The HC-X900M is the replacement for last year's HDC-TM900 flagship HD camcorder from Panasonic, but if you're looking for hot new features or exciting updates then you should prepare to be disappointed. Other than a few design alterations and some slight tweaks to the lens and sensor, the HC-X900 is identical to its predecessor. According to our tests, the camcorder didn't offer a huge improvement in performance or image quality, and it lacks any special new features that weren't also available on the TM900. At this time, the HC-X900M is still unavailable for purchase in the US. You can pre-order it from a variety of retailers, and Panasonic lists the expected MSRP at $1199. Ever since the launch of the HDC-TM300 a few years ago, Panasonic has appeared to have fallen in love with the design of its flagship camcorders. The new HC-X900M looks nearly identical to its predecessors, and the camcorder continues to include Panasonic's patented manual lens ring, as well as its (still fairly unique) 5.1-channel surround sound microphone. The camcorder doesn't look all that stylish or flashy. No, this is a model that looks like it is caught in the middle between consumer and professional—and that's really what it is. It has a utilitarian design that is a bit heavier and tougher than last year's TM900, and the body has a matte finish that doesn't collect fingerprints easily. The extra size of the X900M does make the camcorder a bit more uncomfortable to hold than previous Panasonic models, but it is still one of the better flagship camcorders in terms of handling and comfort.
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Panasonic fooled us last year by releasing a new camcorder—the HDC-TM900—that featured little, if any, improvement over its predecessor in terms of image quality. And guess what? With the HC-X900M, Panasonic has done it again. The camcorder showed no significant improvement in any of our image tests, and in some tests the X900M actually did worse than last year's TM900. Even though the HC-X900M did very well in our overall testing, we don't like the fact that Panasonic is simply coasting with its flagship models. In all honesty, the HC-X900M's color performance was strong for a flagship camcorder. Color error was kept to a decent low of 3.63 and the saturation level was a solid 85%—not too much color depth while still producing vibrant tones. What struck us, however, was the fact that the camcorder did worse than last year's Panasonic TM900. That model had slightly lower color error and a near-perfect 99% color saturation. More on how we test color.
3000 Lux Color Error Map
The map above is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video. Color Error Map The map on the left is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video. The Panasonic HC-X900M produced a color error of 3.63 and a saturation level of 85.00% in our bright light color testing.
3000 Lux Test Chart
Some users may actually prefer the toned down saturation levels on the HC-X900M, and since you can go into the menu system and play around with color depth, it's really not a big deal (you can make colors look very saturated if you want to). The slight drop in color accuracy compared to last year's TM900 is surprising, but the difference wasn't big enough to make a huge visual impact. Yes, the TM900 did better overall, but the differences weren't huge.
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Like we said, the TM900 did a better job in this test, but the HC-X900M's color performance was still very good for a camcorder of its class. A little change in color accuracy isn't a big deal, and, frankly, we're more concerned about the X900's disappointing results in our low light test (which were also worse than last year's TM900).
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Color results in low light for the HC-X900M weren't as strong as the camcorder's noise results, but they were still decent. The camcorder managed a color error of 4.76, which is not far off from the Panasonic TM900's error of 4.32 last year. Where the X900M experienced a drop was in color saturation, as the camcorder put up a meager 68% saturation level in low light. This is a far cry from the vibrant, 85% color saturation we measured on the HDC-TM900 last year. More on how we test low light color.
60 Lux Color Error Map
Color Error Map The map above is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video. The Panasonic HC-X900M produced a color error of and a saturation level of in our bright light color testing.
3000 Lux Test Chart
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Like color, the HC-X900M put up very good numbers in our bright light noise tests. The camcorder averaged 0.6% noise in our well-lit testing lab, which puts it on par with the competition from Canon and Sony. Just like we saw in our color test, the HC-X900M was outdone by its predecessor in this test, but the difference wasn't all that huge. Still, we never like to see a new model do worse in one of our tests than a previous edition... it simply doesn't bode well for progress and it makes it difficult to recommend the HC-X900M over the cheaper TM900 from 2011. More on how we test noise.
3000 Lux Noise Crop
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Unfortunately, the low light sensitivity for the HC-X900M took a hit compared to last year's HDC-TM900 camcorder from Panasonic. The results for the new model weren't drastically different, however, and the X900M is still one of the better camcorders in low light we've seen, but it is always disconcerting when a new camcorder does a worse job than its predecessor. When using zoom, the X900M required 14 lux of light to record video that was bright enough for broadcast. Without zoom, the camcorder needed just 8 lux of light to capture an image at the same brightness. More on how we test low light sensitivity.
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The Panasonic HC-X900 excelled in our low light noise test, and its numbers were nearly identical to what we measured on last year's HDC-TM900 camcorder from Panasonic. Here's the hard numbers for all the noise geeks out there (you know who you are!): the HC-X900 averaged a0.86% noise in low light, which is just a tad higher than its bright light noise levels. When shooting under dim indoor lighting, we noticed very little noise on our recorded image. Obviously, things got worse in extreme low light situations, but that's the case with nearly all camcorders. More on how we test low light noise.
