The Panasonic HC-V700M, part of Panasonic’s new line of full-HD camcorders with 1MOS sensors that were announced earlier this year at CES, combines generally respectable video quality with a respectable amount of features and shooting options to create a decent mid-range camcorder option for consumers.
With a launch price of $599.99, some users may find the V700M a little on the steep side for what it is; after all, this is far from a perfect device, and it certainly isn’t top-of-the-line. Aside from some flaws like very limited battery life or interface issues, there are a couple of features absent here (including a hot shoe or a cinematic framerate option) that one would hope to find on a camcorder this expensive. But in spite of these shortcomings, the V700M isn’t a complete bust, as certain redeeming aspects make it a respectable device that deserves to be given a chance.
Build & Design
I know that some users like to shy away from extremely light camcorders, as they tend to compound issues with shaky video, but I personally prefer lighter devices. So I was happy to discover that despite having a medium-sized footprint (measuring 2.165 x 2.717 x 4.705 inches), the V700M was surprisingly light in my hand; it felt as if I had forgotten to put the battery in or something. Without a battery or SD card in, the V700M only weighs 0.597 pounds.
And on that note, it’s worth pointing out that the camcorder has a balanced feel, too. Despite having a very light frame, the battery of the V700M doesn’t weigh down the back end where it’s mounted.
The arrangement of the buttons and ports is relatively standard fare. The right side of the device is mostly free of any controls, with the exception of a covered charging port, the hand strap, and a switch on the upper edge for switching between video, photo, and playback modes.
The top side features the zoom lever, a dedicated shutter button for the camera (which I always appreciate as it allows you to shoot images on the fly, even if you’re in video capture mode), a speaker, and the stereo microphone toward the front. The front of device, where the lens is located, has two different lights: one is a flash for still photos, and one is a sustained light for video.
As mentioned, the back of the V700M is where the battery is located, as well as the record/standby button. There is also a shoe adapter on the back, as well as an SD card slot located on the bottom (along with the tripod mount), but more on those later.
Finally, there is the flip-out, 3.0-inch LCD screen on the left side. Behind the display, users will find a number of ports, including the mini HDMI port, an AV Multi port, a mini USB port, and a microphone jack. There is also a shoe adapter release, a 60i/60p switch for video, a manual power switch, and the battery release lever, which I wish was accessible without having to open the display.
Ergonomics and Controls
While the V700M sports a mostly standard build with key controls in comfortable places, allowing you to easily shoot one-handed (assuming you’re not doing anything too complicated), there are a couple of design choices that defied logic.
Sure, the zoom controls are easily reachable on the top side of the device, and the record/standby button is comfortably located on the back end of the device where your thumb would be resting anyway. Even the shutter button can be reached on the fly, since it’s located right behind the zoom controls, and the iA/Manual switch and OIS switches are easily accessible on the upper left side of the device.
But then there are things like the SD card slot, which is inexplicably located on the bottom of the device. Typically, the practice is to put on somewhere on the side of the body where it’s more easily accessible (usually behind the flip-out LCD screen), but Panasonic chose to put it on the bottom of the camcorder behind a hinged door. Not only is this inconvenient, I imagine it’s a real pain to swap out cards in the even that you have the camcorder mounted on a tripod, where it’s much harder to see or reach the bottom of the device.
And Panasonic’s way of including an accessory shoe is just bizarre. Rather than just having the shoe somewhere on the top of the device -- again, that’s the standard practice -- it included a slot on the back end where you slide in a separate piece to mount a shoe. The piece is a long rail that comes in the box, and when you slide it in, it clicks into place and leaves you with the shoe sticking out of the back of the camera. The release lever for the shoe piece is located behind the LCD screen, adding to the inconvenience factor.
To top it all off, now that you have this ridiculous thing sticking out of the back of your camcorder, it’s only a cold shoe, too. Panasonic was remiss to not include a hot shoe on a camcorder that retails for $600.
The one other control design that I did not care for is far less egregious, mostly because I know some people don’t mind it. But the V700M turns on and off automatically when the LCD screen is flipped open and closed, which I could do without (however, I do enjoy the lens cover that automatically opens and closes during this process).
Thankfully, however, there is a manual power switch located behind the screen that, when pressed to turn the camcorder off, prevents it from turning on automatically the next time the screen is opened. It’s a matter of preference, but I would rather not have my camcorder constantly turning on and off whenever I just want to access something behind the screen, like the USB or HDMI port, or the release switch for the shoe rail.
Menus and Modes
As is typically the case with touchscreen camcorders, all of the menu options are accessed through the touchscreen. I’m not crazy about the way Panasonic sets up its controls, however: there are on-screen menus that you can scroll through that feature various options (touch zoom/record, touch focus, pre-record, video light on/off, fade on/off, etc.), but then there is also a menu button within that on-screen menu. Tap that button and you’re taken to a screen with four separate menus (recording setup, photo setup, media selection, and general camcorder setup/options like language, time, etc.).
Basically, it’s all very fragmented and spread out all over the place, and with the wealth of menu items and controls and features, users are bound to get a little lost with all the menu diving. I, for one, had a lot of trouble remembering which options were where: were they on the easily-accessible on-screen menu? If so, what page (with manual controls enabled, the on-screen menu has five pages you can scroll through)? If the option I was looking for was somewhere beyond the “Menu” button that was on the on-screen menu, then which of the four menus that I saw next did I need to go into? Even once within the recording setup menu, there are seven pages worth of options, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed.
That being said, some of the menu items include, but are not limited to:
There are also the standard setting and playback options, like date and time, sound settings, battery management, HDMI and external display settings, language options, media selection, display options, Panasonic’s VIERA link, etc.
