This 2014, Panasonic launched 5 new digital camcorder models for typical consumers and they are all designed to be successors to the models introduced the previous year. For those that haven’t invested in a camcorder yet, that is definitely good news since getting your hands on the latest tech is always a good feeling. But whether or not that applies to digital camcorders depends on the manufacturer. For the Panasonic HC-V550, the improvements are minor but the launch price remains the same at $399. It becomes more of a concern if the HC-V550 is worth the extra premium over cheaper Panasonic models.
Design and Interface
The Panasonic HC-V550 may be a midrange camcorder in terms of specs but the design is pretty much an entry-level camcorder and that is a good thing for enthusiasts that want plenty of features and capabilities without complicating the usability. The HC-V550 even weighs virtually the same as the lower-end models so you should get that same amount of comfort while using the camcorder complete with a comfortable hand strap.
The button arrangement is pretty similar to the lower-priced HC-V250 unveiled by Panasonic alongside this model. The back of the Panasonic HC-V550 features a recording button and a status indicator while the zoom lever and photoshot button rests on the top of the camcorder. After opening the display, you get access to the usual playback button. In the HC-V250 model, a physical O.I.S. button can be found there to activate the optical image stabilizer function. But the HC-V550 substitutes that for the Level Shot Function button, which is a lot more useful. It is also nice to see the Panasonic HC-V550 equipped with an automatic lens cover so you don’t have to manually close the lens after turning it off.
As far as the design and interface goes, the main difference between the HC-V550 and cheaper models is the larger 3-inch LCD screen. Since this screen acts as your only independent viewfinder, a bigger screen will always make for a better recording experience. This does come at the cost of physical menu controls which might not be so bad if you are already accustomed to the touchscreen interfaces found in smartphones and tablets nowadays. The interface of the Panasonic HC-V550 is pretty simple but there is a slight learning curve if you need to dig through menus often and alter the manual controls. There are times where the touchscreen isn’t so responsive too but other manufacturers have done far worse.
Storage and Connectivity
At the time of writing, the HC-V550 does not have an “M” counterpart which means that you have to settle with the lack of internal storage. Perhaps that is for the best though because if you are upgrading from a much older camcorder, you can just rely on the same SD card. Even if you don’t have a spare SD card, you should be able to buy a cheap 16 GB or even 32 GB SDHC card for very little money these days. The Panasonic HC-V550 even supports SDXC memory cards in case you need to go high capacity and high performance.
But if you decide to go for a low-capacity SD card, you won’t have to worry so much about transferring videos out of the camcorder to free up space because the HC-V550 comes with built-in wireless functionality. The wireless features are very much the same as its predecessor complete with compatibility with the Panasonic Image App freely available for download for iOS and Android. Most smartphones and tablets running those mobile operating systems should be compatible with the app and once you downloaded it, you can connect to the Panasonic HC-V550 wirelessly and remotely control it. You can even see exactly what the camcorder is currently seeing making this model an effective baby monitor. Also like the older model, the HC-V550 comes with NFC making the pairing process even easier.
The Panasonic HC-V550 is also capable of accessing the Internet providing you connect the camcorder to a hotspot with an active Internet connection. Once connected, you can record video and have it livestreamed to the Ustream online service where online Ustream viewers can check out your footage live. It is also possible to upload recorded videos to YouTube and Facebook. If you have a DLNA-certified TV in the network, you may use the TV to stream videos from the camcorder too.
The HC-V550 has the same stable 50x zoom as the older model and for all those people that are used to recording with their smartphone or basic point-and-shoot camera, this is a huge upgrade. Entry-level Panasonic camcorders have pretty impressive zoom ranges too but the Panasonic HC-V550 is the most affordable 2014 camcorder that comes with 5-axis HYBRID O.I.S. You can walk around while shooting and fiddle with the zoom without worrying about blurring even if your hands are not too steady. The Level Shot function adds to the stability by correcting the tilt. This function works a lot better than the 2013 models thanks to a new hybrid processing technique which makes use of a gyro sensor and an acceleration sensor. When you turn on the Intelligent Zoom function, you can zoom up to 90x which is a little bit more than the 80x Intelligent Zoom featured in its predecessor.
Panasonic continues to rely on its trusted 1/5.8-inch MOS sensor and Crystal Engine PRO for optimal video quality so on paper, the HC-V550 pretty much performs the same as other entry-level models. But because of the stabilization improvements, you can get good results even if you are not trying hard. Speaking of not trying hard, the Intelligent Auto setting is still the best setting to use because it does a fine job in automatically detecting the shooting conditions and applying the necessary optimizations. If you need to manually adjust the color balance and brightness, you can easily switch to Intelligent Auto Plus. Then there is the Creative Control if you wish to add extra effects.
If you can afford to spend $400 and perhaps a little bit of extra on a memory card, the Panasonic HC-V550 is a great pick and you will feel thankful that you picked it over the temptingly cheaper Panasonic models. The zoom range is fantastic when you consider the still stable Intelligent Zoom and the added image stabilization enhancements make this camcorder truly hassle-free to use.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HC-W580K