60 Lux Noise Crop
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Color results in low light for the HC-X900M weren't as strong as the camcorder's noise results, but they were still decent. The camcorder managed a color error of 4.76, which is not far off from the Panasonic TM900's error of 4.32 last year. Where the X900M experienced a drop was in color saturation, as the camcorder put up a meager 68% saturation level in low light. This is a far cry from the vibrant, 85% color saturation we measured on the HDC-TM900 last year. More on how we test low light color.
60 Lux Color Error Map
Color Error Map The map on the left is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video. The Panasonic HC-X900M produced a color error of and a saturation level of in our bright light color testing.
60 Lux Test Chart
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Panasonic was one of the first manufacturers to included 1080/60p video recording on its consumer camcorders, so the option isn't anything new for the company. The results when shooting 1080/60p video are splendid: smooth motion, limited artifacting, and only the smallest amount of blur and color bleeding are noticeable. The thing is, the HC-X900M's motion test looked no different compared to last year's TM900's 60p sample video. This lack of improvement isn't all that surprising—the results are extremely good already. It's hard to imagine what an improvement would look like. We did see an improvement in motion and sharpness when shooting with the HC-X900's 1080/60i record mode, though. It seems Panasonic was able to give that regular shooting mode a boost, and maybe the new sensor or processor has something to do with it. The improvement was very slight, however, but it is one area we can confidently say the results looked better on the new X900M as compared to previous Panasonic camcorders. More on how we test motion. See below for a full discussion of the available resolution and frame rate options for the
Resolution & Frame Rates Panasonic loaded the X900M with a lot of recording options and frame rates, all of which can be seen below. The 1080/60p record mode has been present on Panasonic camcorders for a couple of years now, so it isn’t really new—other than the fact that this year Panasonic was able to say the mode is “AVCHD compliant” thanks to the new AVCHD 2.0 standards. The new AVCHD 3D recording is something we haven’t seen on Panasonic camcorders before, but this mode only comes into play if you purchase the optional 3D conversion lens for the HC-X900.
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Thanks to its ungodly 1080/60p record mode, the Panasonic HC-X900M is able to run circles around the competition in terms of sharpness. Simply put, this camcorder's 60p mode produced the sharpest video we've ever seen from a consumer model—although the footage from last year's Panasonic TM900 was nearly as sharp. The camcorder managed a whopping 1000 lw/ph in our horizontal sharpness test and 950 lw/ph in our vertical test. Those represent a slight nudge of an improvement over the previous TM900, which is odd considering the X900M actually has a lower effective pixel count than its predecessor. Shooting video using the HC-X900M's regular 60i frame rate will result in video that is far less sharp than what we described above. The lw/ph dropped significantly in these modes do to a combination of lower bitrate and the fact that interlaced recording simply isn't as sharp as progressive video. If you want the best quality from your HC-X900M, you should shoot with the 1080/60p mode when you can. More on how we test video sharpness.
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Panasonic flagship camcorders have some of the best stabilization features we’ve seen on consumer models. The HC-X900M continues in this tradition with a killer performance in this test. At its best, the camcorder was able to reduce 83% of the shake with our stabilization rig set on its lowest setting (similar to shooting with a shaky hand). With the rig cranked up to its higher setting, the camcorder’s OIS system was still able to reduce the shake by 78%. More on how we test stabilization. Both of these numbers were achieved using the X900M’s Hybrid OIS setting, which is the stronger of its two OIS options. With the regular OIS, the camcorder did nearly as well. It reduced 77% of the shake in our low shake test and 72% of the shake in our high shake test—so either OIS setting will give you a top-notch stabilization performance.
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Sample Video - Dusk
Shot outdoors at dusk using automatic settings. Daylight Sample Video
Shot outdoors under bright, sunny conditions using a mix of automatic and manual controls. Indoor Sample Video
Shot indoors under a variety of mixed lighting conditions. The HC-X900M is a bit bigger and a bit heavier than its predecessor, but it clearly has the look and feel of a traditional flagship camcorder. The body is strong and the camcorder is sizable enough to give you that aura of professionalism when you're out shooting in the field. We've always been fans of Panasonic's manual lens ring, which is included on the X900M, and it is one of the best tools we've seen for adjusting focus on a consumer camcorder. Panasonic's automated controls are equally impressive, but this is a camcorder that clearly works best with its manual functions. The Panasonic HC-X900M seems like a camcorder that is meant to be controlled manually. It does have a large lens ring, after all, and its set of manual options is certainly extensive. But there is a dedicated auto mode available, and it is essentially the same mode Panasonic has used on its camcorders for a couple of years now. It's called Intelligent Auto (iA), and the mode is activated by hitting the iA/Manual button on the left side of the camcorder. The button is small, so you need to read the label carefully. Why do manufacturers insist on making these auto mode buttons so hard to find?
Easy Mode Photo

