Panasonic W850 hands-on: Camcorder adds second camera for 'video selfies' in bid to stay relevant

It's no secret that camcorders are having a tough time in the market. They just don't sell as much as they used to because of a shift in trends. Panasonic has tried to get creative with the latest HC-W850 camcorder by adding a second lens and sensor to the device. The video selfie has arrived.

But did we ever need it? With the ability to capture 1080p footage from the main 32.7mm equivalent 50x zoom lens to the front, the second 270-degree horizontally tiltable lens captures additional footage from an alternate angle. When not shooting selfies the ability to shoot wide-angle and tele simultaneously from the one device is clever. But there's a problem: despite the second camera having a 3.8-megapixel sensor - more than enough for 1920 x 1080 resolution output - it's been limited to VGA (640 x 480 pixel) output.

Why? Because it can only be used as a second "window" within the main capture. We think that's a mistake as having a second full stream available, perhaps captured to a second SD card, would have made for creative editing possibilities from the one camera. In this state it's locked down too tight. Plus the second camera can be rotated inly on the one axis - it would be particularly useful if there was vertical adjustment too.

The W850 has the core camcorder stuff figured out spot on, but adds in some additional "fun" features such as one-touch slow-motion. Now we're big fans of the slow-mo feature in the iPhone 5S - a whole different product, we know - and in the W850 it's possible to capture at 100 frames per second for smooth half-time playback at 50p. Press and hold the slow-mo button and for the duration of it being held the capture slows to half time. Just don't press it by accident as audio capture ceases in this mode.

Again, we get the idea. But with even basic video editing software - such as iMovie - able to slow down original clips, including the audio if you wish, it seems like a feature that isn't entirely needed.

There are some features we're particularly keen on though, with the infrared low-light mode being the principal among them. This mode slides an IR filter into place on the interior of the camera, and can capture shots in near darkness. Like the green, white and black shots you might have seen on nature programmes. Cool.

Other features are cleverly configured too. The W850's design, for example, is based around a 4 Drive Lens System that divides all the optics into four groups rather than the two groups typical of a standard camcorder. In doing so the independent movement of groups allows for a smaller build, without compromising on maximum zoom or final quality. Autofocus is swift to react throughout the available range.

And the resulting quality of the sample footage we saw from the camera was decent. Fluid motion, realistic colours, ample sharpness - it's all here. Quality-wise there's also a 50Mbps MP4 capture mode to keep quality to the max, which will mean a larger file size but is leaps ahead of the typical 28Mbps you'll find in the format. AVCHD capture is also available.

We've not been able to shoot beyond recording inside a hotel conference room, however, so it's a case of trusting what we've seen rather than being able to verify it right now.

For the full experience there are also input and output ports should you want to monitor by headphones or attach a shotgun microphone or similar. Although the 5.1 capture with new updated wind-shield promises a 50 per cent reduction in wind noise compared to the earlier V720 model.

And not forgetting there's built-in Wi-Fi for sharing on the fly.

It's all the true camcorder stuff that makes the W850 feel like a decent product overall. But with the market sliding the manufacturer response to add on seemingly experimental features feels like a last ditch attempt to pull the market out of the mud.

The twin camera feature is far short of where it should be - and that's under the presumption that anyone is going to want such a feature - while the slow-motion button, despite being fun and creative, just seems unnecessary. The camcorder is dying, let's allow it to go out with grace.