However, in 2013, things are different because competitors are launching new and improved models to take on the still crowded camcorder market. The Panasonic HC-V520 aims to be better than the HC-V500 while less expensive than its predecessor too.

Panasonic HC-V520

Panasonic HC-V520

Design

Keeping the same look and feel as last year’s model is a good move for many people that simply want to enjoy all the new features and enhancements without going through a huge learning curve. This describes the HC-V520 rather well as it sports the same compact design and simplistic control scheme. It is a pretty safe choice to go for but a generic camcorder design still beats the recording functions of a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera.
The Panasonic HC-V520 has a 3-inch Wide Touch LCD display which is the low-quality type with a resistive display making touches unresponsive at times. That is understandable for an affordable budget camcorder and the adjustable hand strap still makes this particular camcorder one of the more comfortable camcorders where you don’t have to spend so much.

Features

The HC-V520 features an improved lens which is nice because the previous model already had decent recording performance. The older model also allowed you to zoom in to a particular subject and optionally use the Intelligent Zoom feature to zoom up to 50x. The Panasonic HC-V520 is enhancing this by offering up to 50x optical zoom support. This effectively pushes the Intelligent Zoom to 80x if you want to get even closer to the subject. It is also capable of taking 10-megapixel photos.

One of the cool things about the upgraded lens is the improved low-light performance. This is often an area that budget camcorders fail so it is nice to see this kind of improvement. As for other areas, the HC-V520 is a pretty good performer and has decent white balance to keep the colors accurate. It still uses the same 5-axis HYBRID optical image stabilization system to reduce blurring. Even if you are fond of using max zoom levels, the image stabilizer can work quite well in keeping images sharp. There are definitely some camcorders out there that produce sharper results but you have to pay a little bit more.

Panasonic also opens up another function Level Shot Function which should encourage smooth video recording. This feature can come in handy if you are shooting from a difficult angle and you need help with lining up the horizon. The titling within your images can be corrected automatically so you won’t have camera tilt concerns.

The Panasonic HC-V520 also comes with a wider selection of manual controls which is always nice if you want to explore and try all sorts of things. Once again the HC-V520 pulls apart from the more basic budget camcorders by offering the ability to adjust things like the gain, shutter speed, color temperature and aperture. You can get some pretty nice results if you know what you are doing but a lot of beginners may also use the iA or Intelligent Auto feature to still capture nice scenes with virtually no effort. This mode is smart enough to detect the current conditions and automatically make the appropriate adjustments. The iA Plus Mode also allows white balance and exposure compensation adjustments from the touch display.

If you want to get a little bit more creative, there are some nifty creative controls available including Silent Movie, 8mm Movie, Miniature Effect and Time Lapse Recording. It is recommended to check out these controls if you are a fan of downloading special video recording apps for your smartphone or tablet.

Many recently released camcorders come with built-in Wi-Fi functionality to make it easier to share content online. But it is still surprising for the Panasonic HC-V520 to have built-in Wi-Fi because it has such an affordable price tag and the previous model didn’t even have the feature. It also opens up some pretty cool features like the ability to broadcast a live HD recording to Ustream if your Internet connection is fast enough. It also features built-in NFC to allow quicker pairings with smartphones and tablets that support NFC too. Smartphones and tablets can also connect to the Wi-Fi enabled camcorder so you can use the touchscreen device as a viewfinder for the HC-V520. You can also change settings or adjust controls if you like.

The Panasonic HC-V520 isn’t exactly a 3D camcorder but it does have a nifty function which could be fun to use if you have a 3D HDTV. All you have to do is hook up the camcorder to the TV using an HDMI cable and use the 2D to 3D conversion function. The end result is a cool 3D image that can put the 3D capabilities of your TV on the spotlight.

Bottom Line

The HC-V520 has enough improvements to put this camcorder in line with the current lineup of various budget compact camcorders. That being said, it is important to identify some of the features that this camcorder lacks. This includes the 24p mode which means that you won’t be able to create any cinema-style movies. It also doesn’t have a built-in memory card so you may have to buy a separate SD card if you don’t have a spare. Still, this is a camcorder that costs $399 and it is no slouch when it comes to basic video recording sessions. If you can get past the resistive touch screen and clunky user interface, you can get a lot of mileage with the Panasonic HC-V520 because of the massive zoom range and great low-light performance.

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