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Panasonic HC-WX970 4k Ultra HD Camcorder Review (HC-VX870, HC-WX970, WX970, VX870)

by on October 13, 2015
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Overview

With the Panasonic HC-WX970 4k Camcorder we definitely have on our hands a compact, economically priced consumer market 4K video recording device worth seriously taking a look at. This little recorder is in some ways very similar to Sony’s AX33 4K camcorder and in addition to a similar look, sports a price that’s comparable and some specs that are definitely comparable.

With the HC-WX970, Panasonic has created a piece of video recording technology that not only captures some vibrant, crisp 4K ultra HD video but also manages to put out hefty 18.9 megapixel still photos. These of course aren’t its only key features and the HC-WX970 also has the distinction of some excellent zoom features, a great 5-axis image stabilization system and some particularly interesting characteristics such as HDR movie mode and a fairly unique twin camera built into the main video recording body.

Out of the relatively few small body 4K camcorders for the consumer and prosumer markets currently on sale, the HC-WX970 is definitely one of the more interesting products that you could get your hands on today.

The Good

First and foremost, we love the price of the HC-WX970. While Sony introduced the world to the mass market concept of 4K camcorders with its FDR-AX100 and later beefed up their selection by offering their even smaller and much more affordable FDR-AX33 camcorder to consumers, Panasonic’s new model, which we’re reviewing here, has managed to take things slightly further by adding a couple more features and putting the whole thing on sale for a price that’s even lower than that of the highly economical (by 4K video recording standards) Sony AX33. The HC-WX970 is a very affordable piece of ultra HD video recording and photography technology but despite its price, it offers a very good listing of specs.

Furthermore, the compactness of this model is a definite bonus in its favor. Here is a 4K UHD camcorder that rivals the Sony FDR-AX33 in terms of small body and weight, making the HC-WX970 very useful for easy field shooting in a pinch for more professionally oriented users and for general purpose filming at events, family outings and almost any other sort of outdoor situations.

In addition to the compactness that makes the HC-WX970 great for handling, the settings on this camcorder are also easy to get used to and easy to manage. Setting the camcorder to grab 4K UHD video or video or in lower resolutions and then switching over to photo shooting and using the zoom to adjust focus for different distances is not at all difficult to get used to and the comprehensive list of manual settings you can adjust with a single control dial on the camcorder is great. You can even pair a smartphone with Android or iOS to the HC-WX970 via the camcorder’s companion app from Panasonic and thus remotely control the camera for shooting video or photos as well.

Finally, while it is a bit of an odd feature, we liked the second much smaller lens built into the WX970 for shooting in the opposite direction of the main lens (namely yourself) while filming anything in front of you and the camcorder. We’re not sure where this might be a crucial feature to have bit it’s nice that somebody offers something like this in case you want it.

Check the Price of the Panasonic HC-WX970K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder on Amazon:

4.3 - 17 Reviews

The Bad

The HC-WX970 from Panasonic is on the other hand hardly what we’d call a professional 4K video shooting device –this camcorder is definitely designed with the consumer, low-intensity shooting market in mind. Thus, while it might be useful for capturing 4K video on the fly in a field situation where you have to pack lightly, using the HC-WX970 for serious video recording work might leave a videographer feeling disappointed.

Accordingly some of the specs on the WX970 are definitely as flexible, versatile or efficient as you might like. For one thing, this camcorder grabs its 4K UHD video at a fairly hefty 72Mbits/second data rate, resulting in only about 30 minutes of 4K footage being able to fit inside a 16GB SDXC memory card. As a result, if you want to do plenty of 4K UHD shooting of your vacation in the Caribbean, you’ll have to bring along a lot of high-capacity external memory.

We also don’t like how the WX970 comes to market without the inclusion of a viewfinder or a lens rig. The viewfinder is a major omission and the 3 inch LCD screen that is built into this device is no great substitute while the lens rig that we would have loved to see in another Panasonic camcorder has been substituted for a lens control dial that sits to one side of the lens and does, to be fair, offer rapid access to manual focus, white balance, shutter and iris, so things are still looking okay no the whole.

Finally, in addition to a need for lots of external memory. You’re going to need plenty of battery power to shoot pure 4K video on the HC-WX970. While this little camcorder can manage just a hair under 2 hours while recording in Full HD 1080p resolution, 4K video shooting cuts that down drastically, so bring a charger and an extra battery if you’ve got one.

Final Thoughts

The Panasonic HC- WX970 is a camcorder we definitely recommend for lovers of shooting 4K video. As long as you don’t need some truly higher end pro UHD video shooting capacity in the field, this little machine comes loaded with plenty of superior consumer-grade features and even some prosumer specs while also being sold for a very reasonable price by the standards of 4K UHD video recording. It’s easy to use, shoots great video and photos, and it’s a smooth runner.

