Pros: True 1080p, 46x zoom, best image stabilization, optional 3D upgrade lens.
Until now I had always purchased digital cameras that could also take “very good” video (for a still camera) but they had their limitations such as standard definition quality and no auto focus or adjusting the zoom once video recording has started. I was ready for a real HD video camera and originally wanted to spend about $300 as they seemed to be good until I realized at that price range they are 1080i rather than 1080p and often don’t even use a 1080p resolution sensor and just upscale the video as it records (most have a 1.3 megapizel sensor while 1080p is 2 megapixels, so they are upconverting from a lower quality video source so you’re really barely getting half HD quality even though these cameras are still advertised as full HD which is deceiving).
I started by getting the Canon VIXIA HF R300 (which I also reviewed) but returned it since the battery only lasted about 20 minutes per charge. I then decided on spending a bit more on a camcorder and looked at all models in this price range from 4 major brands. One stuck out as the clear best choice, the Panasonic HC-V700.
What sets the HC-V700 apart is a combination of great features not found on other models. Most impressive is the hybrid 5 axis optical & electronic image stabilization which can make handheld shots zoomed at 46x look perfectly steady. I’ve compared it to others using the store demos at the store and none come close in terms of image stabilization. Other benefits are good low light condition performance, an automatic lens cover, add on accessory cold shoe, a real flash for still shots and a video light for better videos in the dark, and a 46mm lens filter thread for adding filters and lenses. Lastly, an [expensive] optional 3D lens can be purchased to convert it to a 3D camcorder.
One set of features I really like is that when you open the LCD screen, it automatically turns the camera on (though there is a power button if you prefer manual power on/off) and opens the lens cap, this means you can be ready to record within a second of opening the LCD. With the Canon camera I returned, I had to manually slide the lens cover switch to open it, then open the LCD, and then turn the camera on, all this can easily take over 5 seconds causing you to miss an important shot. Speaking of missing a shot, the Panasonic HC-V700 has a pre record mode which essentially constantly records but only keeps the last 3 seconds in memory, so that when you then press record, you have the 3 seconds before you pressed record as part of your recording, this also helps avoid missing fast action shots.
This camera is just slightly bigger than the low end camcorders but offers so much more. I also find it far easier to hold than the Canon camera I returned, there is a sort of indentation right where your fingertips end up when holding the camera, this allows a very secure grip on the camera. Not only that, but the zoom button slider requires very little force to move back and forth, with the Canon, the combination of poor grip and more force required to move the zoom slider caused me to rip the camera out of my own hand when I tried to zoom out. The menus are also far more user friendly on this Panasonic camcorder with more user friendly and better placed buttons, there is even a dedicated still shot button that allows you to take photos in photo mode, in movie mode, while recording video or while playing back video.
Unlike the Canon camera I returned, the included battery of this camera lasts up to 1 hour and 15 minutes of maximum recording time (assuming you press record and then never touch the camera until the battery dies) or about 40 minutes of “real world” recording where you turn the camera on, record a bit, zoom in/out, stop recording, turn it off, then back on, etc. For playback on the LCD, battery life is about 3 hours and 15 minutes. Extended capacity batteries are available which last twice as long. The LCD will display the number of minutes of battery power remaining under current usage conditions so you’re not surprised with a last minute “low battery” warning.
The image quality from this camcorder is incredible, comparable to professionally shot HD video you’d see on TV. The fact this camera does true 1080p (and at 60 frames per second) allows it to provide the sharpest, smoothest video compared to lower end cameras which are at best 1080i (and normally upsampled from a lower resolution sensor). The 46x smart zoom is also very impressive, with 21x being optical, and the rest being smart digital zoom with no quality loss. You can also enable 60x or 1500x digital zoom, but anything beyond 46x will result in quality loss. The camera also has an HDMI output, a Mic input, USB port, and DC input.
Strangely and like with many camcorders, the speaker is placed right where you'll cover it completely with your finger when holding the camera, causing menu sounds and sound during playback to be blocked unless you move your finger. The microphones however are at the very top front of the camera so sound is recorded properly regardless of how you are holding it.
The camera comes with one multi AV cable with outputs for composite & component video as well as RCA stereo audio, a USB cable, and the AC adapter/charger. No HDMI cable is included so you must purchase a mini HDMI to HDMI cable separately if you want to connect the camera by HDMI.
If you’re looking for a camera in this price range, I’ve done the research and none even come close to the features and quality of this one.