Panasonic HC-V500M Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
The Panasonic HC-V500M has a dedicated auto mode button that switches the camcorder between iA (intelligent auto) and manual recording modes. In the iA setting, the HC-V500M will utilize automatic exposure and focus, as well as turn on other automatic settings (it also blocks you from adjusting most settings manually). You can still access scene modes in iA mode, however.
In auto mode, we were impressed with the V500M's ability to adjust focus, aperture, shutter speed and white balance automatically. The results weren't always perfect, but we felt the V500M did better than the HDC-TM40 with each setting. In addition, the V500M offers face detection, auto slow shutter, backlight compensation, zoom, and a variety of scene modes (sports, portrait, spotlight, snow, beach, sunset, landscape, fireworks, night, twilight, and night portrait).
There are a variety of ways to control zoom on the camcorder: there's the zoom toggle on the top of the camcorder (this is the best way to zoom), there are buttons on the touchscreen LCD, and there is a bar on the LCD that can be dragged to zoom quickly. The toggle is the most handy way to zoom, and it offers you the most control, but the V500M's onscreen zoom options are better than some touch-button zoom controls we've seen on other camcorders.
Other Auto Features
If you dig into the menu on the HC-V500M you'll find more "advanced" automatic features. With Intelligent Contrast, you can capture more detail in dark portions of the frame, and with Color Night Record you can shoot bright scenes in low light (by using a very slow shutter speed and lots of gain). These features aren't new for Panasonic by any means, but it's good to see them in a budget model like the V500M.
The menu system on the HC-V500M looks very similar to its "big brother" HC-X900M camcorder, except the V500M lacks a Quick Menu feature. There's still a Function Menu that appears on the left side of the LCD when you tap the small arrow buttons in the lower left corner of the screen, however. With the camcorder in Manual Mode, the Function Menu gives you access to focus, white balance, shutter speed, and iris control. Other pages of the Function Menu give you options for zoom control (and an additional start/stop record button), as well as special features like pre-record, video light, and faders. Frankly, we don't like the setup of the Function Menu because the arrow buttons are too small, which makes the menu too difficult to navigate.
Clicking on the Menu button, which is a button on the Function Menu, opens up the camcorder's main menu system. The main menu is divided into four submenus: Record Setup, Picture, Media Select, and Setup. Each of these menus is quite long, although the options contained in them will be limited if you are using the Intelligent Auto mode when you go into the menus. Basically, you'll find all the camcorders controls in here, with the exception of certain manual controls (focus, shutter, white balance, and iris) that are only found in the Function Menu.
All these different menus and options do make the HC-V500M a bit confusing to use at first. At least Panasonic includes an info button to help beginners figure out what each menu option does, but you should be prepared for some complication the first few times you work with the camcorder (unless you're familiar with Panasonic models).