Panasonic's 9 series camcorders are, somewhat predictably, having their yearly refresh. The HC-X920 will replace the HC-X900 and have many of the same terrific features. But there are some new bits too, and these should make this camera a much more attractive proposition for semi-pro users.
This kind of camcorder won't appeal to the "SLR brigade" which wants interchangeable lenses and shallow depth of field, but it will appeal to those who want a camera designed to produce video with the minimal fuss. Although it's often forgotten, these camcorders are designed to do video well, and that's a distinct advantage when it comes to turning the thing on and shooting video.
What Panasonic has added this time around is a new type of CMOS sensor. It now takes advantage of backside illumination, which gives the camera better low-light performance. You also get a f/1.5 Leica Dicomar lens, which should help with shooting in subdued lighting. Panasonic says that in dim conditions there is 50 per cent less noise on this camcorder than on the previous version.
Perhaps most exciting, though, is the inclusion of Wi-Fi. This offers a few new features. First, you can stream video live, via the internet, to viewers on UStream. This is a nifty idea, and it worked when we saw the demo - although we noticed that the frame rate was significantly lower than 25fps and looked quite jerky as a result. You can also use the Wi-Fi, webcam style, to stream video from home to wherever you are in the world. Panasonic suggests you use this to monitor your pets, and the good news is you can speak through the camera too, so it even has use as a rudimentary video-conference system.
There's also an app for smartphones, which allows you to control the camera as well as to see what the camera is recording. This is similar to the apps available for GoPro and other similar cameras.
The 920 is also one of the few camcorders that has both an LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder. It's a 263,424-pixel resolution screen in the viewfinder, which should make for a decent quality image. It will certainly help in bright daylight, where the larger screen will be washed out by the ambient illumination.
The 920 is also 3D capable, with Panasonic's adaptor lens attached. This is an optional extra, rather than being included with the camera. There's 5.1 channel surround sound too, encoded with Dolby Digital, which should make for some impressive audio. The lens is also pretty flexible, giving 29.8 wide-angle shots, and with the ability to zoom in by 25x.
Expect to see it in the shops in February, and we'd suspect it will cost about the same as the existing model. So set aside about £1,000, plus extra if you want the 3D lens.