Panasonic has been among the more aggressive manufacturers when it comes to promoting 4K video (those pricey TVs aren’t going to sell themselves, you know) and the HC-X1000 is the company’s latest attempt to bring 4K recording to a wider audience of video professionals.
The HC-X1000 stakes its claim to increasingly contested turf. It’s a small-sensor video camera challenged from below by cameras like Panasonic’s own GH4, which boast larger sensors, interchangeable lenses and smaller form factors—not to mention lower price tags. From above, cinema cameras from the likes of Blackmagic and Canon are coming down in price. In tandem with co-tester David Patiño we put the X1000 through its paces to see if it could hold its ground.
The X1000 uses a 1/2.3-inch MOS image sensor with a total pixel count of 18.5-megapixels, though only 8-megapixels are effective during filming (or 8.9-megapixels if you’re filming in the 17:9 aspect ratio). The X1000 captures 3840×2160 video in the MP4 format with a maximum bitrate of 150Mbps. It can also record true or “cinema” 4K—4096×2160 pixels—at 100Mbps, also in the MP4 format. You have the option to record 4K at 24 fps for the cinematic feel or drop down to 3840×2160 to enjoy faster frame rates of between 30 and 60 fps.
1920x1080p and 1280x720p video can be recorded in MP4, AVCHD or MOV formats, with bitrates ranging from 200Mbps all the way down to 5Mbps.
It uses a built-in Leica Dicomar lens with 20X optical zoom and a 35mm full-frame equivalent focal length of 30.8–626mm. The lens has an aperture range of f/1.6–3.6 and takes 49mm filters. There’s a four-stop manual ND filter built-in, as well as a manual lens cover that’s integrated into the lens hood, which is itself fixed to the camera.
On the audio front, the X100 sports a stereo microphone plus pair of XLR inputs with phantom power and independent controls for each input. There’s a mic input for audio monitoring plus A/V and HDMI outputs—but no HD-SDI output. Wi-Fi and NFC are also on hand for wirelessly pairing with mobile devices.
The X1000 has very little exterior real estate that isn’t festooned with buttons and dials. Almost every critical recording function can be accessed via buttons on the camcorder. A few, like audio controls, are behind plastic doors, but there’s relatively little need to go digging through on-screen menus, which Patiño definitely appreciated.
The record button and zoom toggle are duplicated in two locations on the camera body to accommodate both hand-held and tripod recording. We found zooming to be very smooth, sensitive and responsive to gentle pressure. There are three rings around the lens for manually pulling focus, zoom and iris control with just the right amount of tension for smooth operation.
At 3.4 pounds (without a battery or SD card), the X1000 is lighter than most cameras in this category—often by a full pound, which is quite impressive. Combined with the well-contoured handgrip, we had no trouble holding this camera for half-hour stretches. While we were definitely pleased with the weight, the trade-off is a less-sturdy, mostly plastic body with a few components (like the articulating LCD) that feel worryingly flimsy.
For our co-tester Patiño, who owns a RED Scarlet, a Blackmagic Cinema camera and a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the small chip “look” produced by the X1000 wasn’t his cup of tea. When set to iAuto, the X1000 kept some darkened portions of the frame out of reach, even in postprocessing. We had more luck with the DRS (for Dynamic Range Stretching) setting, which gives you more dynamic range to play with. Noise cropped up indoors, but with the iris wide open, you can avoid the worst of it.
Still, small sensors do have their virtues. It’s considerably easier to focus the X1000 when shooting—and have it stay focused even as subjects are darting about—than it is to lock onto moving targets when filming with a DSLR. Moreover, color reproduction was consistently accurate. The built-in lens and 5-axis image stabilization—which kicks in when shooting at HD resolutions—also impressed Patiño. Even handheld at full telephoto, we were able to keep the scene mostly steady.
Esthetics aside, Patiño was satisfied with the 1080p clips, and our review of 4K footage showed the expected incredible abundance of detail, despite a fair amount of highlight clipping in both HD and 4K. For electronic newsgathering, weddings and corporate videos, Patiño could see the X1000 being a valuable tool, even though he personally wasn’t converted into the small-sensor camp.
There’s much to like in how the X1000 handles. It starts relatively quickly, zooms smoothly and has a pretty long battery life—about six hours worth of HD capture. A button on the back of the battery (which is exposed) lets you conveniently monitor its remaining life if you don’t want to peek at the menu or turn on the camera.
There’s a 3.5-inch, 1.2-million dot LCD display that slides out from the top handle and swivels into a variety of angles. Despite being unnervingly flimsy, we found the image to be super crisp. The touchscreen menu is easy to read in bright sunlight, and responsive when navigating through menu options. You also have the option of navigating through menu functions using buttons and a scroll wheel on the bottom of the camera, though we found this to be less efficient. Patiño, however, liked that the menu was viewable/adjustable through the .45-inch, high-resolution electronic viewfinder.
With two SD card slots on hand, the X1000 gives you the option to back-up your recordings or use both cards to maximize your memory capacity. One odd tick we noticed was that the camcorder would repeatedly warn us that our high-speed memory cards were incompatible (i.e. too slow) despite the fact that they were speed-rated for HD. We routinely ignored the warning and recorded the scene just fine.
The X1000 has great value, bundling an awful lot of functionality beyond 4K video recording at a very attractive price. What’s more, it has very few direct competitors outside of Sony’s AX1, which costs $1,000 more than the X1000 despite a roughly comparable feature set. As of this writing, JVC has announced—but not shipped—a line of 4K camcorders that will square off with the X1000, and we expect more competition to follow. If you’re willing to live with the constraints and esthetics of a smaller image sensor and a fixed zoom lens, the X1000 won’t disappoint.
PROS: Feature-rich; great value for your money; true 4K resolution.
CONS: Plastic build; some noise visible indoors.
Related: 5 Affordable 4K Video Cameras