Is it too soon to start thinking about upgrading to 4K? It might be, except that it’s now possible to purchase professional 4K gear for only a little more than the cost of similar HD products. Take the Panasonic HC-X1000 4K camcorder, for example, which brims with professional features and has a street price competitive with HD offerings. Although the HC-X1000 is actually in Panasonic’s consumer lineup, it bears a strong resemblance to the company’s professional products—and it operates just like you expect a pro camera to operate.
The Panasonic HC-X1000 has multiple 4K/Ultra HD recording formats and bit rates, including both 3840 x 2160-pixel and 4096 x 2160-pixel varieties. The highest quality 4K recording is done at a bit rate of 150 Mb/s (60 fps), and files can be saved in either MOV or MP4 format. There’s also a setting for 4K recording at 100 Mb/s 30 fps. Regardless of how the file is saved, the HC-X1000 uses MPEG-4 encoding.
In addition to its 4K capabilities, the HC-X1000 can shoot HD (1920 x 1080), in which case it records in the AVCHD format at bit rates up to 28 Mb/s. The camera uses a single 1/2.3-inch (approximately 0.43-inch) MOS sensor.
The camera records to SD cards; there are two SD card slots. If you are recording in 4K, you should use SD cards rated for UHS Speed Class 3 (U3), which guarantees a minimum constant write speed of 240 Mb/s. (The old standard, C10, supported recording speeds up to 80 Mb/s—too slow for 4K.)
At the front of the Panasonic HC-X1000 is a Leica 20x lens that goes from a wide angle of around 30mm to telephoto of 600mm. I say it this way because the focal length of the lens changes slightly depending on whether you are shooting in the 4096 x 2160 or 3840 x 2160 format. In addition to the 20x optical zoom, the camera offers 2x, 5x and 10x digital zoom, as well as a 40x intelligent zoom (not available in 4K mode) that involves onboard hardware processing.
The lens is rated at f/1.8 at the wide end and f/3.6 at the telephoto end. At the front of the lens is a removable hood with integrated lens cap.
The HC-X1000 can shoot in total darkness with an infrared setting and a small built-in IR light. The resulting video is monochrome (green tinted). Getting a more powerful IR emitter than the small built-in LED will greatly extend the reach of IR shooting.
On the audio side, the camera has two XLR audio inputs that can be set for either mic or line levels, and they provide phantom power for electret microphones. The camera comes with a shotgun mic mount, which provides shock isolation from the camera body.
In addition to a fully automatic setting, virtually all options (audio and video) may be configured for manual control. The lens offers adjustment rings for focus, zoom and iris, as well as an integrated neutral density filter (off, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64). To help achieve sharp focus, the camera has focus peaking, which puts colored fringing around the object in focus. Other shot assist features include focus expand, zebra, level gauge and histogram.
Speaking of getting good focus, the HC-X1000 has a 3.5-inch touchscreen display as well as an eyepiece viewfinder. Both are clear and bright, and the touchscreen has a more natural response than I have previously experienced on video cameras. The 3.5-inch display docks completely into the body of the camera, and it pulls out and rotates 270 degrees on its axis for visibility while shooting low and high angles. (Not that you’ll probably use this feature, but the LCD monitor may also be flipped toward the lens so you can shoot yourself.) The eyepiece viewfinder tilts up and down—it can be lifted vertically to about 90 degrees—to achieve a comfortable shooting angle.
I did a lot of shooting over several weeks with the Panasonic HC-X1000 and uploaded several projects to YouTube in 4K resolution. (YouTube supports 4K uploads, and will play back at 4K resolution if you have suitable display equipment.) You can see them by visiting my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/pvreditor.
If you’ve never handled a 4K camcorder, the first thing to know about the HC-X1000 is that it handles just like an HD camera. All the controls are where you expect them to be and they work exactly as you expect.
For about $40, I bought a 64 GB U3 SD card, which will record about two hours of UHD video at the 100 Mb/s 30 fps rate. The HC-X1000 will hold two SD cards, so $80 will get you four hours of 4K video.
The Leica 20x lens on the camera works smoothly and demonstrates minimal distortion. To handle long focal length shots, the HC-X1000 has effective optical image stabilization. I have used cameras with better image stabilization, but the HC-X1000 OIS works well and kept handheld shots usable.
Like most cameras with an autofocus setting, the HC-X1000 tends to have a wandering eye. Thankfully, the HC-X1000 can be easily set to manual focus, which works well. If you need help determining precise focus—and I found that the eyepiece viewfinder was good for getting sharp focus—the camera has a focus peaking setting.
And that brings up the subject of the Panasonic HC-X1000 as an ENG camera, at which it is pretty darn good. The lens goes wide enough to allow you to stand close to interview subjects, and the built-in shotgun mic holder keeps the mic in the right spot for good interview audio.
I particularly liked the way the HC-X1000 let me put the shotgun mic on one channel and the built-in mic on the other. Consumer cameras don’t generally offer this ability, and professional gear is often fussier about it. This audio configuration let me operate the camera while I interviewed a subject; my voice was recorded strongly via the built-in mic and the interviewee’s audio was picked up by the shotgun. A little bit of channel adjusting in editing made it sound like we’re on the same two channels. The camera’s OIS kept handheld interview footage steady and professional looking.
The HC-X1000’s small size and light weight give you lots of latitude with camera support products.
4K video from the HC-X1000 is good, especially outside in the sun. It is nicely detailed, with strong contrast and natural colors, and there’s plenty of resolution. Indoors without adding light or in nighttime scenes, 4K video from the HC-X1000 is noisy. However, if you set the HC-X1000 for HD, low-light shooting performance improves. It’s actually quite a good HD camcorder, so it might be best to think of it as an HD camera (capable of 1080p/60) that can also provide 4K video when you need it for higher-end requirements.
Battery life with the Panasonic HC-X1000 is outstanding. The included VW-VBD58 battery (7.2V, 5,800 mAh) lasts for five hours of shooting, and there’s good on-screen feedback as to how much battery life remains. I never came close to running down the battery during a shoot, and I used the camera for several hours at a time.
The Panasonic HC-X1000 looks, feels and works like a professional camcorder. With its long and capable lens, high-quality audio settings and extensive manual controls, it is something of a bargain, even when used as an HD camcorder. Once you switch it over to 4K, it still works just as you expect, only it records images that go well beyond HD in terms of clarity. It is particularly good as an ENG and documentary camera, especially if you’re shooting 4K in plenty of light. If you back the resolution off to HD, you have additional latitude with low-light shooting. If you can handle HD now, you will like the HD you get from the HC-X1000. And when you need to step your game up to 4K, the HC-X1000 is ready to be your partner. dv
Product:Panasonic HC-X1000 4K camcorder
Pros: 4K camcorder that works just as you expect. Records on SD cards. 20x zoom lens. Convenient controls.
Cons: It has a small sensor, so you can’t get creamy bokeh. It works best in lots of light.
Bottom Line: If you need HD today but want to protect for a 4K future, this is a worthy choice.