The Panasonic HC-X900M certainly lives up to the high standards set by Panasonic in the past, in terms of video quality and design. However, if we put the 3D feature aside, the device is simply an improved version of Panasonic's older models, and not improved enough to warrant the price of an upgrade. Considering the fact that this new device is the top-of-the-line model for Panasonic, it does not live up to the role of a flagship. We were left puzzled over the benefits of purchasing this particular Panasonic camera, when the slightly lower HC-V700 is promoted as having similar features for far cheaper.
Design and features
This Panasonic camera has a simple, smooth body that sits quite heavily in the hand to make it seem professional. Unfortunately, this means that the design is, in a word, boring. While this is perfect if you want to look "serious", it's not earning points for its aesthetic appeal. In addition, the optional 3D lens attachment destroys any chance the camera has of looking good, as it reminded me of the shape of a miniature elephant.
The Manual Ring is a typical high-range Panasonic feature, which we're pleased to see making another appearance. As far as we're concerned, the more manual controls available the better. While this feature is certainly not new, and most users are likely to keep the controls on auto, for a "leading" Panasonic camera, it's nice to be able to dabble with more professional manual options.
There is nothing innovative about the menu or touchscreen on this new device. Panasonic has refined the control features, and it's good to see the company sticking to this highly effective and simple menu system.
The OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) lock — a button that is available for optional image stabilisation — is a useful feature seen in other Panasonic cameras. When testing this feature, we were impressed with the high level of stabilisation produced in terms of the video quality.
You might wonder why you would ever need to turn image stabilisation off, but having the option is a nifty addition if you're using a tripod. When switched on, the image stabilisation does not quite reach the quality produced by higher-end Sony cameras, but it is still very impressive to see the improvements in this area across the market.
Video and image quality
Panasonic is advertising how this camera is improving camcorder electronics with a new sensor (1/4.1-type MOS x3) and new image processing. While there is a slight improvement noticeable in its video, particularly the colour, it is a field that Panasonic has always excelled in, and is not vastly superior in this camera. The colour is lively and fun, if not always realistic; a trait that Panasonic has always produced in its devices.
Turning to the general quality of the video, it would have been nice if the new sensor had also made some improvements in the low-light performance, which remains grainy.
The video quality in low-light situations is similar to other, far cheaper models, so it's a shame that Panasonic didn't use its updated electronics to improve this aspect.
The 3D lens adapter in the Panasonic HC-X900M is an impressive and fun gimmick, but is very similar to the HDC-HS900. Considering that this older model was released in February 2011, it is unfortunate that Panasonic has not improved the quality and performance of its 3D technology since then in a significant way.
However, the 3D feature does not work all the time, and is very tedious to calibrate. Ultimately, this video feature capitalises on the popularity of 3D, which has swept the world away recently. To playback for a larger group of people, the footage will require a 3D TV, which not everyone owns. Similarly, most computers do not have 3D capability, if you're looking to edit any 3D footage. If you are a 3D enthusiast, then this camera fulfils all of the requirements nicely; however, we would recommend considering the far cheaper HDC-HS900, which is almost identical. Either of these cameras, however, will require the extra purchase of a 3D lens adapter (AU$449), so bear this in mind when shopping around.
The Panasonic HC-X900M is a good example of how camera models today are being released far too quickly to make an impact. Looking at the other Panasonic models that are slightly older or lower down the chain, one might wonder why you would pay for the expensive top-of-the-range model, when there are high-quality, high-performing camcorders for a much cheaper price.
While this camera is impressive and does certainly improve on other models, it is underwhelming when you consider that it is their flagship camcorder. We would definitely look further into other Panasonic models with similar features.