The iA/Manual mode button switches between auto and manual modes.

Besides the dedicated auto mode, the X900M is equipped with a number of automatic controls and features. There's the autofocus/exposure tracking feature, 11 scene modes, face detection, an auto slow shutter, and an auto backlight correction. None of these auto features are anything new, however, as they were all found on last year's HDC-TM900 camcorder from Panasonic. We'd also like to briefly touch upon the HC-X900M's zoom capabilities for a moment. Panasonic included many ways to say "I want to zoom you" on the X900M, which can't really be considered a bad thing. You can zoom with the top-mounted toggle (the traditional way), you can zoom with the lens ring (in auto mode), or you can zoom with touch buttons on the LCD (there's two different sets of these). That's a lot of different ways to do the same thing. Digging through the menu system on the X900M you will notice even more automatic features. There's Intelligent Contrast, which attempts to boost dynamic range to make videos with lots of shadows look better, and there's a low light mode called Color Night Record. Both of these features have been found on Panasonic camcorders for years, so they're nothing new (like most of the X900M's features). Panasonic did make a slight update to the HC-X900M's menu system compared to last year's TM900. There's a new main menu screen that shows large icons rather than a list of submenus. It's not a significant change, but the visualization of the large icons—a camcorder for recording options, a camera for still image controls, a memory card for media options, and a wrench for system setup functions—does help people understand what controls and features are located where. Like previous Panasonic camcorders, the HC-X900 has a Quick Menu feature that brings up a set of popular controls directly on the LCD for quick adjustment. Options in the quick menu include recording size, still image size, LCD brightness, grid lines, audio controls, manual focus, zebra patterns, luminance meter, and histogram. We love the idea of the Quick Menu, but we were frustrated by the confusing icons that the menu uses. Luckily, the camcorder has an "info" button that will tell you what each menu option does, but this is an extra step we would prefer not having to use.
Menu Photo 1

With a new icon display, the main menu screen is a bit different than last year's TM900.

Menu Photo 2

The Quick Menu is still a challenge to use, but once you understand what all the icons mean it does save you some time.

Panasonic beefed up the HC-X900M a bit compared to last year's TM900, and by doing so the company made the camcorder a bit more uncomfortable to wield. It's still not that bad, though. Panasonic kept an ergonomic design on the right side that fits your palm decently (but not as good as the smooth TM900 or TM700 camcorders from Panasonic's past). The hand strap is adequate, but not amazing, and it certainly doesn't offer the plush support that we saw from the Canon HF G10.
Handling Photo 1

Panasonic cleaned up the LCD panel by removing the awful membrane buttons that populated this area on last year's TM900.

Panasonic cleaned up the LCD panel by removing the awful membrane buttons that populated this area on last year's TM900. The LCD on the X900M is great. It's got a good size, a decent touchscreen interface, and the resolution is excellent. The glasses-free 3D view mode, which is only useful if you purchase the 3D conversion lens for the camcorder, has the same issues and problems that all glasses-free 3D screens have—the images simply don't look very good. It's not the worst 3D screen we've seen, though, and we think it is on par with ones from Sony 3D camcorders (the HDR-TD10 and HDR-TD20). The most annoying thing we noticed about the X900's LCD had nothing to do with the screen quality and had everything to do with the construction of the LCD panel. Here's the gist: the panel swings open too freely because it doesn't have a good locking mechanism. It's not the worst thing ever, but it definitely got to the point where the LCD was repeatedly flipping open unwantedly and unexpectedly.
Handling Photo 2

The camcorder is a bit bulkier than its predecessor, which makes it a bit harder to grip.

The camcorder is a bit bulkier than its predecessor, which makes it a bit harder to grip. We've never been huge touchscreen fans, so we're happy that the HC-X900M comes with Panasonic's patented manual lens ring for adjusting controls. This limits the amount you have to deal with the touchscreen, although you still have to use the screen to access menu systems and the such.
Handling Photo 3

The cooling fan inside the LCD cavity never got loud enough to interfere with our recordings, but it may bother some who are looking for crystal-clear audio recording.

The cooling fan inside the LCD cavity never got loud enough to interfere with our recordings, but it may bother some who are looking for crystal-clear audio recording. Like most Panasonic camcorders, the HC-X900M doesn't offer the smoothest or simplest recording experience. The controls and features are extensive, and Panasonic includes a lot of "auto" controls as well, but the camcorder is at its best when certain functions are set manually. This makes it a bit harder to figure out, but it also makes the camcorder a lot of fun for control enthusiasts. There's a lot of tricks up the camcorder's sleeve, and that's one of the reasons the X900M takes a while to get used to.
Handling Photo 4

The strap on the camcorder isn't that thick or plush, but it is adjustable.

