Video Review: Panasonic’s HC-VX870 4K camcorder

Our Editor’s review of Panasonic’s 4K consumer-grade camcorder, the HC-VX870 (essentially the same as the WX-970 but that also has an extra camera on the LCD)

He is, of course, an idiot with regard to the self-levelling feature: you turn it off with one of the few physical buttons on the camcorder, which he completely overlooked as they’re otherwise so limited in use.

PLEASE, PLEASE NOTE: this video has been *extensively* recompressed not only by Tubeshooter so as to make the upload a manageable size – it was still 4GB! – but also then by YouTube, so the video samples shown inherently do not reflect the camcorder’s ability. There’s no way round this other than me buying a 100Gb-upload leased line (that ain’t gonna happen)

If you’d like to buy one after watching the review, please consider using our Amazon affiliate links so that we get a bit of commission to keep this site going. Thanks.

Panasonic VX870: http://amzn.to/1BGLITW

Panasonic WX970: http://amzn.to/1BCZBK7

Sony AXP33: http://amzn.to/1GPuRoN

SonyAX33: http://amzn.to/1BCZCO2

If you don’t want to buy through Amazon but would like to support this channel, perhaps you would consider a contribution through Patreon? All contributions received very gratefully! http://www.patreon.com/UKAirscape

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25 Responses

  1. John says:

    Watched your excellent review & after looking at the Sony & Canon alternatives bought it. Using your link of course. Delighted with the image quality and general handling but do agree with your gripes e.g. re microphone socket. Struggling a bit replicating picture quality after editing in Premier Elements as keep getting a dithering effect on some shots when played back via disc. All part of the learning curve I expect. Thanks again though for all your reviews which have definitely speeded up my learning curve.

    • admin says:

      Dithering effect? Can you describe it more precisely? Also, by “disc” I presume you mean a DVD? I’d be inclined to check your export settings from Premiere are set to the UK (PAL) standard rather than the US (NTSC) frame rates which I expect they’re set to by default – this could cause a juddering on playback due to frame rate conversion issues.

  2. John says:

    Thanks for your help, I’ll answer the second question first, yes I’m writing to DVD & Blue Ray and seeing the same effect in both. Describing it is quite difficult but I can say what it isn’t and that is I see no what I would call flickering it’s more as if some of the pixels are jumping ever so slightly. When playing the MP4 files in Quick Time everything looks fine and the Leica lens matches my expectations for the wild life shots I’m after. I wasn’t offered the PAL/NTSC option when creating the discs but I will read the manual to see where they are hiding. I really am grateful for your help. I would also add that I tried the wind muffler/rubber band modification in your review and it certainly helped. I have however now ordered a new external microphone so we will see how much of an obstruction that causes to zoom access.

    • admin says:

      Jumping sounds like the juddering I suggested and this could be a frame rate conversion; iif you shoot 25/50 but burn a US-standard (or even film standard) video disc, it’ll be at 29.97 / 59.94 / 23.9 fps and there’ll be intermittent juddering. If not this, then can you expand on what you mean by “some” of the pixels. Is it all the pixels in any given frame where the effect happens or just some pixels on the screen?

      Definitely check your export settings. As you’re in the UK you want PAL standard (50i) for DVD and Bluray, the former at 720×576 pixels with a 1.45 pixel aspect ratio, the lattter at 1920 x 1080 with a 1.0 pixel aspect ratio. These should be set as standard template settings if you pick PAL DVD / Blu ray.

  3. John Roberts says:

    Thanks for trying to help me and I think you are correct to say juddering. I have got the export settings for AVCHD & Blue Ray in front of me now but the only item which appears remotely relevant to your comments is frame rate. This is defaulted to 29.97 but does offer the option for 25 or 23.976. None of the other values you mention are displayed. The camera is set at Intelligent Auto which it tells me I’m recording in 4k mp4 format, the HDMI resolution is Auto. Does any that make any sense? I am extremely grateful for all this help-can I donate to recompense you for your efforts without having to go through Patreon. Perhaps I should change my software?

  4. John says:

    I keep forgetting to add that I run Elements on an iMac circa 2010 with 12mb RAM.

  5. John says:

    Tried adjusting frame rate to 25 but no difference. Waded through all the settings and the only relevant item seemed to be stating which country I was in. I’m assuming this sets everything else up under the covers. Have looked very closely on the TVs screen 28″ and what I see is a waver on straight lines which is almost a shimmer and some flickering of colours i.e. slightly lighter then slightly darker. Perhaps it’s me me being too obsessive? Feel free to agree.

    • admin says:

      Well you certainly want 25 for a UK spec DVD / blu-ray. Elements does indeed probably hide most of the tech info (though I’ve not used it) but safe to say if you spec UK, it should set everything accordingly. From your description it’s very hard to work out the issue without seeing it, alas. It doesn’t now sound like a frame rate thing from what you’ve just said.

      That said, if you were filming in 4K then downscaling to DVD or HD resolution you could well get aliasing / moire effect on straight lines which would appear as a shimmer so I wonder if that’s it? Very hard to get rid of, it’s all to do with the way the downscaling’s done in software (Elements). Not sure why the colours would flicker, other than encoding artefacts (ie the digital re-encooding of what you shot into DVD format will inevitably result in some information loss and this could possibly manifest as colouur effects but I’m rather clutching at straws here.

