Panasonic HC-V500M Camcorder Review
As an entry-level camcorder, the Panasonic HC-V500M is very small and weighs just under 270g. This isn't a dinky pocket-cam that is the size of a cellphone, but the V500M is definitely small enough to fit in a large coat pocket or a medium-sized purse. Its light frame is supported by a small hand strap, that, while flimsy, provides a decent grip and allows you to operate the camcorder with one hand. The V500M also has a larger LCD than its predecessor (3-inches instead of 2.7-inch), and the new screen uses touchscreen technology instead of a directional pad to navigate menus and select controls.
If you're familiar with Panasonic camcorders, then you'll have little trouble working with the HC-V500M's menu system. But if you're new to the company's products, then the multiple-level menu setups on the camcorder will be confusing at first. The camcorder has an on-screen Function Menu that appears on the left side of the LCD, and it has a main menu with four distinct submenus as well. The menu is organized decently, and there is an info button to help out beginners, but the wide range of options do make the camcorder a challenge to navigate at first.
Annoyingly, the power connector on the V500M is set on the right side of the camcorder. This means you won't be able to hold the camcorder comfortably on the right side if you have the power adapter plugged in. This may be a minor annoyance, but it's still something that is likely to come up in a few shooting situations.
Weighing only 268 grams (with battery) and a size of about 53 x 65 x 120mm, the Panasonic HC-V500M fits easily into purses or backpacks. It's a simple camcorder to carry around all day thanks to its light design, but don't expect to just toss it into your jeans pocket when you're done shooting. The HC-V500M is just a tad too big for that.
The V500M is also a bit larger than the Panasonic HDC-TM40 (its predecessor), but it is much smaller than the Canon HF R21 and Sony HDR-CX160 (Sony and Canon's competition from 2011). The V500M's 16GB of internal memory isn't a huge amount, but it does mean you won't absolutely need to pack a memory card when you go off to record (although you'll probably want one just in case you run out of space).
The Panasonic HC-V500M was able to record for 127 minutes with a fully-charged provided battery pack. That's nearly a half hour longer than the Panasonic HC-X900M was able to last in our battery life test, and a good 40 minutes longer than the Canon HF R21. However, last year's HDC-TM40 and Sony HDR-CX160 both managed even better battery life than the HC-V500M. In the end, this is a solid, but not stellar, battery life performance for the V500M.
The open battery compartment on the HC-V500M does make it possible to use larger battery packs with the camcorder. So, if you want extra battery life, you can shell out the cash for a bigger battery (or just buy a second battery pack of the same size). More on how we test battery life.
Along with a very good battery life (over two hours), the HC-V500M has an open battery compartment that lets you insert larger, longer-lasting battery packs into the camcorder. We like this design, but we don't like the position of the DC-input on the right side of the camcorder, as it gets in the way if you have a cable plugged in and you hold the camcorder with your right hand.
Two big changes were made compared to the HDC-TM40: the V500M features a larger screen (3 inches instead of 2.7) and it uses touchscreen technology. This alters the entire way you work with the camcorder, and the increase in LCD size was a necessity to keep pace with the competition. Unfortunately, the screen still has a lowly resolution of 230,400 pixels. There's also no electronic viewfinder on the camcorder either, as is the norm for a budget model.
Panasonic camcorders have produced some of the best scores we've seen on our stabilization tests the last couple of years, and the HC-V500M certainly continues that trend. The camcorder offers optical image stabilization (OIS), as well as a mix between optical and electronic stabilization (called hybrid IS). Both modes produced excellent results. The regular OIS setting improved the stabilization in our low shake test by 87% and improved things in our high shake test by 83%. More on how we test stabilization.
The hybrid IS setting did even better: it reduced the shake by 88% in our low shake test, and handled our high shake test with an 86% reduction. These numbers are not only better than last year's Panasonic TM40, but they're also better than Panasonic's flagship 2012 camcorder, the HC-X900. It's one of the best stabilization performances we've seen, especially from a budget camcorder.