The strap on the camcorder isn't that thick or plush, but it is adjustable. Flagship camcorders are the largest, heaviest, and most feature-laden of consumer camcorders, and the Panasonic HC-X900M definitely falls into this category. The camcorder is lighter and smaller than the Canon HF G10, but it has more bulk than the Panasonic HDC-TM900 from last year. We don't mind the size of the X900M, but we did like the compact, tight design on the HDC-TM900 more—it was one of the smallest flagship models we've ever seen, while the X900M has an average build.
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The Panasonic HC-X900M did not impress in our battery life test, as the camcorder lasted for just 88 minutes on a freshly-charged battery pack. This is a good 16 minutes less than the HDC-TM900 lasted with its provided battery pack, and it is close to a half hour shorter than the Canon HF G10's battery pack went for. Luckily, you can use larger battery packs (that can be purchased at an additional cost) with the HC-X900M if the provided battery isn't good enough for you. More on how we test battery life. Panasonic features a slightly awkward battery compartment, only because the battery fits into the camcorder sideways. This isn't a big deal, but it may be confusing the first two or three times you remove or insert the battery pack. We don't like that the battery release switch is inside the LCD cavity, as that requires you to open the LCD panel to remove the battery. Other than those minor issues, the battery on the HC-X900M is essentially normal for a flagship camcorder. The compartment is also open, which means larger battery packs can be used with the camcorder—always a good thing.
Battery Photo

The provided battery fits sideways into the battery compartment.

The provided battery fits sideways into the battery compartment.
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If you were hoping to see an increase in screen size on the HC-X900M, you won't find what you're looking for. The camcorder has the same 3.5-inch LCD as its predecessor (the HDC-TM900), but Panasonic did beef up the resolution of the new screen, as it now tops out with a killer 1,150,000 pixels. This puts it in a similar range with the LCDs on Canon's and Sony's flagship camcorders. Panasonic also added a glasses-free 3D viewing capability to the X900's screen. This function is only useful if you go out and purchase the VW-CLT2 3D lens converter. With the 3D lens attached (or when viewing 3D content recorded on the camcorder), you can watch your footage in 3D without the aid of 3D glasses. The effect isn't great, and it's the exact same technology we've seen on the Sony HDR-TD10 and JVC GS-TD1 3D camcorders released last year.
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LCD Photo

The 3.5-inch LCD uses a touchscreen interface.

The 3.5-inch LCD uses a touchscreen interface. Are viewfinders making a comeback on consumer camcorders? Probably not, but Panasonic still chose to include one on the HC-X900M. It's still somewhat common for manufacturers to include a viewfinder on flagship models, so having an EVF on a camcorder like the X900 isn't that unusual. The viewfinder extends out from the camcorder by half an inch or so, but the viewfinder cannot be pivoted upwards or rotated. Overall, the viewfinder isn't all that comfortable to use either, mainly because of its rigid, hard-plastic eyepiece.
EVF Photo

The viewfinder isn't that comfortable, but it helps when recording on a sunny day.

The viewfinder isn't that comfortable, but it helps when recording on a sunny day. Panasonic flagship camcorders have some of the best stabilization features we've seen on consumer models. The HC-X900M continues in this tradition with a killer performance in this test. At its best, the camcorder was able to reduce 83% of the shake with our stabilization rig set on its lowest setting (similar to shooting with a shaky hand). With the rig cranked up to its higher setting, the camcorder's OIS system was still able to reduce the shake by 78%. More on how we test stabilization. Both of these numbers were achieved using the X900M's Hybrid OIS setting, which is the stronger of its two OIS options. With the regular OIS, the camcorder did nearly as well. It reduced 77% of the shake in our low shake test and 72% of the shake in our high shake test—so either OIS setting will give you a top-notch stabilization performance.
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Panasonic is one of the few manufacturers that puts a large lens ring on its flagship consumer camcorders. This makes the HC-X900M (and previous Panasonic flagships) probably the best camcorder in terms of manual focus control. The lens ring makes focusing fun again, and you will understand this instantly when you use the manual focus option on the HC-X900M. Using the lens ring is infinitely better than adjusting focus by pressing buttons on a touchscreen, or moving a joystick up and down. Canon (HF G10) and Sony (HDR-CX700V) do use control dials on their flagship models that also offer precise focus control, but the Panasonic HC-X900M's lens ring has the edge. We also found Panasonic's simple focus assist peaking feature to be helpful when trying to attain a crisp focus, and we like that there aren't too many settings or options to make the focus assist control more confusing.
Manual Focus Photo

The Camera Function button lets you use the lens ring to focus manually.

