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Panasonic HC-X900M Camcorder and 3D Conversion Lens Review

Panasonic HC-X900M Camcorder and 3D Conversion Lens   Review

With outstanding performance in two dimensions or three, the HC-X900M, by Panasonic, is well worth the attention of anyone seeking quality HD at an affordable price.

Panasonic ups the image quality ante with its new HC-X900M: a camcorder that packs a ton of visual punch and is equally at home in both the 2D and 3D worlds. With the addition of the optional 3D conversion lens, the X900M is capable of producing stunning 3D images in full HD.

Impressive

In addition to its beautiful image capture, the X900M has numerous features that make it an excellent camcorder. To begin with there is no separate lens cover to misplace. When powered on and switched into capture mode the built-in automatic lens cover opens. Power down, switch into playback mode or simply close the LCD and the cover closes again.

Another excellent feature is the manual ring around the lens. Working in tandem with the camera function button, this allows quick, intuitive, manual operation of the focus, white balance, shutter and iris settings. Pressing the appropriate button displays its sub menu on the LCD touch screen. Here the desired function is selected; turning the wheel scrolls through the various settings.

At 3.5-inches, the LCD display is larger than that found on similar models. And, at 1,152,000 dots, the resolution is considerably sharper too. The menus and other onscreen functions are touch-operated and the LCD is equipped with auto functions as well. When the screen is closed, the power switches off automatically to preserve battery life. Flip the LCD open and power switches on in 0.6 seconds. By the time the screen appears it's ready to start shooting. We think this is a great function. How many shooting opportunities have been lost waiting for camcorders to ready themselves for action?

With the optional 3D conversion lens attached, the LCD lets you view 3D images live, without using active shutter or red/cyan anaglyph glasses.

When closed, the LCD hides the power button, the playback speaker, the button for turning on 1080/60p recording, the battery release and ports for making HDMI, AV multi and USB 2.0 connections. Above the closed LCD screen is the intelligent auto/manual toggle button and the optical image stabilizer selector button. The top rear is home to the still image capture button and the zoom/playback volume rocker switch. Dropping down the other side is the playback/video record/still capture selector switch followed by a covered port for plugging in the AC adapter. At the rear is the video record button, battery and pull out electronic viewfinder.

Mic and Jacks

At the top front is the 5.1 channel, surround sound microphone. Equipped with five electret condenser microphones, different mic configurations may be selected to best suit the recording conditions at hand. The zoom mic function is linked to the lens. When you zoom in to your subject, the mic focuses on the sound coming from that direction. The wide, or surround, function employs all five microphones to pick up sounds coming from all directions for the most natural, real-life effect.

Going down the right side from the microphones is the covered port for attaching the side-mount accessory shoe, below which is the shoe adapter release. Forward of the hand strap is another covered port with stereo mini jacks for headphones and an external microphone. Both of these are a real plus. Headphones allow you to more accurately monitor your audio and, as good as the built-in microphone may be, a quality external mic, mounted up and away from the body of the camera, will always deliver better sound. Finally, along the bottom edge of the X900M is the media slot. If you find the built-in 32GB memory just isn't enough, you can expand the capacity with SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards.

To 3D or Not to 3D?

Our test camera arrived with the optional 3D conversion lens, so of course we had to take it for a spin. With the lens attached, the camera recognizes it and takes you through a simple calibration process utilizing markings on the inside of the lens cover and dials beneath a flip-up panel on top of the lens. Unlike Panasonic's HDC-SDT750, which used an earlier version of this conversion lens, and split the full HD image between two lenses resulting in dual images at half the resolution, the X900M records both left and right images at full HD quality to produce a superior 3D image. Also new is the addition of 1.5x digital zooming whereas the earlier conversion lens offered no zooming at all.

An extremely fine camcorder that is well worth the price, tests revealed that the X900M is capable of producing stunning images with excellent color reproduction and sensitivity to fine detail. It has decent low light capabilities and loads of desirable features, with a very user-friendly interface to boot.