Specs

Camera Type: 4K camcorder
Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
Max photo resolution: 18.9
Sensor Type: 1/2.3-inch back-side illuminated CMOS with 18.91 Mpixels
Recording Formats for photos: JPEG, RAW
Recording formats for video: AVCHD (Audio format: Dolby Digital 2ch), MP4 (Audio format AAC 2ch), iFrame
Focus: 20X manual focus and 1400X digital focus
Recording media: SD/SDHC/SDXC
Image stabilization: HYBRID O.I.S.+ with Active Mode, O.I.S. Lock, Level Shot Function
Viewfinder: none, comes with 3 inch LCD screen
Connectivity: USB 2.0, HDMI 1.4, video/audio out, external microphone
Frame Rates video:
UltraHD
MP4
3840 x 2160p / 30 fps (72 Mbps)
High Definition
MP4
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (28 Mbps)
1280 x 720p / 60 fps (9 Mbps)
AVCHD Progressive
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (28 Mbps)
AVCHD
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (13 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (5 Mbps)
iFrame
960 x 540p / 30 fps (28 Mbps)

Accessories

The in-the-box accessories which come with the Panasonic HC-WX970 camcorder consist of your fairly standard package of goods.

With this device in its standard purchase package, you should get your hands on an AC adapter, a single rechargeable battery, a micro HDMI cable, a shoe adapter, a USB cable and a limited 1 year warranty on parts replacements with a 90 day labour warranty. We’d strongly recommend buying a selection of 16 to 64GB external storage media in the SD, SDHC or SDXC formats and a second battery would be a very useful investment if you’re planning on shooting mainly 4K video with this camcorder. The 4K shooting it’s capable of drains juice in no time.

Highlights

Let’s start with the single most unusual feature of the HC-WX970, its Twin Camera Operation. This is probably one of the only camcorders on the market of this size with a secondary camera built into the edge of its extending LCD monitor. This little shooter offers 270 degrees of panning and can be tilted to plus or minus 20 degrees for recording at two different angles at the same time. There’s also a “narration mode” built into the twin camera feature for recording an ongoing commentary while shooting an event with the camcorders main 4K video camera.

For even more versatility, you can also connect a smartphone or tablet to the HC-WX970 and use that to shoot secondary footage and record commentary instead of the built in HC-WX970 secondary camera. With the phone camera connectivity, you can also thus shoot a main sequence of footage while also grabbing all sorts of varied angles and distances through your phone, resulting in some very interesting picture in picture options for amateur documentary film making or whatnot.

Next up, there’s the HC-WX970’s HDR (high dynamic range) movie mode. This in essence means an attempt by the camera to combine different images, each with their distinct exposure times for different image section, into one single image. In other words, the intended effect of the HDR in the HC-WX970 is to create a much more realistic look for movies with complex plays of dark, light, shadow and low light conditions with intermittent brightness. Basically, a sort of supercharged contrast enhancement that creates clearer, crisper Full HD videos. In the HC-WX970, the effect is a pleasant addition to the already high quality of the non-HDR 4K video shooting done under normal lighting conditions.

Finally, we love the combination of high speed precision autofocus, level shot function and 5-axis hybrid optical image stabilization in the HC-WX970. These three all work to allow for maximal clarity, crispness and lack of blur or shakiness in any video you capture with the camera. The AF manages a 60 fps readout that means some very quick focusing speed, stability and tracking while the Level Shot function delivers a useful tilt correction system for images, which can be adjusted to three different levels or simply turned off. As for the 5-axis hybrid optical image stabilization, it’s also a great help in giving you wonderfully sharp imagery, with its ability to correct along pan, tilt, roll, horizontal and vertical axes with a remarkably high effectiveness. We’ve seen better systems in a couple of Sony cameras and camcorders but the Panasonic version in the HC-WX970 is nonetheless robust enough for most needs.

Check the Price of the Panasonic HC-WX970K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder on Amazon:

4.3 - 17 Reviews

Overall Performance

Performance-wise, we’d say that the Panasonic HC-WX970 4K camcorder is a solid deal. The manual controls built into the camera offer a fairly wide latitude for controlling different functions and setting up an assortment of different shots. The built in filter effects of the HC-WX970 include settings for miniature, 8mm movie, Silent Movie, Time Lapse recording in different resolutions and slow motion recording in Full HD thanks to the camcorder’s capacity to shoot Full HD at a very fast 120 frames per second.

There are also a large number of manual dial controls at the back of the camera which let you adjust things like focus, white balance, shutter speed, iris, sharpness, color saturation and brightness on the 3 inch LCD screen. In addition to these, secondary menus provide further, more fine-tuned controls for some of these main settings. As for the Twin Camera we mentioned, it’s great for setting up dynamic shooting of documentary video with its ability to rotate in a very wide angle and tilt to a limited extent. That little twin camera, found on the extendable LCD display, can also zoom to a 2X level and manages video in Full HD, despite its tiny size.

