The Panasonic HC-V720 has a good bundle of features that are very appealing, but a lack of sharpness and a little too much noise and colour banding lets its images down. We think this is due to the budget-standard image sensor in the camcorder.
Now, we're not not suggesting that we should be getting full frame DSLR sensors in a camcorder of this price, but with Panasonic's own Micro Four Thirds Lumix G3 selling for £350 / US$350 / AU$450, we feel like a bigger sensor shouldn't be out of the question.
It would be silly to ignore the things the Panasonic HC-V720 does well. First and foremost is the zoom and image stabilisation, both of which are absolutely outstanding. The Intelligent Zoom really can go all the way to 50x with very little degradation in image quality, despite it only being 21x optical.
Similarly, the stabilisation is near-immaculate, making handheld video look like a full on steadicam most of the time. The only time it's a bit iffy is when you're recording in wind, because then both your body and the camera start to resist any unwanted movement, causing overcompensation. It's minor, though, and just resting your arm on something will take it back to being nigh-on perfect.
And once again, motion is handled really well. There's some smearing when it gets too fast, but that's more or less unavoidable - it's still brilliantly smooth, so is great for sports and nature (especially recorded at 50 frames per second, so you can slow it down later).
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As far as still images go, we weren't too impressed, especially in normal indoor light. There was a huge amount of noise in the images, even with the flash on in an already well-lit room.
If you're spending around £500 / US$550 / AU$680 on something to take still images, we're sure it's no surprise that you'll get better results from something like the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. The Panasonic HC-V720 just isn't a stills camera, and let's not pretend that it is.
The battery life in the camcorder is also no great shakes, but we wouldn't say it's bad either. We got something like an hour of constant use out of it from the provided battery, and the standby did a good job of prolonging it when not in use. For serious outdoors recording sessions, you'll need spare battery packs, but for a day of light sightseeing, you'll get by.
The important thing when considering whether to get the Panasonic HC-V720, then, isn't whether it'll give you vastly improved image quality in your video over what some cameras or the best smartphones will do. Sadly, it often won't.
But what it does is enable you to smoothly record footage that you couldn't get any other way: close-ups in sporting events; perfectly smooth tracking of a bird taking off; video from a boat that doesn't make people too seasick.
The Panasonic HC-V720 won't drastically improve shots of the kind of things you're already recording, but it will enable you to record whole new things.
Is that worth an almost £500 / US$550 / AU$680 outlay? We think the Panasonic camcorder could, and really should, offer stronger image quality for the money. But we couldn't have got the shots in our sample video without it, and for that, we think it'll still be thoroughly worth the investment for some people anyway.