Panasonic may have been first to bring 3D to the camcorder market with its bolt-on converter lens, but JVC and Sony both subsequently waded in with better-specified 3D set-ups. Panasonic's retort is the formidable HDC-Z10000. Launched at the IFA trade show, it's arguably the most advanced consumer camcorder in the world. Due on sale in December for £3,000, we had a go with it.
The HDC-Z10000 is a twin-lens shooter bristling with advanced film-making tech. Indeed, it's so well-appointed that it could well woo back those who've started to use digital SLRs, rather than camcorders, to make movies.
That doesn't mean it's difficult to master. It has the same 'intelligent auto' mode as the rest of Panasonic's camcorder line, which means one button takes care of everything. But there's a host of manual controls available should you feel adventurous.
The lens is bright, at f1.5, and uses Panasonic's proprietary 'nano surface' coating to minimise flare. There's a 12x optical zoom for 2D shooting and 10x optical zoom for 3D. More significantly, there's a 3D macro shooting mode -- the first one we've seen. You can now focus down to 45cm, which creates some wild 3D effects.
While larger than run-of-the-mill domestic camcorders, handling is good. You can brace the HDC-Z10000 on your chest for extra support or wield it in a cavalier Paul Greengrass fashion. If you don't want to use the 11.5mm viewfinder, there's a pull-out, 3.5-inch touchscreen that will let you play back your recordings in 3D too. The touchscreen is bright and clear, but tends to make your eyes cross when you switch from 2D to 3D.
The HDC-Z10000 has no internal memory. Instead, there are dual SD card slots. When the first card reaches its full capacity, recording switches to the second, with no glitch between.
The picture quality is exquisite. The HDC-Z10000 features twin 3MOS image sensors, which means there's no image quality loss when shooting in either dimension. Images are also extraordinarily sharp. Panasonic's boffins have developed a pixel-shifting technique to create a resolution that approaches 4K2K. Recordings are locked at a resolution of 1080p, though.
Textures and tones are outstanding, while the macro mode offers plenty of scope for creativity. Get in close and the blooms from a hanging basket appear to lunge threateningly out of the screen. That's great if you want to shoot a sequel to The Day of the Triffids.
To ensure that 3D footage is always comfortable to view, there's a neat alert that flashes red in the viewfinder when an object is too close in the frame. A dial on the side of the camcorder allows you to manually change the convergence point.
3D shooting modes comprise 1080/50i, 1080/24p and 1080/25p frame-sequential AVCHD. In 2D, you have the option of 1080/50p, 1080/50i, 1080/24p and 1080/25p. There are no 1080/60 options.
Hybrid OIS+, an upgrade to Panasonic's optical image-stabilisation system, helps to reduce camera shake. This now compensates for rotational hand movements, as well as unwanted left, right, up and down wobbles. But Hybrid OIS+ only works when you're shooting in 2D.
Audio options are excellent. The camcorder can record in 5.1-channel surround sound or uncompressed stereo LPCM. There's provision for high-end microphones to be attached via a pair of XLR inputs.
Editing your 3D footage could prove a challenge. While there are now plug-ins for users of Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer, wider support is still in its infancy. The HDC-Z10000 doesn't offer a side-by-side 3D shooting mode, which would have made it more widely compatible with other editing packages.
Panasonic provides its own HD Writer EX software in the box, but this is really just for moving files around and backing up.
The Panasonic HDC-Z10000's £3,000 asking price may seem steep, but it's actually pretty cheap when you consider that the company's professional 3D line starts at around £15,000. And, when it comes to image quality and functionality, the HDC-Z10000 is in a league of its own -- at least until Sony's similarly priced but less consumer-friendly PMW-TD300 makes an appearance.
Edited by Charles Kloet