Tech Specs

Image Sensor: 1/4.1" MOS Sensor (3)
Total Pixels: 9.15 MP (3.05 megapixels x 3)
F Value: F1.5-2.8
Optical Zoom: 12x
Lens Brand: Leica Dicomar Lens
Standard Illumination: 1400 lx
Minimum Illumination: 1.6 lx (1 / 30, Low Light, Scene Mode); 1 lx (Color Night Rec.)
Image Stabilization: Hybrid O.I.S.+with O.I.S. lock
Focus & Iris: Auto/Manual
White Balance: Auto/Indoor1/Indoor2/Sunny/Cloudy/White set
Shutter Speed: 1/24 to 1/8,000
LCD: 3.5" wide 3D LCD monitor (1,152,000 dots)
Recording Format: 1080/60p: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Still Recording Format: JPEG, MPO
Microphone: 5.1 ch Surround/Zoom Microphone/Focus Microphone/2 ch Stereo
Interfaces: HDMI mini, Microphone (stereo mini), Headphone (stereo mini), USB 2.0, AV Multi
Media: Built-in memory 32GB, SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card
Weight (w/o Battery): Approximately 0.93lb
Dimensions: Approximately 2.64" W x 2.83" H x 5.90" D

Strengths

  • 3MOS imaging system produces very high quality results
  • 12x optical zoom
  • Large, high resolution LCD display
  • Full HD, 3D images (with optional conversion lens)
  • Focus assist

Weaknesses

  • Shoe mount is in awkward location

Summary

With outstanding performance in two dimensions or three, the HC-X900M, by Panasonic, is well worth the attention of anyone seeking quality HD at an affordable price.

Panasonic Corporation of North America
www.panasonic.com
Price: $1,200; Optional 3D Conversion Lens: $400

Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.

Tags:  July 2012
Mark
Holder
Sun, 07/01/2012 - 12:00am

Comments

artsmith's picture

I heartily concur with the author of this article, since I have built up considerable experience using its immediate predecessor, the HDC-SD900 over our last (southern) summer. I obtain images of commendable crispness, excellent colour and as good as those of any 'prosumer' camcorder I have yet come across. New Zealand, for some reason I have never been able to understand, (expecially having travelled extensively in the tropical portion of Northern Australia), has some of the the harshest lighting on-earth, due, I would suppose, to its exceptionally clear atmosphere. The downside of that is that any camcorder is severely tested by images which are frequently 'soot and whitewash'. That severely tests any camcorder, and I am pleased to say, that mine seems to deliver as well as most and a great deal better than the majority. One solution to that problem, is to shoot material in winter, when we have much softer, mellow light. Versatility, no problem either. A few days ago I successfully took some shots of the 'Transit of Venus' across the face of the early afternoon sun, using, for filtration of the light, a pair of polarising filters with their axes oriented a right-angles to each other, thus constituting a super-powerful 'neutral-density-filter'. (Kiddies, as they say in the TV commercials 'Don't try this at-home'). One tiny niggle about my machine, and I would suppose the one under review, is that there is no lock on the flip-out LCD screen to keep it securely retracted. In the field, I frequently carry my camcorder on the tripod head, (tripod over left shoulder with legs partly extended to give a 'balance'), up to a few hundred metres between setting-up shots. When walking through scrub, bush, forest, or whatever, I am always apprehensive about the retracted, but only lightly spring-loaded LCD screen snagging in something. I know that $2 bought me a lifetime supply of rubber-bands of a suitable size to keep the screen securely tucked up against the camcorder's side, but really feel that a positive latch should have been incorporated at the design stage. It doesn't detract all that much from the pleasure of using it, however. Ian Smith - Dunedin, New Zealand
Roy's picture

A word of WARNING : I have a Panasonic TM700 ( Not sold in Australia ) It is a magnificent camcorder but its durability is very poor. My cam is now 18 months old and I have had 3 problems with it. 1.. After 2 months the "Mode Dial" ( the switch on the side to change from playback to Video / still recording ) seized up ( stopped working ) Australia Panasonic fixed this but not under warranty. 2.. After 12 months the "Grip Strap" broke away from the camera. I did not bother having this fixed. 3.. After 18 months the Camera will not switch off after recording in Video mode. A big battery depleter. Australian Panasonic are not even interested in helping me on this one all because I purchased the camera from B&H in New York. So I have concerns about Panasonic Camcorders durability and back up service.
motyob's picture

