Panasonic HX-A500 – Wearable 4K Camera
At the start of this year, we saw Panasonic announce a prototype 4K wearable camera at CES. This news comes exactly a year on from Panasonics non-4K wearable camera predecessor, the HX-A100. Now Panasonic has released some specs for the newly announced HX-4500, as well as the above promo video shot using the wearable camera, available in 4K.
Before looking at the image quality of the camera, lets first look at the specs.
It looks as if the HX-A500 is not a world camera, as researching the camera on both the US and UK Panasonic sites, I’m finding two model numbers; the HX-A500H, and the HX-A500E. The latter listed as shooting 25p (former doesn’t have a listed framerate but I’m assuming 30p due to its region and spec list of predecessor).
This is a shame as the cameras most logical competitor, the GoPro Hero 3+ is a world camera, but likely not a deal breaker to whom Panasonic deem their main target audience (which by the looks of the above video is clearly the plethora of hat making aspiring filmmakers!).
The HX-A500 shoots a resolution of 3840×2160; so ultra HD. Sub 4K resolutions include 1080 up to 50p, and 720 up to 100p. Un surprisingly it shoots to an MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec in an .mp4 wrapper.
The camera has a perhaps slightly disappointing variable bit rate, half that of the GoPro Hero 3+. Here’s the breakdown: 3840×2160/25p (Max. 72Mbps / VBR)/1920×1080/50p (Max. 28Mbps / VBR)/1920×1080/25p (Average 15Mbps / VBR)/1280×720/50p (Average 15Mbps / VBR)/1280×720/25p (Average 9Mbps / VBR).
The camera has a fixed focal, fixed f/2.8 aperture lens. It has a few different white balance presets including Auto / Indoor1 / Indoor2 / Sunny / Cloudy / White set. The shutter is listed as variable, from 1/25th-1/12000; I hope this is manually adjustable. It’s not clear in the description whether you can operate a form of exposure compensation. We’ve seen it before in compact cameras like the Drift HD; this would be a nice feature to counter what the GoPro offers.
The HX-A500 has an in-built image stabilizer, with an angle of view currently listed as only 160°. The previous HX-A100 had selectable angles of view at 160° (Wide Mode), 117° (Standard Mode, Image Stabilizer Off) and 104° (Standard Mode, Image Stabilizer On), let’s hope the new camera adopts this flexibility when it comes to sale.
The HX-A500 (name catching on yet?) has a 1450mAh internal battery which is… not ideal. It does feature WiFi with NFC (near field communication) for instant connectivity to mobile devices, which is great for wireless monitoring. It’s also water proof up to 10 foot (3M).
The camera has quite unusual ergonomics; a permanently fixed wire separates the lens and body. I can see this having both pros and cons. Pros being the fact that you can get the lens into even more unique and interesting places (would’ve been even better if the wire was de-attachable and an option for a longer wire). Cons being the added complexity to it’s form factor, and risk of breakage. The wide range of compatible accessories gives you an ideal to its potential use.
Looking at the promo video, there’s some severe macro blocking throughout but that looks more down to the compression of the video for web, rather than a trait of the camera itself. But with a capped bit rate it’s not going to hold up like a GoPro Hero 3+. Also the lack of a flat picture profile like the Protune will limit you options in post and pairing with other camera formats.
Lets not forget though, no other current ultra compact camera offers ultra HD (4K) at a useable framerate, and for this it’s likely to sell; albeit less likely for pros due to its limitations.
Despite being marketed for the consumer, it would be nice to see a few improvements made to make this a genuine contender to the globally successful GoPro. A name change would be a great start; having written out The Panasonic HX-A500 15+ times for the purpose of this blog you’d have thought I’d know it by now, yet every time I’m glancing to the title to check the lettering of its forgettable name tag.
Availability is set for May this year, with a predicted UK price tag of £379.99.