      If you can borrow a copy of another editor (does iMovie work on a Mac of that vintage?) then have an experiment making a simple one-scene DVD with that. Are you using Elements to both edit and burn the discs or any other program?

      Frankly I’m surprised a 2010 Mac can edit 4K video at all! If you’re making DVDs and blu-rays of course then 4K is overkill. As another experiment, try setting the camcorder to HD mode instead of 4K and try making a disc from that, see how it looks.

  6. John says:

    Thanks so much for all your help & advice. I will try iMovie but unfortunately Apple in their ultimate wisdom have dropped the DVD burning option. Will drop to HD resolution for elements as well. I’ll report back in case anyone else reading this is interested. How do I break the news to my wife that I REALLY need a new PC? Still love the camera, wanted the 4K for the occasional still. Your interest has been much appreciated and I was serious about making a contribution if you would like to email me.

    • admin says:

      I suggest don’t tell the wife. Just buy it. That’s very kind regarding a contribution but not necessary. How about you just agree to watch the ads (if and when they play) before any of my videos, then I get a penny off YouTube or something like that :-)

      And yes, do report back.

  7. John says:

    Well I have taken a few shots this afternoon in HD mode. Now I’m sure that I’ve lost the plot. I burnt two AVCHD discs one at 25fps and one at 29.97 – the 25 was rubbish but the 29.97 was good but some slight flickering of the colours. Plugged the camera direct into the TV just to check the original and lo and behold that also shows some flickering but not as obvious as on the Disc. I admit I’m now being hyper critical but once aware of something it’s difficult to ignore. Is there possibly a camera fault or do I expect too much from such a small sensor?

    • admin says:

      Can’t really say without actually seeing the issue, sorry. My only further thought is that TV of course uses an interlaced standard so the 25fps would normally translate to (and be burned to disc as) 50 interlaced fields (50i). If watched as literally 25fps (progressive), you will see image flickering like a cine film because that’s how low frame rates look (and would explain why the 30fps version was better)

  8. John says:

    Decided in the end to send it back, but thanks again for trying to help. If you are ever in South Devon let me know and the least I can do is buy you a coffee.

  9. John says:

    Just thought you might be interested to know that following an intensive viewing of your reviews (yes I did watch the adverts so hope you got the income) I have ended up with the Canon GF30. I know it’s not 4K but the iMac is no longer threatening to collapse and the output looks fine on our 28″ HD TV. So PC replacement postponed and I can now start making some videos. No thanks to Apple however for complicating uploading of AVCDH clips though.

    • admin says:

      Glad you’re all sorted. I’m a fan of the G30; I had an XA20 which is essentially the same thing but with an XLR audio handle on top. Liked that camcorder very much indeed. Have fun (despite Apple!).

  10. Alex Lake says:

    Sorry to hear that you didn’t get on with the VX870. I bought one (from Mr Tubeshooter himself!) and have not looked back. Absolutely love it. I find editing videos on a c2012 MacBook Pro on FinalCut at 4K and rendering via Compressor to YouTube all works very slickly. Obviously the app is smart enough not to manipulate the full 4K in real time, but the end results are better than expected. I also make use of post-production zooming. When watched at HD, it’s hardly noticeable (although one loses some of the advantages of oversampling). So now when I record the school concerts in casual mode, I just leave the camera pointing at everyone and do a bit of pan/zoom afterwards to add interest. Doesn’t replace having a second camera for more than 2x zoomed-in, but it’s nice to relax….

  11. John Roberts says:

    The moral to my tale is therefore obvious – purchase any future camcorders from Mr Tube shooter. Incidentally one thing I really do prefer on the G30 is the fact it has a viewfinder which helped enormously with some wildlife shots the other day. Yes I can see you would get some good zoom results on VX870.
    When I eventually have something worth sharing on You Tube I’ll post a link. Happy New Year to all.

  12. John Roberts says:

    Well it’s been a long time coming but for what it’s worth I have posted a couple of “Test Videos” on You Tube. The latest one is at https://youtu.be/zOyKLQPXoAA. I would say enjoy but hopefully it/they are marginally better than watching paint dry. Still I’m getting a lot of enjoyment sticking my wobbly vision clips together and I do like the Camera a lot.

    • admin says:

      Excellent. I would suggest that if you’re on a long zoom (which I suspect you are) then a tripod is going to be a requirement over a monopod which will never be stable enough for telephoto work.

  13. John Roberts says:

    Yes I’m sure you are correct on every point, serves me right for trying to travel light even though it is one of Manfrotto’s more substantial monopods . So am dusting off my Manfrotto Tripod but am thinking of changing the head to a proper fluid pan & tilt version as I’ve only used it in the past for my DSLR work. Thank you for the input it is much appreciated.

  14. W says:

    Can you give me a description of your favorable settings of this camera?

    • admin says:

      Unfortunately I cannot because I sold the camera some months ago. There aren’t really that many settings to alter though so you might as well just play with them a bit until you find settings that you find pleasing. There is no “right” way to set it up.

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