A good article,says everything I agree with, that is why I actually bought the camera. Just one problem though, I have 3 editing programmes, Power Director 10 Ultra, Corel Studio 5 and Pinnacle Studio 15 Ultimate, and guess what? None of them recognise the camera through USB connection, all say "You must use firewire" yet there is is no firewire connections on this camera. I know you can download the film onto hard drive etc but I would love to do Animation and stop motion, which requires live camera recognition. I am a very new newbie, and would love some advice. regards Tom
Ojler's picture

This camera makes grate video when light is good. Manual ring gives more control, most of all over focus (see example of manual focus control: 

 ). But it is very bad in low light conditions. Also stabilisation system is too sensitive i think, so it is very useful for stabilising static shoots, but if you use it while making pans and tilts it become hard to control what is happening with picture.

cinemapete's picture

Come on VideoMaker... yeah, this is a 2D cam but it also does 3D and that's the exciting part, so you should have reviewed this cam's 3D image quaity other than just commenting on the LCD screen allowing you to see 3D without glasses. Now, knowing what Panasonic is capable of with 3D, I suspect that the cam produces excellent 3D.  Also, missing from the review:  The review mentions "optional 3D conversion lens", with the "optional" being a tip-off of the additional cost.  Also left out is that the 3D lens actually has a separate Panasonic product/model number which is: VW-CLT2, and is known as the Panasonic VW-CLT2 3D Conversion Lens, available separately.  Further, not mentioned is whether the external stereo input for the mics has an AGC (Automatic Gain Control) that can be defeated so that dynamic levels are not automatically clipped and whether the stereo mic inputs have separate left/right level adjustments, too.  It would have been nice to know the audio frequency response of the stereo mic imputs because many portable cams have lousy built-in mics even though the audio electronics are much better with good frequency response allowing users to connect higher-quality mics instead.  No doubt this additional info can be obtained from Panasonic.  Aside from the missing info in the review, this cam looks to be a real winner, especially if you're on a budget and are looking to get into 3D.

artsmith's picture

Depth of field is the outcome of two different aspects of lens performance, eg the size of the f-stop, (the focal length divided by the effective iris opening), and the focal length of the lens used, or with a zoom, 'as-set'. Almost universal focus, that is sharpness at all lens-to-subject distances is virtually guaranteed by using a lens of very short focal length. On the other hand, telephoto settings are subject to considerably reduced depths of field, which is why I always focus manually. It is, sadly, a case of 'not being able to have it both ways' as the lenses conform to properties due to some fundamental laws of physics, as they apply to optics.

 

Because most camcorder lenses respond negatively to low-lighting conditions by automatically opening up to close to, or actually reaching, 'full-aperture', shallow depth of field is to be expected. That is not indicative of anything necessarily wrong with lens or camcorder; it is an inescapable consequence of the way optics work. Consumer-level lenses are generally computed to deliver their best performances in a well-stopped-down state. As a general rule what causes prices of lenses to skyrocket, is a requirement to achieve maximum sharpness at near full aperture. The Leica M3, the favourite photojournalists' camera for many years, used to guarantee resolving power of 200-lines-per-millimetre at full aperture, and maximum sharpness by stopping down only by two 'stops'. In the case of a 'Leica' that was what professional users paid-for.Those, like me, who were basically amateur users, had to pay the same prices, sadly, with no concessions made for our lowly status.

 

 I had, until some years ago, an old friend, Mr Arthur Richardson, who made a unique and internationally recognised art-form out of growing crystals of various substances under polarised light, and recording the fantastic colour-patterns as the crystals grew, by means of stop-motion animation with an ancient standard-8mm 'Pathe' cine-camera, bought just after WW2. To him, maintaining focus was so critical, that on many occasions he fitted a microscope objective in a special custom-made holder, to benefit from its depth-of-field, as both that, and focus, were so hyper-critical.

 

 And, you think you've got problems........

 

Ian Smith

Dunedin, New Zealand.