4K TVs launched a couple of ago and while they were quite the spectacle, there were two main problems – they were expensive and there was a lack of native 4K content. The first problem should be addressed this year as prices of 4K TVs are dropping as manufacturers move on to other gimmicks like curved displays. There is still a lack of 4K content although today’s TVs are better equipped in making 1080p videos look good. On top of that, there are plenty of 4K camcorders from top brands so you can make your own 4K videos and watch them on a 4K TV to appreciate the incredible detail. But when these camcorders first came out, there were also on the expensive side. Panasonic aims to address this problem this year too with its release of the HC-VX870. It also has a bigger brother named the Panasonic HC-WX970 for the more advanced user and the best part is that the price isn’t ridiculously high either as long as you know exactly what you are getting over last year’s consumer flagship.
Virtually all of the elements of the Panasonic HC-WX970 are the same as last year’s consumer flagship – the HC-W850. Panasonic really made sure to add significant improvements without affecting the design of the frame, its weight (360g) and even the dimensions (65x73x139mm). Opening the camcorder door reveals the same 3-inch wide LCD monitor with a 460,800-dot resolution. It responds to touch which explains the lack of physical buttons next to the display. Panasonic utilized the extra space to add a secondary camera which also looks the same as the HC-W850. But if you look at the exposed side of the camcorder where all the buttons and ports are and compare it with the HC-W850, you will notice that HDMI port is micro instead of mini. The Level Shot, Playback, Wi-Fi and power buttons are still in their usual places as well as the A/V and mic jacks and USB port.
The Panasonic HC-WX970 is the top-of-the-line model of Panasonic’s consumer camcorder lineup so you get most of the features found in the rest of the camcorders Panasonic released in 2015. This includes the secondary camera taken directly from last year’s flagship and Panasonic kept the specifications the same. The sub camera has a 1/4-type MOS 5.27-megapixel image sensor. You can rotate the lens if you want to record two different angles of a particular scene or you can have the lens face you so you can record both yourself and the subject. When the secondary camera is active, the footage will be placed in a small box on the main footage resembling that picture-in-picture effect. Unfortunately, you cannot do much else aside from changing the size of the box. Still, it is a nice feature to have that still feels fresh even though Panasonic introduced this system the previous year.
But with the HC-WX970, Panasonic is making an improvement to this Twin Camera system by allowing a connected tablet or smartphone’s own camera to take up the secondary camera role instead of the camcorder’s own sub camera. This type of Twin Camera setup still has the same picture-in-picture limitations but it opens up the flexibility. After pairing the smartphone or tablet to your camcorder via Wi-Fi, you can give the mobile device to someone else and have him or her record a completely different scene while you are recording something related. If your phone has a good camera, you could see better results too.
Panasonic is a great choice if you are looking for a camcorder with a ton of Wi-Fi goodies and the Panasonic HC-WX970 provides all those other Wi-Fi features found in cheaper Panasonic camcorders. The Panasonic Image app for Android and iOS serves as the hub of it all where you can see the camcorder’s live view and control it as if you are physically operating the camcorder. You can record or stop recording and alter settings in a touch-friendly user interface. When situated on a tripod, the HC-WX970 can serve as a nice home monitoring tool too and you can make it even better if you buy the Remote Pan Tilt Cradle which allows you to pan and tilt the camcorder remotely. When connected to the Internet, you can also record video and stream it live to your Ustream account. Finally, photos and videos can easily be shared from camcorder to smartphone for easily uploading to Facebook, YouTube and other social sites.
The Panasonic HC-WX970 isn’t the first Panasonic 4K camcorder but alongside the HC-WX870, it is the first consumer-class 4K camcorder in a compact frame. It is equipped with a Leica Dicomar lens that has 4 separate optical groups and an impressive 20x optical zoom. Its 4K prowess is powered by the Crystal Engine 4K chipset allowing up to 3840×2160 resolution videos at 30 fps. It is possible to use the Twin Camera feature when recording 4K video so you can really see highly detailed results when previewing these recorded videos on a 60-inch 4K display. Intelligent zoom can be turned on as well effectively extending the maximum zoom to 25x without much quality degradation. At 1080p, you can use the full 40x Intelligent zoom as well as record 120 fps slow motion video. With a 60 fps readout, the autofocus performance of the HC-WX970 has been improved as well. On top of that, you can still take advantage of the 5-Axis Hybrid OIS and Level Shot features if you wish to correct shaky videos and suppress blurring. Manual control fanatics can also assign the multi-manual dial a particular setting for easy adjusting without relying on the touch display.
Another new feature that is exclusive to the Panasonic HC-WX970 and some other 2015 Panasonic camcorder models is the HDR function. This lets you naturally take better looking videos in certain scenes that require more balanced shadows and highlights. HDR corrects this by letting the camcorder take two videos at different exposure times and merging them together combining the benefits into one clear stream.
The 4K, HDR and enhanced Twin Camera features all contribute to big improvements that make the Panasonic HC-WX970 a nice attraction even if you are upgrading from a camcorder that came out last year. It is also priced at $999 which is just about the same price as a budget 4K display. But don’t forget that there is an $899 Panasonic HC-VX870 that has the exact same 4K features. If you don’t need the physical second camera and can manage with the smartphone approach to the Twin Camera system, you are better off with the HC-VX870 model.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HC-WXF991K