GoPro and Contour are 2 companies that are very much familiar in making wearable action cameras. Their earlier models had their fair share of flaws but their current models perform wonderfully. But that hasn’t stopped numerous other companies from trying to attract sports enthusiasts. Many of these companies are not so well known but bigger companies like Sony are getting into the game as well. Even Panasonic is taking on the growing crowd with the Panasonic HX-A100 and the design shows that Panasonic wants to be a bit different and show that other form factors work too.
At first glance, the Panasonic HX-A100 looks more like a basic portable media player than an action cam. This is because the module containing the lens is connected to the main unit via cable. You cannot detach the lens from the control unit but at least the cable is thick and should be able to withstand some abuse. Although there are clearly a lot of people that are fans of a single rugged and compact unit with the lens built in, Panasonic’s design approach is pretty interesting because you get physical access to various controls without depending on another device like a smartphone. Along with the usual power button, there are separate buttons for video capture and still image capture as well as a Wi-Fi button. You can also lock the device by pressing the lock button to prevent accidental button presses while recording. The main unit contains the USB connector and microSD card slot as well.
The Panasonic HX-A100 meets the IPX-8 standards so both the unit and the lens can be submerged underwater up to 5 feet. This is pretty nice because you don’t have to worry about a separate underwater casing that can possibly break. It is not the camera you’d want swim with for long periods but the waterproof properties do help significantly during tough weather conditions. The camcorder is also dustproof so you won’t have to worry about taking the HX-A100 to sandy areas like the beach.
Rather than including adhesive mounts in the package, the Panasonic HX-A100 comes with a cool headband called the EarHook which you can mount the compact lens to without the need for a helmet. If you prefer another perspective, you can attach the lens to the included armband and wear it instead. If you need to mount the camera unit in other areas like your helmet, you have to purchase the multi mount separately. This mount allows you to do more intensive activities with the HX-A100 ranging from skateboarding to mountain climbing.
The video quality of the Panasonic HX-A100 isn’t really the best out of the available $299 action cameras but it is exceptional especially when the lighting is good. Take the camera indoors and you get pretty bad results with more noise and washed-out colors. Panasonic is focusing this camera towards outdoor enthusiasts anyway so it shouldn’t be a huge issue.
What this action camera does have is a rather impressive variety of recording modes including Full HD 1080p in both 60p and 30p flavors so you can have very smooth playback without sacrificing quality. 720p remains as an option if you want to save file size. Finally, there is a Slow Motion mode which is always a fun feature to have.
One of the greatest things about the HX-A100 is the built-in image stabilization system. It effectively suppresses the unwanted blurring caused by sudden shakes. You can essentially walk while the camera is mounted on your head, play back the footage and see how smooth the video ends up. It also works with the Level Shot function which does a great job in automatically correcting tilted images.
The other major feature of the Panasonic HX-A100 is the built-in Wi-Fi. This allows the camera to do things that Bluetooth cannot normally handle such as the ability to broadcast video. Of course, you have to connect the device to a Wi-Fi hotspot with an active Internet connect. Once connected, you can stream live video to the popular Ustream service. This can be a very cool feature to have if you want a bunch of people to witness exactly what you are doing.
It is also possible to pair the device with a smartphone so you can share any stored videos or images to numerous sites including Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Picasa. You can also equip your Android or iOS device with a special app that allows you to connect to the HX-A100. Once connected, you can remotely control the camera’s functions. The camcorder can only act as an access point for this type of pairing so your mobile device has to disconnect from the hotspot it is currently connected to before pairing which can be a bit of a hassle compared to Bluetooth. But on the upside, the range is far superior.
Thanks to the Panasonic’s bold design efforts, the Panasonic HX-A100 can do things that other action cameras can’t do and the image stabilization is pretty amazing. However, it does come with some compromises like the reduced waterproof capabilities and non-removable battery. The sound quality isn’t really good too which is understandable but you cannot add an external microphone either. But functionality-wise, you can certainly do a lot with this camera especially if you get the optional mount. It is a fun camera to use and can be well worth the $299 if you prefer features than overall video quality.