Panasonic HC-V700 Camcorder Review
All of the manual controls on the HC-V700, including focus, are adjusted using the touchscreen interface. No lens rings, no dials, not even physical buttons are used to set any manual controls (other than zoom). So, while you can set focus manually on the V700, the process isn't fluid. You tap or hold icons on the touchscreen in order to shift the focus, and that's a process that won't allow you to get smooth changes between focal planes. The camcorder does have a peaking feature that helps you figure out when your subjects are in focus, however, and this can be a useful function.
The full suite of exposure controls—aperture, shutter speed, and gain—are all present on the HC-V700 camcorder. Like focus, these controls are all set using the touch interface on the V700's LCD. The controls can't be finely tuned with the twist of a lens ring, although for some of these functions that's not a big deal.
All of these exposure controls are found on the function menu, which is a vertical menu that lives on the left side of the LCD. Opening the shutter speed control brings up an interface that the bottom of the screen where you can change the shutter speed. You can't simply hold down the buttons to make a sweeping change to the shutter speed. Instead, you must tap each time you want to make a change; this isn't fun if you're going from 1/8000 to 1/500 of a second shutter speeds.
Aperture and gain are controlled in the same manner, although both functions are found under the iris control. Gain can only be set once the aperture is open all the way on the camcorder, which is an unfortunate limitation present on all Panasonic camcorders. All of these controls can be set during video recording. We're impressed with the V700's wide range of aperture values, but we wish the camcorder offered more slow shutter speeds that could be selected manually (1/30 is the lowest, and it is only available with the auto slow shutter option turned on).
There's also a basic exposure control on the V700, but the feature is buried in the main menu. It is located inside the Picture Effects submenu and it is not accessible during video recording.
White balance is the most important other manual control on the HC-V700. Not only can you set white balance manually (by pointing the camcorder at a white card and hitting the manual WB button), you can also choose from one of four white balance presets: sunny, cloudy, and two fluorescent light options.
The aforementioned picture effects menu, which is where the basic exposure bump control is located, also has options for color depth adjustment, sharpness control, and a white balance shift setting. These are good controls to have, but we wish they weren't so difficult to locate on the camcorder.
Lastly, the camcorder has a tele macro setting for close-up shots, guide lines to assist with framing, and an xvYCC color mode called Digital Cinema Color. Remember, you'll only be able to see the enhanced colors if you view your videos on an xvYCC-compatible television.
The smooth exposure and focus adjustments on the HC-V700 are among the camcorder's best assets in auto mode. We rarely noticed a situation where the V700 struggled to accommodate for changes in light levels and focal distances. The auto white balance was not quite on the same level, however, as the camcorder often needed a few seconds to calibrate properly under new lighting conditions.
If you're into scene modes, the HC-V700 has twelve different settings to choose from. There's also a dedicated low light mode called Color Night Record that will get you a bright image with just one lux of illumination. Color Night Record will destroy the quality of your video, though, as the mode boosts gain and uses extremely slow shutter speeds to obtain a bright image in dark scenes.
The camcorder is also loaded with zoom options. The optical zoom for the camcorder is listed at 21x, but the camcorder's Intelligent Zoom goes up to 46x. According to Panasonic, this extra zoom is obtained without any loss of image quality, but it's still using digital processes to get that extra zoom (it's not just optics). There's also a full-fledged digital zoom on the camcorder that goes up to a whopping 1500x (and turns your video into grainy muck in the process).
On the top of the V700 is a built-in stereo microphone, and in the camcorder's menu system you'll find a number of controls that can be applied to this mic. There's the common wind noise canceler feature, a zoom mic function, and microphone level adjustment. We're upset that the camcorder won't let you change mic levels during recording, but we're happy the feature is there nonetheless. If you don't want to use the on-board mic, there is a 3.5mm mic jack on the left side of the camcorder where you can connect your own mic. But be forewarned: the V700 has no headphone jack for monitoring your audio during recording. Probably not a huge deal for most people, but if audio is of utmost importance to you, this lack of a headphone jack is going to draw your ire.