Panasonic HX-WA20HD Camcorder review

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 Panasonic HX-WA20

Panasonic’s HX-WA20 is a Full HD SDXC camcorder with a 1/2.33 single MOS sensor, 28mm wide angle (35mm equivalent) lens and a 3 in 1 display. Unlike the other Panasonic camcorders we've seen this year, the HX-WA20 has a pistol grip design and is intended for ‘active’ use, which means you can use it in dusty and wet environments; the HX-WA20 is waterproof up to three metres, so you can capture all the amazing underwater scenery the next time you go snorkeling. To remain waterproof, the HX-WA20’s I/O ports, battery and SD card slot are protected behind a plastic panel that must be secured with two locks. The camcorder also comes with a brush so that you can remove sand and earth from the panel before you open it. Thanks to such thoughtful design and the HX-WA20’s solid build quality, you’ll have the confidence to use it in places where you wouldn't dare take a normal camcorder.

Because it doesn’t have a touchscreen display, you must activate the menu with a button and navigate through the menus with a thumb joystick. This control method is easy enough to understand and use, but we found it was easy to select the wrong option when in a rush. The menu options are grouped in categories to speed up navigation and are clearly labelled with text as well as an icon, which is important if you’re as active when using the HX-WA20 as Panasonic suggests. There are many preset options and automatic modes for white balance and focus, but you can also adjust these settings manually. The camcorder also has thumb-operated zoom buttons, a slow motion button, a still image capture button and a video record button, all of which are within easy reach.

The HX-WA20 records in MP4 format rather than in the more common AVCHD, and its footage suffers from compression artifacts. The edges of geometric shapes are very jagged and there’s an uncomfortable amount of noise on indoor footage, especially in darker environments. Even with image stabilization switched on, the HX-WA20’s footage looks a little jerky, which doesn’t make for comfortable viewing. This wouldn’t be a problem if the camera was tripod mounted and you were shooting a calm, considered piece, but this is a camcorder for active people who presumably do fun and frantic things while filming. In comparison, the Panasonic HC-V500 - another single sensor camcorder - records sharper footage and has better colour reproduction and a larger optical zoom range. The HC-V500 also has optical image stabilization, which produces smoother video, so is worth the extra £70 if you're going to film in dry environments.

One thing the HC-V500 can’t do is record video under water, which is something at which the HX-WA20 excels. Footage still suffers from the same compression artifacts and noise, but this is easily forgiven the first time you submerge it with the flip-out display wide open and capture some underwater video. Panasonic claims you can use the camcorder up to three metres underwater, but we wouldn't recommend the zoom – the camcorder struggles to focus when zooming in while submerged.

If you value image quality above all else, you should consider spending more on Panasonic’s HC-V500 and get the benefit of its optical image stabilization, better colour reproduction and less visible video compression. If you enjoy snorkeling and need your camcorder to take some extra knocks, you'll be willing to put up with the reduced image quality of Panasonic's active sports HX-WA20.
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