Review: Preshan John
If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to separate the ‘camcorder’ portmanteau from the memory of a chunky grey, tape-loaded contraption that made appearances only at birthday parties and your kid’s ballet performances. However, the idea of a handheld, feature-packed, lens-integrated footage capturing machine hasn’t completely lost its utility in today’s world of modular filmmaking rigs – as Panasonic is aware.
Panasonic released the HC-X1500 not so long ago, along with its big brother the HC-X2000. Both appeal to a specific market seeking what a camcorder does best: portability, functional flexibility, and all-in-one convenience.
The HC-1500X is professional, but also accessible for a vlogger or indie filmmaker. What are its key features? For starters, it’s small and light (1.5kg with the handle). No other camcorder I’ve used can live in my hand for so long without my arm going dead. Secondly, it’ll shoot 4K 60p footage — not a first for Panasonic obviously, but a valuable addition to a camcorder targeting the likes of journalists and documentary filmmakers. Next, it’s got a 24x optical zoom that’ll please even the most fastidious private investigator (extending to 32x in 4K or 48x in FHD with i.Zoom). The 1/2.5-inch sensor shoots 4K at 60p. I was instantly impressed with the camera’s tidy image the first time I viewed it on a computer. The five-axis hybrid optical image stabilisation produces very usable handheld footage even at the business end of the 24x zoom range.
Ergonomically, you have a few options to drive the HC-X1500 depending on your preferences. Of the two front rings, one controls focus (when using MF) while the other can control a variety of parameters including zoom. Incidentally the autofocus is fantastic and pulls off face tracking well. Unlike many of its counterparts, the HC-X1500 lens zooms out to a wide 25mm — great if you’re right up close to your interviewee or shooting dramatic landscape footage.
Dual SD card slots ensure you won’t run out of space in a hurry. Outputs include SDI and HDMI, both of which can pass embedded audio, with a pair of XLR inputs available on the detachable handle unit. 48V phantom power can be supplied to shotgun or condenser mics. Gain can be set automatically or manually with a rotary dial. The handle has a built-in super bright LED with adjustable brightness that’ll get you out of trouble for a close-up interview in a dark-ish spot.
The HC-X1500 supports 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording at a bit rate of up to 200 Mbps for 59.94p/50p video. Slow motion can be shot at 120/100fps at 10-bit in FHD. In addition to the usual MOV and MP4 formats you also get 720p AVCHD recording.
Undoubtedly, the HC-X1500’s petiteness makes it a delightful camera to use. Sure, for those accustomed to broadcast or box cameras this camcorder will present as a little toyish, but give it a few days of constant use, and its weight and portability will win you over. I see it as a perfect unit for independent journos shooting run ’n’ gun footage. When the handle is clipped on with the LED mic and a third-party shotgun you have a self-sufficient package that’ll handle interviews and b-roll with ease. Bear in mind the 1/2.5-inch sensor will not handle low light particularly well and many forms of indoor shooting will see the image break up and turn grainy. Therefore, the HC-X1500 excels in outdoor applications producing the most detail and colour vibrancy in brightly lit situations. Four built-in ND filters ensure no scene is too bright for the camera unless you’re shooting a doco on sunspots.
A certain amount of menu diving is inevitable with any camcorder and the HC-X1500 is no exception. The 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen is responsive and easy to navigate if you have slender fingers; not so much if you don’t. Alternatively the pushable scroll wheel behind the lens is another easy way to whiz around the menu. Spend the time assigning the five user buttons to useful functions as it’s well worth the time you’ll save in menu scrolling.
Being able to live stream straight from the HC-X1500 is a very cool feature. However, it’s not exactly a grab ’n’ go setup. A Panasonic YouTube video guides you through several cryptic menu steps to connect the camera to your wifi and set it up for streaming to a platform such as Facebook or YouTube. A Panasonic application called P2 Network Settings is required to load the streaming key into the camera via SD card and it’s available for Windows only. The alternative for Mac users like me is to manually punch in the streaming key and URL for your live stream; tedious and time consuming on the small touchscreen. Once it’s up and running, though, live streaming with the HC-X1500 is an absolute pleasure and gloriously uncomplicated — no cables, capture cards or extra paraphernalia. Multiple bitrate options are available to suit the capacity of your network.
Wireless tablet control is also handy. You can take charge of most camera settings this way and the app offers a couple of different views to be able to see your shot clearly at the same time. Sure to be useful if you’re managing multiple cameras dotted about a room from a single spot.
The Panasonic HC-X1500 is a blast to use and produces very professional results for its size. Of course, a camcorder will have its limitations compared to an MFT or mirrorless camera. The HC-X1500’s tiny sensor made me miss the far superior low light performance of the Lumix GH5S I regularly use. And while a mirrorless or MFT camera will let you swap out lenses, yield better stills, and produce more cinematic looks, it doesn’t have a built-in 24x zoom, LED light or ND filters, it won’t accept audio feeds via XLR, and it needs battery changes way more often. The camcorder still has its place in today’s video production world and Panasonic has put the HC-X1500 high on the list of contenders.