Finally, the HC-WX970 offers a wide range of WiFi fucntions such as a One Touch Connection via NFC, which lets you instantly connect nearby smartphones and tables to the camcorder. Even without NFC, you can also manage to connect devices via WiFi with provided QR codes. Additionally, these external devices can be paired with the Twin Camera function we’ve mentioned above for picture in picture shooting from a huge assortment of angles and distances. The HC-WX970 also includes numerous other WiFi-oriented functions for making your smartphone or tablet a virtual extension of the camcorder itself in all sorts of creative ways that are useful for shooting, viewing images and video or transferring data.

In basic terms, the HC-WX970 is extremely versatile, highly usable and particularly useful for field use. In terms of this remarkably advanced portability and flexibility, the performance of this camcorder is a definite winner.

Image Quality and Resolution

Panasonic’s camcorders and cameras have almost always been great choices due to the quality of their images and video and the HC-WX970 is no exception to this rule. The 4K video produced by this camera is simply superb and we’d even go as far as to call it the best available in a camcorder that costs less than $1,000. The Sony FDR-AX33 gives the HC-WX970 a run for its money on 4K video quality but it’s definitely a very close race here.

As for photo shooting, the Leica 20x, f/1.8-3.6 optical zoom lens (which is also great for maintaining clarity even with 4K and Full HD video, offers a considerably improved performance over what we’d seen with previous Panasonic camcorder models and the 18 megapixel still camera capacity of the HC-WX970 delivers images with excellent clarity, high detail and plenty of vibrancy. Furthermore, if you want to capture that perfect moment with a rapidfire series of high resolution still shots, the native 4K video recording also comes with a 4K photo mode through which you can extract 8 megapixel still shots from all of your UHD video footage, at 30 frames per second and will all of the vibrancy and clarity of the video itself fully preserved in the frames themselves.

Finally, with the HDR mode we’ve already also mentioned, the HC-WX970 delivers a much greater realism and range of contrast detail for low light and shadowy shots. This is particularly useful for extracting high quality still shots in dark conditions from the camcorder’s 4K video footage. Noise levels in HDR mode for photos are particularly low.

Pricing

The Panasonic HC-WX970 4K camcorder is currently selling on Amazon.com for just $783.59. This makes it just over $200 cheaper than Sony’s mostly comparable FDR-AX33 4K Handycam camcorder.

Check the Price of the Panasonic HC-WX970K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder on Amazon:

4.3 - 17 Reviews

The Not So Great

Once again, the most notable defects of the HC-WX970 consist of a lack of select, finer manual controls for the lens in particular, a rather oversized bit rate for 4K video which will quickly eat up your external storage and a battery power that drains quickly if you’re shooting full 4K footage constantly. In other words, this camcorder doesn’t really come with any deal breaking flaws.

Positives

• Excellent 4K UHD video quality
• Great connectivity and WiFi controls
• Easy to use physical controls
• twin camera function for documentary style shooting
• Highly affordable
• compact

Negatives

• lacks more robust lens controls
• HDR mode doesn’t work on 4K video
• Weak battery
• Chunky video transfer bitrate

Editor Rating
 
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A+

 
Quality
A-

 
User Friendliness
A+

 
Design
B+

 
Price
A

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A

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User Rating
 
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Bottom Line
 

The bottom line for the Panasonic HC-WX970 is that it is an absolutely excellent choice for consumer and some prosumer 4K video recording buffs. A mix of excellent photo and video quality combines with highly flexible usability to create on fine little 4K camcorder, possibly the best on the market at this price.

Check the Price of the Panasonic HC-WX970K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder on Amazon:

4.3 - 17 Reviews

 
3 comments
 
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  • BigEater
    November 13, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Forgetting ergonomics and sound and the rest, talking ONLY in terms of image quality and overall gradability, what separates this from a professional camcorder? I ask because I’m looking for something to use as a fixed b-camera, but it has to put out a nice meaty picture whose colors can be pushed and pulled to match the output of other cameras.
    Is the output from this camera up to the job?
    Thanks!

    Reply

    • Stephen
      Stephen
      November 13, 2015 at 4:14 pm

      The HC-WX970 outputs some very fine 4K UHD video as far as visual appeal goes. However, its UHD video outputs are 4K MP4 (AVCHD for the camcorder’s HD footage) and while they’re amenable to editing, a bit of extra footwork might be require depending on the program you use.

      Reply

  • Harold Hoeffelman
    January 26, 2016 at 5:29 am

    A Nice camera en good review. One comment. I do not understand, and I quote ‘ a chunky 75Mbps for 4K’. If you certainly wants a high quality picture, for 4K than this speed (with high H264 compression) is rin fact even relatively low. In my experience 100 Mbps is even not fast enough. But I agree for consumers it’s okay.

    Reply

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