The V700M has a 3.0-inch LCD touchscreen display, which I think is enough room to operate touch controls comfortably. Like most flip-out displays, it can rotate 270 degrees and while it tends to show a little noise (especially when viewing photographs), it does have a respectable 460,000-dot resolution. All of the information showed on the screen disappears after a few seconds to reduce clutter, but can be summoned back by just tapping the display.
I also think it’s worth noting that the touch controls are usually very responsive and easy to use. I have had the misfortune of using camcorders with resistive touchscreen displays, which makes for an absolutely miserable experience, but that isn’t the case here. The V700M’s capacitive touch display registers taps well, with maybe the only exception being when trying to scroll through the quick menu left to right (which requires tapping very small arrows that are hard to hit precisely).
The V700M features an Intelligent Auto (iA) dummy mode that handles all of the video settings for the user, and while it generally works very well, certain aspects of it are better than others. Adjusting from well-lit to low-light shooting environments, for example, is handled very capably by iA, but white balance struggles quite a bit to adjust. It will often take three or four seconds for the camera to shake off the orange tinge of warmer tones when shifting to that feature more pure whites or cooler tones.
And switching between iA and manual controls is a snap, as there is a dedicated button to do so on the upper left side of the camcorder. With a single press, a new page with the manual control options is added to the touchscreen menu. Should you need to, there is also a physical button that also allows the OIS to be freely switched on and off while remaining in iA mode (and users can enable controls via the on-screen menus that allow them to touch the display for an extra stabilization boost).
The manual controls on the V700M are relatively basic and straightforward, but easy to access thanks to the dedicated iA/manual switch. Once on manual control, users can manually adjust focus, white balance, shutter speed, and iris (aperture adjustment). I don’t love that they all have to be adjusted through virtual buttons on the touchscreen, but given its high level of responsiveness, things could be a lot worse.
There are also other menu options found on the quick (on-screen) menu, like the ability to tap to focus or to use fades. Again, these controls are well-implemented and easy to use, so even newbies shouldn’t have trouble with them. It’s unfortunate, however, that the V700M is lacking the “zebra stripe” feature, which indicates which parts of the picture are overexposed. Thankfully, though, it does have a manual focus assist, which uses colored lines to show what subjects are in focus.
The battery life of the V700M is poor; the included 1790 mAh battery has an advertised life of 1 hour and 35 minutes of continuous shooting on 1080/60i, and the reality is that you get even less. Obviously with intermittent periods of keeping the camera in standby -- or off -- you can increase the longevity a little, but you can only get roughly an hour of actual recording out of a single charge, if you’re lucky (my continuous recording time on a full charge on 60i was about 1 hour and 5 minutes). As for the zoom, the V700M has a respectable 21x optical zoom, with the “intelligent zoom” taking it up to 46x, or a digital zoom up to 1500x.
Video, Audio, and Stills Quality
The video quality of the V700M is generally solid and very smooth thanks to the 60 fps shooting speed, though for the money, I would have liked the inclusion of a cinematic framerate (24p) option. But while the picture itself appears crisp with sharp textures, colors don’t exactly pop. In fact, they look a little muted. Equally troublesome is the fact that shooting anywhere even remotely in the shade when outdoors often results in a bluish hue plaguing the image. Still, the lack of noise (even in low-light situations) and high level of detail found in the videos from the V700M thanks to its 15.3 megapixel 1MOS sensor are impressive.
The built-in microphone on the V700M impressed, to the point where its sensitivity would occasionally pick up my breathing despite being held a reasonable distance from my face. The only part about the sound quality that I was a little disappointed by was the lack of directional audio. The microphone may have been surprisingly sensitive and produced good-quality sound, but there was little point to it being stereo. If I was shooting video on the street, for example, and a car passed by, its sound on the video wouldn’t gradually move from right to left or vice-versa, it would remain essentially right in the center regardless of the car’s position.
Still pictures from the V700M were decent, but nothing special. These, too, occasionally suffered from white balance issues (see our sample images), but under the right conditions, photos produced good color saturation, even if they were lacking somewhat in sharpness. I also appreciated the fact that you could snap shots even while in video mode, which was extra convenient.
And as an added plus, 2D photos and scenes taken with the V700M can be converted later on and viewed in 3D (with the right external display, that is).
Operations and Extras
Like most of Panasonic’s HD camcorders, the V700M only records in AVCHD or in iFrame, for those of you using Macs and iMovie editing software. While you can technically drag, drop, and even view AVCHD files straight off the camera or SD card, you’re bound to run into interlace combing (looks like you’re viewing the picture through window blinds) when watching them on a computer without first deinterlacing the video. That is, of course, where the included HD Writer AE 4.0 software comes in, to help with video conversion, light editing, and adding visual effects.
Aside from the software, the V700M also comes packaged with an AC power adapter, AV cables, and a USB cable. No HDMI cables here, and while there may not be an included memory card, the camcorder at least has the 16GB of onboard memory to work with, which is a plus.
The HC-V700M is far from perfect, what with its bizarre design choices, poor battery life, clunky menu design, and occasionally questionable video/photo issues with color or white balance. But it still has a decent set of manual controls, a solid touchscreen display, and it produces generally good quality video thanks to its powerful 1MOS sensor (and shooting is comfortable due in no small part to its wide-angle lens).
That being said, there’s no way that it’s worth its launch MSRP of $599.99, which is entirely too much for a camcorder that is not only flawed, but lacks certain features entirely, like a cinematic framerate or a hot shoe. For the right price, the V700M could be worth your time, but be sure to wait for the price drop. At the time of this writing, about $50 has been shaved off the price at online retailers like B&H and Amazon, but I would suggest waiting a little longer if you have to have the V700M.