If you like having a slew of manual controls at your disposal, then you've come to the right place. The HC-X900M boasts full manual control over aperture (iris) and shutter speed, and it has a limited gain control that is tied to the aperture setting (yeah, we know it's strange). All these controls can be set using the lens ring or by tapping buttons that appear on the LCD when you select these exposure options from the menu. As an added bonus for pro-level videographers, Panasonic has included a zebra pattern function that helps you spot overexposed areas of the frame, as well as a histogram and luminance meter. Our only problem is the fact that gain control is tied to the aperture setting on the HC-X900M. This has always been an issue with Panasonic camcorders and we've never liked it. How does this affect you and your ability to record a solid image with the X900M? Well, it limits the amount you can play around with depth of field, as there's no way to boost the gain without opening the aperture all the way on the camcorder. So, there's no closing up the aperture in low light situations—you'll just end up with a dark image without the ability to boost the gain. If you don't want to delve into the complexity of aperture, shutter speed, and gain control, you can still adjust basic exposure on the X900M using simple EV adjustments. The problem is this feature is buried in the camcorder's menu and there's no way to access it easily. If you look hard enough you will find it, though. Hint: it's inside the "Picture Effects" submenu, along with sharpness, color saturation, and color temperature adjustment. The camcorder has full white balance controls, including a few presets, a manual option, and an automatic WB mode. In the Picture Effects submenu you can also find a WB adjustment option that acts as a color temperature control (for manual tweaks to the white balance). In the same menu are also color saturation controls, sharpness controls, and basic exposure controls. We love these options, and we wish Panasonic would make them easier to access. Digital Cinema Color This is the X900M's enhanced color recording option that lets the camcorder capture colors using the xvYCC spectrum. It's a wider color spectrum, but the feature only works if you view your videos on a compatible television. Don't expect the results to blow you away. Guidelines There's a few different grid line options on the HC-X900 that provide assistance when framing your video. The lines don't appear on your final video, they're just there to help you frame, and you can turn them on and off in the menu system. Auto Ground Standby One of the camcorder's most "gimmicky" controls is AGS, which stands for Auto Ground Standby. This feature, which Panasonic has included for years, will automatically turn the camcorder off if it detects the lens pointing to the ground for more than a few seconds. Yes, it is designed to prevent "accidental recordings" when you're holding the camcorder at your side. Is it really that hard to remember to stop your video recordings when you're done shooting? Tele Macro Tele macro mode lets you focus on ultra close subjects using the HC-X900's full optical zoom. This is a feature almost every camcorder has, so it's not anything out of the ordinary. It simply shifts the camcorder's focal range to accommodate for very close subjects. Besides the dedicated auto mode, the X900M is equipped with a number of automatic controls and features. There's the autofocus/exposure tracking feature, 11 scene modes, face detection, an auto slow shutter, and an auto backlight correction. None of these auto features are anything new, however, as they were all found on last year's HDC-TM900 camcorder from Panasonic. We'd also like to briefly touch upon the HC-X900M's zoom capabilities for a moment. Panasonic included many ways to say "I want to zoom you" on the X900M, which can't really be considered a bad thing. You can zoom with the top-mounted toggle (the traditional way), you can zoom with the lens ring (in auto mode), or you can zoom with touch buttons on the LCD (there's two different sets of these). That's a lot of different ways to do the same thing. The X900M's 5.1-channel surround sound mic is prominently displayed on the top of the camcorder, just like it has been on previous high-end models from Panasonic. This robust mic is definitely something special, but we don't like how close our pinky came to touching the back end of the mic when we gripped the X900 in our hand. If you have smaller hands, this won't be an issue, but if your fingers are large, you'll need to watch yourself. Or you can connect an external mic into the X900M's 3.5mm mic jack and you can forget about using the built-in microphone. There's also a number of manual audio controls and features on the camcorder as well, including bass control, wind cut, and an audio level adjustment option.
Mic Photo

The built-in mic records 5.1-channel surround sound audio.

The X900M has a ton of manual controls, but it doesn't offer anything more than Panasonic's previous flagship models from 2011 and 201 (the TM900 and TM700 respectively). This is a bit of a downer, as we were hoping Panasonic would finally offer true gain control that is not tied to the aperture setting on the camcorder, but the HC-X900M is still limited in this regard. Other than this snafu, the X900M is a solid camcorder with a lot of functions to play with. There's full shutter speed and aperture control, a manual white balance mode, and a number of manual assistance functions like zebra patterns and focus assist. For the most part, the Panasonic HC-X900 uses AVCHD compression to record HD video. The camcorder utilizes the newly-created AVCHD 2.0 compression format, which has new standards for both 1080/60p and 3D video recording. The only optio on the camcorder that doesn't use AVCHD recording is the iFrame record mode, which uses a basic MPEG-4 compression system. There's also a 3D record mode called "side-by-side" recording that is not AVCHD compliant—just like the 3D record mode on last year's HDC-TM900 camcorder. The new AVCHD 3D mode does (obviously) use AVCHD recording, however, and this option is available on the X900. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various high definition compression types.
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The Panasonic HC-X900M comes loaded with 32GB of internal flash memory—that's what the "M" stands for at the end of the camcorder's model name. Panasonic also plans to make a version of the HC-X900 without any internal memory (and it won't have an "M" at the end of the model name either). All versions of the HC-X900 come with an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot as well. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various media types.
Media Photo

The X900M comes with 32GB of internal memory, but an SD memory card slot is on the bottom of the camcorder as well.

