4K still isn’t widespread, but Panasonic has two 4K camcorders standing ready

Panasonic has been touting 4K UHD in its high-end cameras, with the launch of the Lumix FZ1000, GH4, and LX100 in 2014. With 4K continuing to be the big topic at CES 2015, Panasonic is bringing 4K to the consumer camcorder market with the new HC-WX970 and HC-VX870.

For its “Panasonic 4K World” strategy in 2015, the highlight features for the camcorders are 4K at 50p, high dynamic range (or HDR, a first for consumer video cameras), and a “twin camera” feature where a secondary camera, located in the flip-out LCD, can be used for shooting picture-in-picture, selfies, etc. While geared toward regular folks, Panasonic says they’re strong enough to serve the pro market, too.

If you’ve seen a 4K television set, the higher-resolution quality is noticeable – if you have 4K content to watch, that is. Video is lifelike, and it’s all about the details. The problem is that few of us have 4K televisions right now. But you don’t have to wait until 4K TVs come way down in price. Early adopters are not only future-proofed, but down-converted 2K and Full HD content from 4K also look great on the sets we currently have.

Another 4K benefit that Panasonic pushes is a 4K Photo Mode, where you can grab high-quality 8-megapixel stills from a 4K frame (try that with 1080p, and you’ll notice the degradation right away). During a pre-briefing at Panasonic’s headquarters, the 4K videos and photos demonstrated were visually stunning to the naked eye.

Going beyond 4K

But it isn’t just about 4K. The new camcorders’ 4K sensor (8-megapixel back-illuminated sensor) offers fast and accurate autofocusing. There’s minimal handshake while shooting in 4K, thanks to the hybrid optical image stabilization system with 5-axis correction. With the sensor and Crystal Engine processor’s fast readout and high-speed signal processing, rolling shutter distortion is reduced.

The camcorders are also compact, even with a 20x optical zoom. Panasonic says it had to design a new Leica lens for more precise autofocus, because the focal depth is shorter, incorporating a “micro drive focus unit.”

Photo credit: Digital Trends/Les Shu
Photo credit: Digital Trends/Les Shu

The camcorders are the first consumer models to offer HDR, but only in Full HD mode. Two videos are recorded simultaneously, at different exposures. Like HDR photos, the moving images are combined to create better-exposed 60p videos. Slow-motion videos can also be shot while in Full HD mode.

The WX970 model has an Advanced Twin Camera – the aforementioned secondary camera. The feature lets you embed a picture-in-picture video within the main video. You can use it to include your reaction in a video of your kids, or as an interview with you and the subject. The feature isn’t new, but this new version adds the ability to tilt and pan. The VX870 doesn’t have the twin camera, but you can use a connected smartphone via Wi-Fi to achieve the same technique.

Photo credit: Digital Trends/Les Shu
Photo credit: Digital Trends/Les Shu

Panasonic is looking at the February-March timeframe for availability. The WX970 is estimated at $1,000, while the VX870 is estimated at $900. Panasonic is also unveiling new non-4K, Full HD camcorders. The V770 is similar to the WX970 but without 4K and costs $600.

The W570 has the twin camera feature, 5-axis image stabilization, and 50x optical zoom lens, but without HDR; that model will retail for $500. Rounding out the new camcorders are the V270 ($300) with 5-axis (a highlight for an entry-level model), Wi-Fi/NFC, and 90x zoom, and the V160 ($230), a basic model.

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