The X920 has no internal memory, which is one of the reasons for its cheaper-than-average $1,000 price tag. In countries other than the US, Panasonic may offer a version of the camcorder stuffed with 32GB of internal flash (the HC-X900M). Panasonic seems to think those of us in America would rather buy our own memory cards than have memory built into the camcorder (and they're probably right).
On the surface, the HC-X920 looks like a near-identical copy of its predecessor.
It's been four years since Panasonic launched its revolutionary HDC-TM300 camcorder, and over that timespan the company has put little emphasis on cosmetic changes to its flagship models. The new HC-X920 has the same utilitarian look of its predecessors: a solid frame with a bland aesthetic, but a slight aura of professionalism. This is not a gadget that screams cutting-edge or modern, so don't expect it to wow your techie friends. If you have the urge to turn the X920 into a high-tech gimmick, there's always the option of spending an extra $300 for a conversion lens that lets the camcorder shoot 3D video. Unless you own a 3D television, and you have a strong desire to shoot 3D video, this is not something we recommend.
Despite its stale design, the HC-X920 fits snugly into the palm of your hand, and, while we'd appreciate a comfier hand strap, the one provided by Panasonic does enable you to get a good grip. The large LCD and fantastic lens ring make shooting video fun, and the presence of a viewfinder offers a glimmer of hope when intense glare makes using the LCD impossible.
A well-balanced camcorder that responds better in low light than last year's X900
There's much to love about the HC-X920's video performance, and the casual videographer shouldn't have anything to complain about. The camcorder excels in low light, needing only a small amount of illumination to record a detailed image (you could even shoot with a flashlight strapped to the camcorder and your video would turn out ok). Image sharpness was a bit worse than last year's HC-X900, but the X920 still captured crisp video. Unless you're doing video testing or shooting a lot of fine details, you won't have a problem with the X920's sharpness capabilities.
The camcorder's greatest performance flaw may be its auto white balance system, which didn't cooperate with our low light tests. The camcorder's videos had a cool tone that we couldn't get rid of unless we calibrated the white balance manually—and that's not the easiest task for a novice videographer.
New WiFi functions may please techies, but it's the classic manual controls that make this a useful camcorder.
Panasonic has included lens rings on its top models for many years, and it seems like the company has no intention of discontinuing this practice. The ring on the HC-X920 works extremely well for adjusting focus, but it can also be set to control zoom, aperture, shutter speed, or white balance with the click of a button. It's a smooth and pleasant experience, and it saves you from using the camcorder's flaky touchscreen interface.
As for the controls themselves, they're quite substantial, although the X920 doesn't offer quite as much control as the top model from Canon (the HF G20). You can set shutter speed and aperture, but you can't always set them independently, and gain control for boosting exposure is only an option when the iris is completely open. There are a few pro-level features that advanced videographers may appreciate: a manual focus assist, zebra patterns, on-screen markers and levels, a histogram, a luminance meter, and plenty of audio controls. For those looking for simple and fun effects, the HC-X920 includes a few digital filters, face detection and motion tracking, and a time-lapse record mode (not to mention all that WiFi nonsense).
First, some history: instead of using a single, large image sensor, the Panasonic HC-X920 includes a three-chip sensor array (which Panasonic brands 3MOS). This allows the camcorder to utilize a different sensor for each color in the RGB color space (one for red, one for green, one for blue), which, in theory, should result in better image quality.
Panasonic has used this system for a few years now, and a three-sensor setup is also commonly found on professional camcorders. For the HC-X920, though, Panasonic also drastically increased the size of its individual sensors—the backside-illuminated chips are up to 1/2.3-inches on the diagonal, much larger than the old 1/4.1-inch chips on last year's HC-X900. The megapixel count of each chip has also increased to 12 megapixels, which is four times the megapixels on the individual sensors in the HC-X900. That's a heck of a lot of megapixels when you add them all up: 38.28 megapixels, to be exact (3x 12.76 megapixels). Now, don't go around thinking this means the X920 is capable of recording a 38-megapixel image. The camcorder is limited by its individual sensors, so for still photos you still top out with an effective resolution of around 8.5 megapixels—around what you'd get from a cheap point-and-shoot camera.
If you do a lot of shooting in the dark, the HC-X920 is one of your best options.
Panasonic's new sensor system may have resulted in worse sharpness scores from the HC-X920, but the camcorder did have improved low-light sensitivity compared to its predecessors. In fact, the camcorder is one of the best we've seen for low light videography, with only the Canon HF G20 requiring less light to record a usable video image. At its best, the X920 needed just 3 lux of illumination—about as much as you'd get from a candle—to record an image deemed bright enough for broadcast television. Not only does this make the X920 a great camcorder for low light, it's also a vast improvement over the HC-X900 (which was a good low light camcorder itself).
The HC-X920's auto white balance mechanism posed a problem for the camcorder in certain lighting conditions.
With the right settings, the HC-X920 can produce video with beautiful colors. In our bright-light test, the camcorder had good saturation at 87%—a number that is low enough that allows you to boost color depth in post production if you prefer. Color error was 4.15, which is decent for a camcorder using auto white balance.
Shooting low light is where we saw problems. The auto white balance system gave videos a cooler tone than they should have, which nearly doubled the color error (to 8.16). Of course, the camcorder does have a manual white balance option (as well a a white balance shift function) that lets you fine tune the color accuracy if you want to put in the effort. But how many shooters actually have time for this? Do casual videographers carry around white cards in their pocket?
Noise wasn't much of a distraction with the HC-X920, even when shooting in very low-light situations. In bright light, noise averaged 0.5%, which is basically nothing. In low light we recorded noise percentages at three different light levels. First there was 120 lux, which is similar to a normally-lit indoor room (like a living room, restaurant, or bedroom). Noise averaged around 0.9% under this light level, which is good. Cutting the light in half (down to 60 lux) resulted in only a tiny increase in noise, raising the level to 1.0%. Again, this is a good performance for any camcorder.
The only huge increase in noise came when we shot in very dark settings, between 10 and 15 lux. Here we saw noise levels hovering between 1.5% and 1.75%—numbers that are quite low considering the dark environment. To put this in perspective, 15 lux is equivalent to shooting at dusk or recording video under a street lamp. Visually, noise is certainly perceptible in these low light shots, but the noise is fine and crisp, so the X920's image still retains a lot of detail. Many camcorders look awful in low light because noise turns the image into discolored much, but that's not the case with the X920.
Like to shoot for long periods of time between charges? Start researching additional battery packs now.
Don't expect to be able to record much longer than 80 minutes on a fully-charged battery pack with the HC-X920. That's how long the camcorder lasted in our battery life test (well, 79 minutes to be exact), and that's a terrible performance for a flagship model. We hammered last year's HC-X900 for lasting just 88 minutes in this test, and the X920 lasted almost ten minutes less. Not good, Panasonic, not good at all.
At least there's something you can do about it, as long as you're willing to shell out extra cash. For around $150, Panasonic sells a larger battery pack—the VW-VBN260—that should last twice as long as the provided battery (the VW-VBN130). But $150 is a significant expenditure for a battery life that we think should come standard with a camcorder like the HC-X920.
The lens on the HC-X920 records with a field of view of 62.5°. Compared to camcorders from a few years ago, this is extremely wide, but new models from Sony tend to be even wider than the X920—with some coming close to a 70° angle of view.
Meet the tester
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.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email