Panasonic loaded the X900M with a lot of recording options and frame rates, all of which can be seen below. The 1080/60p record mode has been present on Panasonic camcorders for a couple of years now, so it isn't really new—other than the fact that this year Panasonic was able to say the mode is "AVCHD compliant" thanks to the new AVCHD 2.0 standards. The new AVCHD 3D recording is something we haven't seen on Panasonic camcorders before, but this mode only comes into play if you purchase the optional 3D conversion lens for the HC-X900. There's no high-speed frame rate on the HC-X900 to record slow motion video, but the camcorder does have a time-lapse record option that enables you to condense long periods of recording into a short video clip. There's also a 24p record mode on the camcorder that Panasonic calls Digital Cinema Record. This gives your footage a more cinematic look by simulating a lower frame rate. Much like its plethora of recording options, the HC-X900 also has a bunch of still image size settings. You can shoot photos using a 4:3, 16:9, or 3:2 aspect ratio, and the size of those still images range from a ridiculous 4896 x 3264, to the more reasonable 3024 x 2016 (there's also a tiny 640 x 480 still image option as well). The high resolution still images options on the camcorder are not to be trusted, as they are the result of interpolation. This means there isn't actually more detail in those images, they're just bigger. The camcorder's three size options that hover around 6 megapixels should more closely resemble the actual capabilities of the X900's image sensor. The camcorder also features a built-in flash, a continuous shooting mode, a self-timer, and a smile shutter feature in still image mode.
Lens Photo

The lens has a 12x optical zoom and an automatic cover.

The HC-X900M has the same setup of three 1/4.1-inch CMOS sensors as last year's HDC-TM900, but Panasonic did make some alterations to the camcorder's effective pixel count. In fact, Panasonic actually lowered the effective pixel count on its new X900 camcorder as compared to its predecessor. Our testing showed that this reduction in pixel count didn't make the X900's videos look any less sharp, but there were some slight changes in noise levels and low light sensitivity compared to the TM900. The lens on the HC-X900 was also tweaked by Panasonic. The new camcorder's lens has a different focal length range, while retaining the same aperture range as its predecessor. Check out the table below for complete details about the X900's lens and sensor specs.
Lens Photo 2

The removable 3D conversion lens (VW-CLT2) does not come with the camcorder—it costs extra.

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If you were hoping to see an increase in screen size on the HC-X900M, you won't find what you're looking for. The camcorder has the same 3.5-inch LCD as its predecessor (the HDC-TM900), but Panasonic did beef up the resolution of the new screen, as it now tops out with a killer 1,150,000 pixels. This puts it in a similar range with the LCDs on Canon's and Sony's flagship camcorders. Panasonic also added a glasses-free 3D viewing capability to the X900's screen. This function is only useful if you go out and purchase the VW-CLT2 3D lens converter. With the 3D lens attached (or when viewing 3D content recorded on the camcorder), you can watch your footage in 3D without the aid of 3D glasses. The effect isn't great, and it's the exact same technology we've seen on the Sony HDR-TD10 and JVC GS-TD1 3D camcorders released last year.
lcdviewfinder.jpg
LCD Photo

The 3.5-inch LCD uses a touchscreen interface.

Are viewfinders making a comeback on consumer camcorders? Probably not, but Panasonic still chose to include one on the HC-X900M. It's still somewhat common for manufacturers to include a viewfinder on flagship models, so having an EVF on a camcorder like the X900 isn't that unusual. The viewfinder extends out from the camcorder by half an inch or so, but the viewfinder cannot be pivoted upwards or rotated. Overall, the viewfinder isn't all that comfortable to use either, mainly because of its rigid, hard-plastic eyepiece.
EVF Photo

The viewfinder isn't that comfortable, but it helps when recording on a sunny day.

Being a high-end camcorder, it isn't surprising that Panasonic loaded the HC-X900M with plenty of connectivity features. Inside the LCD cavity you'll find a suite of ports, including a Mini HDMI output, a USB terminal, and an AV-Multi port. The AV-Multi is a proprietary port that works with provided Component and Composite AV cables. On the right side of the camcorder you'll find a 3.5mm mic jack and a headphone jack, both behind a tab near the front of the X900M. Just above this port cover, there is a small slot that fits the camcorder's cold shoe adapter. This means the X900M does not have a built-in accessory shoe. You must slip in the adapter before you can mount accessories on the camcorder. Beware: the adapter is also really easy to lose. The final port on the camcorder is the DC-input that is used to charge the battery pack or run the X900M off of wall power. The camcorder comes with an AC power adapter that connects to this port located near the rear of the X900M. Panasonic features a slightly awkward battery compartment, only because the battery fits into the camcorder sideways. This isn't a big deal, but it may be confusing the first two or three times you remove or insert the battery pack. We don't like that the battery release switch is inside the LCD cavity, as that requires you to open the LCD panel to remove the battery. Other than those minor issues, the battery on the HC-X900M is essentially normal for a flagship camcorder. The compartment is also open, which means larger battery packs can be used with the camcorder—always a good thing. Find out how the performed in our battery life test./r:link_to_content
Battery Photo

The provided battery fits sideways into the battery compartment.

