When we looked at the Panasonic HC-V700 last year, it was obvious that the problem for camcorder makers at the moment is the same one that affects low-priced compact camera manufacturers: smartphones. When phones like the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 are capable of recording great 1080p footage, where does the camcorder industry turn?
The thing is, phones are really, really basic cameras, with little in the way of features. So Panasonic's sensible plan is to beat them on features. You might consider the phone a gateway video-recording drug, with the Panasonic HC-V720 what people will step up to once they're hooked.
The Panasonic HC-V720 is the successor to the Panasonic HC-V700, unsurprisingly. Those extra 20... er, somethings, get you a host of new features, but in terms of the camcorder's core competencies, things haven't changed as much.
It's got the same kind of 1/2.33 MOS sensor, albeit with a higher total megapixel count now - 17.52MP versus its predecessor's 14MP - and is priced at £493.99 / US$549.99 / AU$681.
Bizarrely, it actually takes still pictures up to 20.4 megapixels, so there's a bit of digital fudging going on there, as you might imagine. The lens is still wide-angle, though, giving you a different view to what you get from non-dedicated camcorders.
The Panasonic HC-V720 records in the same, slightly limited formats as before, too: you can record in 1080/50p, 1080/50i or 540/25p. There are no 720p options, which is only really a problem for the space conscious - with 1080/50p recording at a hefty bitrate of 28Mbps (Blu-ray is a maximum of 40Mbps, for comparison), you'll need some pretty large SD cards. SDHC and SDXC are supported, so you can indeed use some pretty large cards with it.
And the really important features of the Panasonic HC-V700 - the huge zoom and brilliant image stabilisation - are still here, with similarly minor updates.
The 21x optical zoom is the same, while the Intelligent Zoom enables you to go up to a 50x digital zoom without it getting all pixelated (the previous model could a 46x intelligent zoom, so you understand what we mean when we say "minor").
Panasonic has also made the sensor better in low light, but as we said before, it's actually outside of pure imagery that the bigger changes have been made. The standout addition is Wi-Fi, and some key features to make use of it.
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The Panasonic HC-V720 can stream video live to the internet using Ustream - you can use an Android/iOS app to turn your phone or tablet into a remote controller for the V720, complete with streamed live video and options for zooming and recording, and you can watch recorded videos back instantly.
Panasonic also suggests you can even connect to the V720 from outside your home to monitor it remotely, although you'd have to have left it pointing at a convenient angle. The streaming works well, too - there's a bit of a delay with the remote control, meaning that it's better for setting up still shots, but is still useful.
There are also some creative effects you can use, including Silent Movie, 8mm Movie, Time Lapse and our personal favourite, Miniature Effect, which is effectively a tilt-shift.
The audio's also had a boost, with sound now recorded in 5.1 surround sound. There's an indicator on the screen to tell you what direction sound is coming from, as well as the levels on each channel.
As is usually the case with consumer cameras, the built-in audio tends to be a bit basic, picking up wind and background noise quite severely. You can add an external microphone easily enough, especially with the optional shoe adaptor port, but an external mic won't give you the surround sound audio.
The image stabilisation is now complemented by an indicator as to whether your shot is level. Granted, most of the time you can tell this yourself by just looking at the screen, but it's still handy to be able to glance at if you're not paying full attention to the display, or if you want greater accuracy.
Speaking of the display, it's still a bright, clear touchscreen, capable of rotating through 270 degrees. It's fairly responsive to the touch, though some options are a little small. Actually, this is more than just a throwaway bit of fiddliness, because it starts to feel like it's holding you back as you get more confident using the Panasonic HC-V720.
There are manual controls for focus, for example, which is a big thing for those who want to step up to take more creative control - surely a key reason to spend £500 /US$550 / AU$680 on a camera - but they're hidden inside menus on the touchscreen, and when you find them, you're still stuck making focus tweaks on a touchscreen. It's not ideal.