Last year at CES, Panasonic introduced its first 4K consumer camcorder models, so I'm not surprised that this year's models are just updates to those. While most of the changes in the five new models are ho-hum trickle-down capabilities, the new top-end model does get some important features that Panasonic had surprisingly left out of the original.
Six models from last year remain in the lineup, making Panasonic the only manufacturer still churning out consumer camcorders of the non-action-cam variety. Sony and Canon are still helping to keep the product category alive, though Canon still doesn't offer a sub-$2,000 4K model, but Panasonic's putting out almost as many as when the category was at its peak.
The $1,000 HC-WXF991 replaces the WX970, adding a nice tiltable electronic viewfinder and 24p recording -- the two features it should have last year -- plus fun slow-motion and dolly-zoom effects which Panasonic lumps under the category "cinema-like effects."
It retains the Twin Video Camera from the previous version, a rotating camera on the LCD door that provides a second HD feed for picture-in-picture video, but adds the unique ability to connect with up to three mobile devices and provide two picture-in-picture feeds from them (dubbed "wireless multi-camera"). In addition to the 4K Photo mode from its predecessor, which lets you grab 8-megapixel stills from 4K video, Panasonic adds 4K Cropping, extracts a cropped area of HD video. The latter includes the ability to create a crop frame that tracks a subject in the extracted video, and to use the extra unused 4K-resolution area to remove shake from the extracted video.
Panasonic also tweaked the microphone's wind screen and image-stabilization systems for better performance.
The $900 HC-VX981 replaces the VX970; it's essentially the WXF991 without the Twin Camera (dropped from the VX970), the viewfinder and the cinema-like effects.
Its most full-featured mainstream HD model, the $400 HC-W580 replaces the W570 with the addition of the Twin Camera and improved autofocus. The HC-V380 (price unknown), replacing the V270, gains Wi-Fi connectivity and the Wireless Multi-camera feature, and bringing up the almost-rear is the new $230 HC-V180, which slides in above the V160 with a longer, optically stabilized 50x zoom lens (28mm to 1400mm equivalent) and 1080/60p, 50p recording.
The 4K models are slated to ship in March, while the HD models will arrive earlier, in February.