The Panasonic HC-X900M comes loaded with 32GB of internal flash memory—that's what the "M" stands for at the end of the camcorder's model name. Panasonic also plans to make a version of the HC-X900 without any internal memory (and it won't have an "M" at the end of the model name either). All versions of the HC-X900 come with an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot as well. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various media types.
Media Photo

The X900M comes with 32GB of internal memory, but an SD memory card slot is on the bottom of the camcorder as well.

For the most part, the new VW-CLT2 lens converter looks just like its predecessor (the aptly named VW-CLT1). You can find a few adjustments if you look close, however. Panasonic changed the locking mechanism on the new converter, and it does actually make a huge difference when it comes time to attach the conversion lens to the HC-X900M. Instead of a screwy tightening system like Panasonic had on the VW-CLT1, the new converter uses a simply locking switch. So, you just put the lens in place, then flip the lock switch to the other side. Voila! Your lens converter is now attached.
3D Lens Photo

The VW-CLT2 lens converter is an optional accessory for the X900M.

Since shooting 3D video with the X900 requires the optional 3D lens converter, the camcorder does require a bit of calibration before 3D recording may commence. The calibration options for the conversion lens are very similar to the previous VW-CLT1 that could be used with the HDC-TM900 camcorder, but Panasonic did tweak the settings a bit to smooth out the calibration process. The camcorder now will automatically detect when calibration settings are correct, and you no longer have to manually calibrate the image overlay that produces the 3D effect. So, the calibration process is a bit easier than on previous Panasonics, but it's still more of a challenge than 3D camcorders with built-in dual lens systems.
3D Calibration Photo

The converter requires calibration in order to maximize the 3D effect.

