The Good Superb HD video; a raft of frame-rate choices; supports solid-state P2 media as well as tape; terrific, relatively wide-angle lens.
The Bad Steep learning curve; noninterchangeable lens; low-res viewfinder and LCD; heavy for handheld shooting.
The Bottom Line With its AG-HVX200, Panasonic raises the bar again, bringing us professional HD versatility and quality at a lower price than ever.
Editor's note: Though the AG-HVX200 remains an excellent pro HDcamcorder, the changing competitive landscape has prompted us to retire itsEditors' Choice designation.
With its introduction of the AG-DVX100 camcorder three years ago, Panasonic made itself the champion of the little guy. Previous affordable three-chip models were capable of great results, but their consumer-oriented controls and connections made them difficult to use professionally. The AG-DVX100 was the first prosumer camcorder to behave like a miniature pro camera rather than a souped-up home-movie machine. The Panasonic AG-HVX200 continues that trend, bringing the capabilities of the company's high-end Varicam HD camcorder much closer to the size and price of the DVX100.
What kind of features are we talking about? Multiple HD and SD recording formats, including 1080p DVCPro HD, a broad range of frame rates, and support for P2 solid-state media are just the beginning. But before you get too excited about P2, keep in mind that the cards are currently very expensive and relatively small; thus, they'll probably require frequent dumping to a hard drive in the field. For the time being, some users may prefer to circumvent the P2 system altogether and record over FireWire directly to a laptop computer or a soon-to-be-available hard disk recorder.
But no other camcorder in its class offers the cinematic possibilities of the HVX, and no camcorder in its class offers more potential in the hands of a skilled shooter. The Panasonic AG-HVX200 looks like a slightly bloated , and the similarities are more than cosmetic; the HVX200 is very clearly an evolution of its predecessor. Weighing more than six pounds, the solidly constructed HVX200 is about two pounds heavier than the DVX100, making it one of the heavier handicam-style (as opposed to shoulder-mounted) cameras. Despite the added heft, this reviewer still found the camera well balanced and easy to handle, though it may be a burden to operate on extended handheld shoots.
Although relatively small, the HVX200 offers a complete set of well-placed professional controls and connections. As should be the case with all professional gear, menu navigation is required only for setting up the camera's general operating parameters, not for the type of adjustments that must be made during run-and-gun shooting.
On the camera's back are the viewfinder eyepiece, the battery slot (for the same type of battery used in the DVX100), scene-file dial, audio-level controls, and a couple of significant new additions: a media switch, which selects whether the camera will record to DV tape or a P2 card, and a door under the viewfinder, which opens to reveal two slots for P2 cards.
The right side of the HVX200 is very similar to the DVX100, consisting primarily of a DV tape compartment under an adjustable wrist strap. A zoom rocker sits atop the tape compartment, with the power switch/record button at its back, where the user's thumb normally rests. All of the camera's ports/connections are also located on this side: a pair of mic/line-switchable XLR-balanced audio jacks; ports for composite video, S-Video, and HD/SD component video (via a D connector); and jacks for USB, FireWire, a wired remote, and headphones. Finally, Panasonic has incorporated an SD memory card slot for the storage and transfer of camera settings and shot metadata.
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