Many people are happy with the video from their digital camera and even from their phone's camera but, for some, only the best will do. No matter which special occasion you want to capture, the new HC-X900 should do it justice.
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The X900 is Panasonic's flagship consumer camcorder for 2012 and plenty of features are packed into its sizeable body. Aside from the expected full-HD recording, the trio of CMOS sensors and the Leica lens, the HC-X900 has a five-way stabilisation system.
The so-called Hybrid Power O.I.S + system adds 'roll direction hand-shake' to the horizontal, vertical, yaw and pitch stabilisation of last year's models. The aim is to provide shake- and blur-free footage even when walking - no mean feat for a sub-£1000 camcorder.
Although the system doesn't totally eliminate shake and blur, it provides usable footage in most situations and may mean you don't have to stabilise the footage in software later on. We found the stabilisation to be extremely impressive throughout the zoom range when standing still with the camera.
Another improvement over the HDC-SD900 (the previous flagship from 2011) is a claimed 40 percent reduction in noise. This is a result of the new plus pixel-shifting technology plus the Crystal Engine Pro II chip to process quad-HD resolution images. For the uninitiated, pixel-shifting involves moving the sensor around a tiny amount horizontally and vertically to effectively quadruple the number of pixels as it records the data four times for each pixel.
In our tests, the perceived sharpness of the final image didn't look much different from the HDC-SD900's footage when recording at the highest quality on both models. That's no bad thing, though: in all but the dimmest conditions, the HC-X900 is capable of stunning quality. Images are sharp right into the corners and colours are accurate and lifelike.
When light levels drop, colours become much less saturated and there's a little noise. However, images remain sharp and you'll struggle to find a camcorder that produces better quality at this price.
Autofocus was generally fast and accurate, and you can tap the screen to track a particular subject. Face recognition and tracking can be helpful to pick out family members in a group.
The menu system has been redesigned and is marginally easier to use. A vertical bar on the left shows shortcuts to common functions and can be customised. There are arguably too many quality levels to choose between, though, and you'll need to read the manual to see what each means. That said, it's good to see iFrame support - especially handy if you're editing the footage on a Mac.
Enthusiasts will appreciate the raft of manual controls, the control ring (which adjusts focus, shutter speed, iris and white balance) and the mic and headphone minijack sockets. There's also a bracket which slides into a recess at the side and provides a standard cold-shoe. The built-in six-channel microphone isn't bad, but there's little separation between the channels so you don't get an amazing sense of positioning when listening on a surround-sound system.
One reason to buy this camcorder is for its 3D support. You can attach the optional VW-CLT2E 3D conversion lens which includes a 1.5x zoom - the previous model had none. The new lens, which will cost around £250 when it goes on sale soon, is smaller, lighter and easier to attach. Thanks to AVCHD 2.0 support, the full frame can now be used for 3D recording as opposed to side-by-side images which halve the horizontal resolution.
You can view the footage on the 3.5in LCD screen which - like the Nintendo 3DS - doesn't require special glasses. The screen is great for reviewing 2D footage thanks to its 1.1 million dots.