Panasonic added a bunch of new controls and features for 3D recording with the HC-X900M. With the new camcorder you can control white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and gain when shooting 3D video—just like you can for 2D recording. The only area where you are more limited compared to 2D recording is with zoom and focus. There's no manual focus option when the 3D lens is attached and the X900M offers a sad 1.5x digital zoom in 3D mode (and no optical zoom). Additionally, you can use scene modes, pre-record, and the camcorder's iA auto mode for 3D recording as well. The other big addition is the new AVCHD 3D record mode on the camcorder, which should offer higher-quality 3D video recordings than Panasonic's previous 3D mode (called side-by-side 3D). The new AVCHD 3D method of recording utilizes more pixels than side-by-side 3D, but it still fails to record "double Full HD" 3D video like Sony and JVC can claim on their 3D camcorders (the HDR-TD10 and the GS-TD1). The HC-X900M still has the option of recording side-by-side 3D video, but we wouldn't recommend using it. The AVCHD 3D mode records higher-quality video and it uses a more universal compression system than the side-by-side option. The HC-X900M is Panasonic's first camcorder with a glasses-free 3D LCD, as last year's TM900 featured a regular 2D screen. What this means is that you can review 3D videos shot with the X900 (using the optional conversion lens) right on the camcorder itself. We should warn you, however, the 3D effect on the LCD is lousy at best—just like the 3D view we've seen on all glasses-free 3D LCDs (the Sony HDR-TD10 and JVC GS-TD1 3D camcorders included). Your 3D videos will look far better when viewed on a regular 3D HDTV, but they're still very expensive. Much like its plethora of recording options, the HC-X900 also has a bunch of still image size settings. You can shoot photos using a 4:3, 16:9, or 3:2 aspect ratio, and the size of those still images range from a ridiculous 4896 x 3264, to the more reasonable 3024 x 2016 (there's also a tiny 640 x 480 still image option as well). The high resolution still images options on the camcorder are not to be trusted, as they are the result of interpolation. This means there isn't actually more detail in those images, they're just bigger. The camcorder's three size options that hover around 6 megapixels should more closely resemble the actual capabilities of the X900's image sensor. The camcorder also features a built-in flash, a continuous shooting mode, a self-timer, and a smile shutter feature in still image mode. Fader You can add faders to the beginning or end of your video clips during recording. Faders can be set to white or black on the TM900. Pre-record Pre-record is a common feature on consumer camcorders that allows you to capture a few seconds of footage before you press the record button. It can be useful if you’re shooting a fast-paced sports game and don’t want to miss an important moment, but it does suck up battery life. Last year, the Panasonic HDC-TM900 narrowly lost our award for Camcorder of the Year to the Canon HF G10. The TM900 was (and is) a very good camcorder, but Panasonic failed to include enough innovative features on the model to put it ahead of the pack. Basically, the camcorder was too much like its predecessor, the HDC-TM700 from Panasonic. Now, here we are in 2012, and we're starting to experience a strong sense of déjà vu. The new HC-X900M from Panasonic is a top-notch camcorder. It has plenty of manual controls, a solid design, and records great videos... but it has almost nothing new compared to last year's HDC-TM900. Panasonic did change the lens and sensor slightly, but the modifications clearly weren't anything huge. The camcorder put up nearly identical (and sometimes worse) numbers in our performance tests as its predecessor, and the the only major upgrade comes in the form of a higher-resolution LCD. Both the TM900 and the HC-X900 can record 1080/60p video and both recorded extremely sharp video using this 60p record mode. Both camcorders also have the ability to shoot 3D with the purchase of an optional conversion lens. Panasonic did upgrade the 3D capabilities on the HC-X900M, but that's a feature that will only affect a small minority of users (those willing to shell out an extra $300 or so for the 3D conversion lens). The bottom line is that these two camcorders aren't that different. Instead of putting its effort into a fresh, entirely-new camcorder, Panasonic went with the easy route of a basic upgrade. In fact, the updates are so insignificant that we actually still rank the TM900 higher on our overall scores—mainly because of its superior results in our low light sensitivity test over the X900M. The Canon HF G10 won our award for Camcorder of the Year in 2011. In doing so, it unseated Panasonic, which had won the award in back-to-back years with the HDC-TM300 and HDC-TM700 respectively. Canon did this by equipping the HF G10 with a brand new sensor and did away with the idea that more megapixels equals better video quality. The HF G10 had fewer pixels than the competition, but still had a decently-large CMOS sensor, and as a result it was able to dominate in our low light tests. It is this kind of innovative design and creative thinking that made the HF G10 a great camcorder. As good a camcorder as the HF G10 is, we were still looking forward to see what kind of tricks and features Canon would incorporate into its eventual successor. But as of now, the HF G10 doesn't have a successor, and it's looking more and more likely that Canon will wait until 2013 to announce a new flagship model. In a way, Panasonic took a similar route with the HC-X900M. The camcorder represents a minor upgrade over the company's previous flagship model (the HDC-TM900), so there's not really anything new to get excited about. Maybe this idea of coasting with a good product is representative of our slagging economy and shrinking camcorder market, or maybe Canon and Panasonic were just fresh out of new ideas. Either way, our choice in this head-to-head matchup is the same as it was last year with Canon vs. Panasonic: the HF G10 takes the cake. With Canon failing to release a new flagship model this year, Panasonic had a clear opportunity to steal the show, but that opportunity was surely missed with the HC-X900M. For the past couple of years, Sony has sat in third place behind Panasonic and Canon in our year-end camcorder awards. Sony's flagship model from 2011, the HDR-CX700V, was a very good camcorder (like most high-end models are), but it didn't do as well in our performance testing as the competition. As far as handling, features, and usability goes, the Sony HDR-CX700V was right up there with the best of them. Sony tends to equip its camcorders with lots of special features and fun auto controls that are likely to attract pleasure from beginners or novice videographers. The CX700V does have a decent set of manual controls, but its not on the same level as the Panasonic HC-X900M. Like the X900M, Sony does include a 1080/60p record mode on the HDR-CX700V—and that's something you won't find on the Canon HF G10. It is certainly possible that Sony's newest flagship camcorder, the HDR-CX760V, will do better in our tests than its predecessor, so we're excited to get the new camcorder into our labs. In a year where Canon didn't release any new high-end models and Panasonic provided just minor updates with the HC-X900M, the door may be open for Sony to climb to the top of our rankings. Panasonic sure knows how to make a solid flagship camcorder with appeal to consumers and semi-pros alike, and, by all means, the new HC-X900M is exactly that—an excellent high-end camcorder. Unfortunately, the product still left us dissatisfied thanks to Panasonic's lack of updates and improvements over last year's HDC-TM900. We said the same thing last year when Panasonic failed to innovate, and this glaring trend of riding on the coattails of predecessors has us worried about Panasonic's future in the market. But we also can't really blame them. Canon didn't even release an update to its HF G10 camcorder, which was our pick for camcorder of the year in 2011. In this tough economy, if you have a model that's working great, then there's not much of a compelling reason to fix it. So, Panasonic simply took its flagship model from last year, tacked on a few cosmetic changes and a better LCD (with a lame glasses-free 3D view), and released it anew as the HC-X900M. Our performance tests confirmed this story, as the HC-X900M didn't show any significant improvement in terms of image quality. If you're looking to upgrade from the Panasonic TM900 or TM700, you shouldn't bother. This isn't to say the HC-X900M is a bad camcorder. It has loads of manual controls, excellent image quality with its 1080/60p record mode, and it has the ability to record 3D video (but you have to purchase an optional lens converter to do so). We're just tired of seeing Panasonic fail to add anything new or special to its flagship models for the past two years. In 2010, Panasonic was exceptionally innovative: it released one of the first 1080/60p camcorders, the HDC-TM700, and it showed off an unprecedented 3D camcorder, the HDC-SDT750. Since then, it's been nothing but minor updates and bland improvements for Panasonic, and it's this stagnant production that leaves us wanting more out of the HC-X900M.

Meet the tester

Jeremy Stamas

Jeremy Stamas

Managing Editor, Video

@nematode9

Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.

See all of Jeremy Stamas's reviews

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