Panasonic HDC x900 review: Panasonic HDC x900

As with most advanced AVCHD camcorders that shipped in early 2011, using the best-quality 1080/60p mode is a bit of a pain. Because the AVCHD spec wasn't updated until the summer to support 1080p (note that there is no 1080/30p), the camcorder makes you jump through some outdated hoops and throws up annoying warnings when you switch in and out of that mode. This is one of the few complaints I have about the series. But I'd just switch into it and stick there because you really do want to use the maximum bit rate and resolution.

The camcorder isn't terribly compact, but that's to accommodate the relatively large-barreled lens. With the exception of it having a small switch instead of a big dial for jumping between playback, still, and video modes, the design and layout are quite similar to preceding models. On the TM900, there's an accessory shoe on the right side beneath the grip; on the HS900, it's in the traditional spot between the photo shutter and zoom switch in the back and the 5.1-channel microphone near the lens.


  HDC-TM80/SD80 HDC-HS80 HDC-TM90/SD90 Panasonic HDC-SD800 HDC-TM900/ HS900
Sensor (effective resolution) 1.3-megapixel CMOS 1.3-megapixel CMOS 2.6-megapixel CMOS 3 x 3-megapixel CMOS 3 x 3.05-megapixel CMOS
1/5.8 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch
Lens 34x
f1.8-4
33.7 - 1,240mm
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm
21x
f1.8-3.5
28 - 729mm
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35-420mm
Min illumination (lux) standard: 1,400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 4
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1
EVF No No No No Yes
LCD 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,400-dot 3-inch 230,400-dot 3-inch 230,400-dot 3.5-inch 460,000 dot
Primary media 16GB/0GB flash; SDXC 120GB hard disk; SDXC 16GB/0GB flash; SDXC 1 x SDXC 32GB flash/220GB hard disk; SDXC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i/24p/25p @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p 28Mbps;
1080/60i/24p/25p @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
Manual shutter speed Yes Yes Yes 1/30 - 1/8,000 Yes
Manual iris Yes Yes Yes f1.7-f16 Yes
Accessory shoe No No Yes No Yes
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels 2 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
5.1 channels; mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2x2.3x4.3 2.6x2.8x5.8 2x2.5x4.7 2.5x2.6x5.2 2.6x2.8x5.8
Operating weight (pounds) 8.3 10.8 (est) 10.1 (est) 13.2 (est) 17.1 (est)/17.9
Mfr. price $349.99/$379.99 $549.99 $479.99/$499.99 $764.99 $989.99/$1,259.99
Ship date March 2011 March 2011 March 2011 March 2011 April 2011

Along with the power button and dedicated 1080/60p button, a full complement of ports and connectors live in the LCD recess: component/AV and Mini-HDMI out; USB; and an SDXC card slot. Panasonic still recommends a Class 4 card. As the design hasn't changed, I'll reiterate my old complaints, too: I dislike the placement of the connectors inside the LCD, since that means it's got to be open while it's attached to other devices, which is just kind of awkward. I also think the battery release, also in the LCD enclosure, is in a bad spot; opening the LCD usually turns the camcorder on, which means in order to remove the battery you end up turning on the camcorder.

You toggle between intelligent auto and manual, as well as trigger image stabilization, via buttons on top of the camcorder. The camera function button on the left side of the lens barrel lets you cycle among focus, white balance, shutter speed, and iris options; you can also pick them directly via the touch screen. You scroll through and select adjustment values via the ring on the lens barrel. It does have the nicest iris controls, such as switching the readout from f-stops to decibels when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout in the center. When you're not in a selection mode, the ring zooms instead. The zoom switch has a nice feel, and it's pretty easy to maintain a steady rate with it. I don't like the lens ring much for zooming, though. It fees laggy and imprecise.

One of the more significant enhancements is the larger LCD; with the series update, the camera has jumped from one of the smallest LCDs in its class to one of the largest. That said, it's still relatively low-resolution. The peaking and luminance readouts still help for manual focusing. But it's comfortable for touch-screen operation and excellent for framing, and remains reasonably visible in direct sunlight. Panasonic retains the small zoom and record buttons on the bezel. They're a little difficult to feel, but sufficiently usable. The EVF is quite nice, though, relatively large and comfortable to use.

As for the interface, that hasn't changed much in several generations. It's generally well-designed: you can easily access most frequently needed settings, and the menu structure is pretty straightforward, although the clunky icons are simply unattractive.


