Video review: Panasonic AG-UX90 4K camcorder

Here we are reviewing Panasonic’s AG-UX90, an HD and 4K (UHD) camcorder which records to SDXC cards at 25p – this camera does not shoot 50p.

The lens is a Leica f2.8 to f4.5, ramping down as you zoom in. It boasts a wide angle of 24.5mm BUT this is only in HD filming; switch to 4K and you get a less useful 35.4mm wide end.

At a push, some chromatic abberation can be seen but you’d be trying really hard to spot it.¬†Likewise, slight cmos skew is evident on fast pans but on more typical everyday shots, is no problem.

The zoom can be configured to standard or fast mode, in which case crash zooms for fast reframing are very feasible; even in fast mode, the zoom rocker is sensitive enough that you can perform a manual creeping zoom should you so wish.

The usual three lens control rings are present, the focus having a particularly nice rubberised grip and smooth motion; it can also be set up to a coarse, fine or even speed sensitive setting, making accurate focusing easily achievable and this simple but obvious requirement should not be underestimated. Some camcorders manage to get this very wrong but not here.

Focus assist offers customisable magnification and peaking though very disappointingly, the magnification aspect does not work during recording, only in standby.

Auto focus is quite intelligent in that it can be overridden by the focus ring at any time, after which it will either stay locked on to what you chose to focus on, or if you made it blurry, or move the lens to point at something else, will refocus itself. Autofocus speed is also snappy.

Unfortunately, for anyone doing self-shot pieces to camera such as TV reporters, there’s no face recognition which means the auto focus can get confused about what to lock onto, depending on how you frame the shot. Keeping the lens at a wide angle to give maximum depth of field is advised here.

Exposure can be set via the iris, 3 levels of ND filter (plus off), gain and shutter, the latter two of which can be altered by the scroll wheel on the side of the unit. A histogram is a useful touch for confidence though a waveform monitor would be even nicer.

Low light capability is moderate with visible noise especially once any gain is applied. That, we’ve seen worse. An option called SuperGain is for emergency shooting where anything’s better than nothing but you’d have to be desparate to use it.

Optical and hybrid image stabilisation is provided though the hybrid mode only works in HD. When in 4K, the system’s not very good at smoothing out moving shots but stay still and it does a nice job of compensating for shake even on full telephoto.

Whilst Panasonic’s V-Log picture profile is not available, a selection of others are, including Cine V, and Cine D the latter of which is distinctly flatter in look, permitting some degree of later colour grading.

Two channel audio is provided with XLR inputs for a top mic and interview mic in Panasonic’s unusual but not unintelligent positions. Controls are hidden behind a flap to prevent accidental alteration, whilst levels can still be amended without problem.

Audio meters on screen are sadly lacking any calibration other than a small mark at -12dB and peak indicators when you overload.

The AG-UX90 is an easy camcorder to like. Simple things like the textured grip on the lens and underneath the top handle make it a pleasure to use. Ditto the lens cap, built into the hood and so impossible to drop or lose. The handgrip is comfortable and well positioned, and the camcorder not too heavy or unbalanced to hold.

Almost every aspect can be customised from the plethora of buttons on the camera body, to the image profile, and the display of information on screen.

The LCD screen is large but hard to read in daylight and, though it rotates, can’t be viewed side on, nor from the right hand side of the camcorder, and for solo shooters these limitations are frustrating and annoyingly typical of many camcorders.

It is a touchscreen but options can also be selected via the scroll wheel if you don’t wish to smudge your display.

The EVF is OK but nothing more; another irritation is that it can’t be used at the same time as the screen, they have to be toggled, one or the other.

Battery life is amazing though, the included cell giving a claimed 7 hours recording which, although untested, seems not unlikely as very little power was used during all the filing we did.

In conclusion, the AG-UX90 is a great camcorder for news, event filming, corporate work and suchlike. Unfortunately, for us it’s let down by the 35mm wide angle in 4K mode, and the inability to shoot 50p in 4K.

Unless you only film in 4K very infrequently, the next model up, the AG-UX180, is really the one to aspire to as it features not only true 4K recording as well as UHD but a wide angle lens that really is wide even in the 4K modes. Plus it boasts 50p recording and a 20x optical zoom lens. There are also extra recording modes such as dual codec which can be handy in certain situations.

Unfortunately, the UX180 is 1200 pounds more than the UX90 but here’s the oddity: Panasonic’s consumer division has released a version of the UX180 that apppears to be almost identical other than losing an HD-SDI output and that model, the HC-X1, is – in the UK – just 300 pounds more then the UX90. In fact, we’ve even spotted it from an authorised dealer even cheaper still! So, whilst the UX90 is great, our money would be on the HC-X1.

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