In the world of smartphones and tablets, many of the bestselling models are flagship models because these devices are capable of doing so many things. But in other categories like camcorders, flagship models are more of a niche product. People that are willing in spending more than $1,000 on a camcorder either have lots of money to burn or need a camcorder for professional purposes. But average individuals that have a good eye for quality don’t necessarily have to break the bank and get the most advanced camcorder out there. Just take a look at the feature list of the Panasonic HC-V720 and its price tag. It looks like a simple camcorder without those cutting-edge technologies but it is priced at $550 and performs far better than just about all other similarly-priced camcorders.
Giving a camcorder a sleek and/or unique design may help convince certain people to take a closer look but at the end of the day, those looking for a camcorder will care more about how it feels to hold it and how well it performs. Panasonic is taking the function over form approach by going with the generic camcorder design and making sure it feels solid and light while being easy to use. Basically, if you have seen and held its predecessor, the HC-V700, you should be very familiar with the HC-V720. If there is one thing that Panasonic can improve on, it’s the cheaply-made hand strap.
Pop out the display and you will see a pretty standard 3.0-inch display with no complementary buttons which makes it clear that the menu interface is purely touch-driven. This is the part where you can realize one of the main reasons why Panasonic’s flagship model is almost twice the price of the Panasonic HC-V720. The LCD screen has a mediocre 460,800-dot resolution and it makes menu navigation a bit of a pain. Fortunately, the manual controls are easily accessible on the touch display and serve as the only way to access them since the HC-V720 understandably lacks physical manual controls.
It is important to note that the older Panasonic HC-V700 was already an impressive camcorder in terms of overall performance. This makes it pretty amazing that the Panasonic HC-V720 is getting a few extra improvements in that area. Color saturation and accuracy is slightly improved and low light performance is pretty good.
The technology behind the exceptional video quality lies in the 1MOS system which is basically a slimmed down version of the 3MOS system featured in the flagship model. This system consists of a 1/2.3in BSI CMOS sensor which should be enough for general usage. It may not have the special Leica Dicomar lens but the zooming capabilities are much wider with a maximum zoom of 26x although you can switch the Intelligent Zoom feature on and artificially increase that to 50x. Smartphones and compact digital cameras simply cannot match that zoom range and you get a very smooth experience while zooming in or out. Plus, the 5-axis HYBRID optical image stabilization system aids significantly in reducing blur and keeping the footage stable even if your hands are a little bit shaky. There is even this useful feature called Level Shot which corrects the video footage if you are shooting at a slight angle. If you are fond of shooting video while walking, the Active Mode can be useful as well as it keeps the video smooth. In case you don’t have a spare digital camera with you, you can also use the HC-V720 to take static images with a fairly high 20.4-megapixel resolution.
As mentioned earlier, the menu system is clunky and can take time to get used to. But the good news is that you may not need to tinker with the settings so much because the camcorder works just fine with the iA or Intelligent Auto mode. This mode leaves everything up to the camcorder when it comes to selecting the right scene preset for whatever it is you are recording. An extension of this mode called the iA Plus Mode is also available if you need to make quick adjustments to the white balance and exposure. Of course, these two settings along with other manual settings can all be fine-tuned to your liking. There are also a few modes to try out like Miniature Effect and Silent Movie that may help expand your creative juices.
The built-in Wi-Fi capabilities of the HC-V720 is one of the newer features that are worth paying attention to. Android and iOS smartphones and tablets can connect directly to the camcorder without the need for passing through a router. Once the connection is made, you can tell the camcorder to do certain things remotely like zoom in or out or start or stop recording. A successful connection also turns the touchscreen device into a viewfinder so whatever the camcorder sees is shown on the connected mobile device’s screen. The Panasonic HC-V720 can also make use of your connected device’s mobile Internet connection so you can upload any recorded videos or create a live stream that broadcasts to Ustream.
Before you decide to get the HC-V720, you should buy a new SD card or prepare a spare one if you have any because the Panasonic HC-V720 doesn’t have any internal memory. But it shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing considering how cheap these SD cards are. Investing a little bit more on a speedy SD card can improve the performance of the camcorder.
The lack of an electronic viewfinder and headphone jack may turn off a couple of people but $550 is a fairly low price to pay if you consider all the cool features it has. The video quality is just good enough for most people to appreciate and the new Wi-Fi features definitely add new ways to use the camcorder which is great since Panasonic didn’t do anything about the confusing menu system. As of right now, it is very difficult to find a $550 camcorder with very few compromises and that is why the HC-V720 deserves one of the top recommendations for a mid-range camcorder.