  Canon Vixia HF S30 Panasonic HDC-SD800 Panasonic HDC-TM900/ HS900 Sony Handycam HDR-CX560V Sony Handycam HDR-CX700V
Sensor (effective resolution) 6-megapixel CMOS 3 x 3-megapixel CMOS 3 x 3-megapixel CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor R CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor R CMOS
1/2.6 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/2.88 inch 1/2.88 inch
Lens 10x
f1.8-3
43.5-435mm (4:3)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
10x
f1.8-3.4
26.3-263mm (16:9)
10x
f1.8-3.4
26.3-263mm (16:9)
Closest focus 0.4 inch 0.4 inch 0.4 inch 0.4 inch 0.4 inch
Min illumination (lux) recommended: 100
standard: 4
low light: 0.3
standard: 1,400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1,400
low light: 1.6
Color Night View: 1
standard: 11
low light: 3
Night Shot (IR): 0
standard: 11
low light: 3
Night Shot (IR): 0

EVF

0.27-inch 123,000 dots None 0.24-inch 263,000 dots None 0.2-inch 201,600 dots
LCD 3.5-inch 922,000 dots 3-inch 230,400 dots 3.5-inch 460,800 dots 3-inch 921,000 dots 3-inch 921,000 dots
Primary media 32GB internal; 2 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 32GB flash/ 220GB hard disk; 1 x SDXC 64GB flash; 1 x SDXC 96GB flash; 1 x SDXC
HD recording AVCHD: 1080/60i/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i/ 24p 12, 7, 5Mbps
(also encodes 30p and 24p as 60i)
AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i/24p/25p @ 17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i/24p @ 24Mbps;
1440x1080/ 60i @17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i/24p @ 24Mbps;
1440x1080/60i @17, 13, 9, 5Mbps
Manual shutter speed (video) 1/6 - 1/2,000 sec 1/30 - 1/8,000 1/30 - 1/8,000 1/8 - 1/10,000 sec 1/8 - 1/10,000 sec
Manual iris f1.8-f8 f1.7-f16 f1.7-f16 f1.8-f9.6 f1.8-f9.6
Built-in ND filter No No No No No
Accessory shoe Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Audio 2 channels (5.1 via optional mic);
mic, headphone jacks
2 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 3x2.9x5.8 2.5x2.6x5.2 2.6x2.8x5.8 1.5x2.8x5.4 3.6x3.1x6.9
Operating weight (pounds) 17.6 (est) 13.2 (est) 15.4 (est)/17.9 15 (est) 17.6 (est)
Mfr. price $1,099.99 $764.99 $989.99/$1,259.99 $1,099.99 $1,299.99
Ship date March 2011 March 2011 April 2011/May 2011 March 2011 March 2011

The camcorder offers the robust set of manual controls that one expects in this class, with full shutter and iris, plus Panasonic provides a decent set of volume controls to support the mic, including the option to set levels with or without automatic gain control and a separate bass setting. It has face recognition (in addition to face detection) and will work with an add-on 3D lens. And it also has time-lapse capability, in 1-, 10-, 30-, 60-, or 120-second intervals for up to 12 hours. The only feature I really miss is a manual built-in neutral-density filter. It has one, but it's automatic. There's a specific 24p/25p mode called Digital Cinema, but you're limited to the 17Mbps maximum bit rate.

Conclusion
As usual, unless you have to record really long segments or a lot of video that won't fit on a decent-sized SD card, I recommend you opt for the flash-based model instead of the hard-disk-based version; not only is a hard disk more prone to failure, you shouldn't be leaving all your video on the camcorder, so the extra storage isn't necessary. Plus there's a significant price difference between the two models (unless you can find a really cheap version of the HS900). Finally, if you're willing to forego the lens ring and the EVF--the 5.1-channel audio really doesn't matter--the SD800 is a great option if you can find it for less than about $650.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Where to Buy See all prices

Panasonic HDC-TM900

Part Number: HDC-TM900K HD Camcorder Released: Apr. 1, 2011
MSRP: $1,099.99 Low Price: $990.34 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Apr. 1, 2011
  • Optical Sensor Type 3MOS
  • Type built-in flash
  • Width 2.6 in
  • Depth 5.7 in
  • Height 2.8 in
  • Weight 13.9 oz