Photo Traveling Mom Kymri Wilt reviews the Panasonic HC-WX970 4K video camera and offers tips for better video shooting!

Take the 4K Video Challenge!

A still image from a frame of 4K video - Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt / Photo Traveling Mom

A still image from a frame of 4K video – Animal Kingdom. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt / Photo Traveling Mom

When I was selected to test out and review the Panasonic WX970 4K video camera, I committed to using nothing else (except my phone) for two recent trips: a 3-day trip to Orlando’s Walt Disney World, and a weekend in Chicago. I left the cumbersome SLR and heavy lenses behind, and headed to the airport with the Panasonic video camera (charged up and ready), an empty 32 GB 600X SDHC memory card, and the owner’s manual to read on the flight.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “A video camera? What about taking those amazing photos you license for print publications?” Well, I wasn’t the least bit concerned, for two reasons: ProductReview

#1: 4K Video.

What does that mean, exactly? Technically speaking, 4K video records in Ultra High Definition (UHD) – a pixel ratio of 3840×2160, which is DOUBLE the usual 1920×1080 standard. This produces a jpeg file size of nearly 8.3 megapixels. Wait! Don’t run away, let me translate that! In simpler terms, 4K means that you can freeze any single frame of video and produce a high-resolution high-quality jpeg image file, good enough for a large print. Got it? It’s like having two cameras, and a bunch of focal length lenses, all in one.

Magazine Cover shot with Panasonic DMC-TZ3 Photo Credit: Kymri Wilt, Photo Traveling Mom

Magazine Cover shot with Panasonic DMC-TZ3 Photo Credit: Kymri Wilt, Photo Traveling Mom

#2: It’s Panasonic.

Renown for having top quality leica glass lens, I was confident of quality. Even a photo shot in 2009 with my old Panasonic Lumix Point & Shoot (DMC-TZ3) landed on a AAA magazine cover. Back then, this tiny Panasonic was my only means of video before I upgraded my Canon 5D SLR to the video-capable MARK II (and pre-iPhone video too). Read the story behind my Machu Picchu cover , and you’ll soon realize THAT is the beauty of the high quality leica lens and optical zoom of Panasonic cameras, even the point and shoots.

 

So back to my recent adventures, and review of the Panasonic WX970, here’s what I experienced, learned, loved, and struggled with.

START WITH THE RIGHT MEMORY CARD

This is no ordinary video camera, it is extraordinary. If you’re buying a $999 video camera, don’t go cheap on the memory card. Sure, you can use a standard SD memory card up to 2 GB, but you might struggle to get very much or go very far with it. While you might pop it in and start recording just fine, chances are you’ll run into trouble eventually.

TIP: Invest in a high-performance SD card from the get go, such as a 32 GB SDHC card, Class 10. Use it ONLY for this camera, don’t swap it around with other cameras and formats. Reasons are complex and I don’t want to bore you with tech talk, so JUST TRUST ME ON THIS. And thank me later.

IMPRESSIVE FIRST IMPRESSIONS

So now I’m all charged up with the appropriate memory card and ready to go! Here’s what I LOVED, and what I learned with ease, along with some tips so you can be a happy videographer too.

LIBERATING

The biggest difference for me right off was weight. The Panasonic WX970 weighs in at a mere .0793 pounds! Add the battery, lens hood, and memory card and it’s still well under a pound, and occupies the same space in volume as a single lens for an SLR. There was no need for a backpack; the Panasonic fit easily in my purse, which in turn, didn’t strain my shoulder or burden my back. It was incredibly liberating to be carrying a single lightweight camera that packs a leica lens and 20x optical zoom all in one. I had to remind myself that I actually had the camera with me!

TIP: Don’t just toss the camera in your bag like you would your lipstick – that’s just asking for trouble, especially if you carry anything that can spill, smear, or leak. Use a padded, water-resistant, case that will protect it. The camera doesn’t come with one, but you can buy one, or at the very least, use bubble wrap and a plastic bag.

STABILITY

For such a lightweight handheld camera, stability is key. Have you ever watched a video and found yourself tilting your head to stay with the scene? Well, Panasonic’s LCD monitor has a horizon level indicator so you can see right away that you are shooting level, and should you start to tilt, the indicator tells you so you can adjust accordingly.

TIP: Don’t forget, there’s a tripod mount. USE IT when situations allow. A tripod can make all the difference between a “home movie” and a more polished professional looking video.

PANNING

This is a struggle for many videographers using a handheld camera without a tripod. The most frequent warning that flashed on my LCD monitor when I first started using it was “Camera panning too fast”. THANK YOU for that Panasonic, this saved me from endless clips of jerky, blurred and nauseating video. After seeing this warning more than a few times, I quickly found my comfort zone for my own benefit and that of my viewers!

TIP: If you don’t have a tripod handy, hold the camera with BOTH hands, keeping your elbows close to your body. When you want to pan, turn your entire torso rather than just the camera.

SMOOTH ZOOM

Well, I already knew the zoom would be incredibly smooth on Panasonic video cameras, because we used a Panasonic video camera to record my daughter’s first steps, and so many more of her precious childhood moments. In the past 12 years, both my daughter and Panasonic have improved gracefully. With the WX970, I love the ability to zoom in quickly or slowly, while barely moving a finger.

TIP: Take some time to practice without recording. Get a feel for how much or little pressure you’ll need for the zoom to be smooth. Even at it’s fastest, the zoom is refreshingly smooth.

Chicago River Cruise, high quality still captured from 4K video using Panasonic WX970. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt / Photo Traveling Mom

Chicago River Cruise, high quality still captured from 4K video using Panasonic WX970. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt / Photo Traveling Mom

Now, here’s what sucked.

BATTERY LIFE

It drained way too quickly. This was most likely because I was shooting in 4K, but I recall this has long been an issue with Panasonic batteries, the ones I’ve owned anyway. For the capability of the WX970, I longed for battery life to match.

TIP: Manually turn OFF the power button between shoots, rather than just closing the LCD screen. Apparently the camera is still using battery even if you aren’t using shooting. Also, unless you are actually using the wi-fi feature, disable it. Otherwise the camera continues to search for wi-fi whenever it is on, thus draining battery further.

DOWNLOADING & EDITING

If and when you’re ready to shoot in 4K, make sure your computer is ready too. Any 4K video clips require iMovie and Final Cut Pro to edit. Files will need to be converted before importing in to iMovie. They take time to download, a large amount of memory to store, and powerful RAM to play back and edit. That’s for a whole separate post in itself. But for now, consider yourself warned.

TIP: For now, shoot in A mode or A+ mode, which records at the usual 1920×1080 standard. You’ll be totally fine, it doesn’t gobble as much space, and the quality is simply astounding.

All that said, I absolutely LOVE the Panasonic WX970 and will have lots more video and review posts to come. Plus, I promise to share my tips along the way.

Happy Shooting! Here are a few videos shot entirely with the Panasonic HC-WX970.

 

And the dry land scenes of this surf adventure were also filmed with the HC-WX970!