The Panasonic AG-CX10 is the 4K Camcorder You Want

0Share

Everyone needs to apologize to camcorders. For the past few years, we have been giving mirrorless all the attention for their video specs. In that same time, companies like Panasonic continued to develop their camcorder lineups and, in my opinion, make better choices for video than mirrorless. One of the latest is the AG-CX10, and it claims the title of smallest 4K60 handheld camcorder. Thanks to a compelling feature set and spec sheet, I think it should be considered as a great choice for individuals looking to upgrade their video kit.

A compact, all-in-one video solution complete with microphone and built-in LED light.
A compact, all-in-one video solution complete with microphone and built-in LED light

An Ideal Run-and-Gun Solution

Where camcorders have always excelled is in their all-in-one nature. Having a decent lens, pro audio connectors, and a relatively compact build make them perfect for run-and-gun shooting, such as documentaries, ENG, and events, for example. They often find themselves working on unscripted/reality TV, live streams, and films. They also pack broadcast-ready video specs. All of this is found in a single camera body that needs very little to get going. The AG-CX10, in particular, just needs you to plug in a mic and pop in an SD card or two.

One invaluable aspect of camcorders is the built-in ND filters. Sitting right behind the lens and with a simple switch operation, you can quickly compensate your exposure to the current conditions—no extra filters to carry around and clean, just a nice, simple switch with varying degrees of power and practically no effect on your image quality.

The Leica Dicomar lens on the AG-CX10 is a sharp, versatile 24x zoom optic that will satisfy many who might be put off by a system with a fixed lens.
The Leica Dicomar lens on the AG-CX10 is a sharp, versatile 24x zoom optic that will satisfy many who might be put off by a system with a fixed lens.

Tacked on front is a Leica Dicomar lens with a 25-600mm equivalent zoom range. This is a very useful and practical range that will cover most situations with ease. An i.Zoom function can even boost the native 24x zoom to 32x in UHD and 48x in Full HD, with minimal quality loss. There is also a 5-Axis Hybrid O.I.S. system that will stabilize your images using both lens and electronic stabilization. This makes it very viable as a handheld camera. Performance at the greater zoom ranges was very good. I wouldn’t necessarily run around with it, but going handheld shouldn’t be a worry.

As a camcorder, there is a mic connection with dedicated controls on the removable handle, but what makes the AG-CX10 different from most is a built-in LED light. This light really surprised me. Now, I wouldn’t plan on using one of these for most of my shooting, but just popping it on in my house revealed it to be quite bright. If you do ENG work with a small LED panel mounted on the top, this LED light might just be good enough instead and let you cut one more bit of weight from your bag. Also, while I didn’t do extensive tests, the battery life seems to be very good, even with the light running for a period of time.

Up top and in front is the surprisingly powerful LED light. It sits right next to the microphone mount and audio controls.
Up top and in front is the surprisingly powerful LED light. It sits right next to the microphone mount and audio controls.

Solid Video Quality

The only limitation with a camcorder such as the AG-CX10 is the expected one—a relatively small sensor. This a 1/2.5"-type MOS, which is small even compared to the now common 1"-type sensor found in many point-and-shoots, and comparable to the largest sensors found in current smartphones. There is an advantage in readout speeds with the smaller size, which makes rolling shutter much less impactful and permits faster frame rates. It’ll max out at UHD 4K at 60p in 10-bit, which is a better spec than many of the most popular mirrorless cameras, and important for hitting broadcast standards. However, it means it will not do as well in low-light conditions.

Good detail and color on this shot of an old wreath in my backyard.
Good detail and color on this shot of an old wreath in my backyard

Looking through some quick recordings in UHD 4K does show outstanding detail. Dynamic range also seemed to be good, and there are a couple of Cinelike profiles available if you want a little flatter image for future grading, or to match other Panasonic cameras you may already own.

Internal 10-bit recording is a very nice feature that many competitors don’t even offer. It will even reach full 10-bit 4:2:2 at up to UHD 4K at 30p using Long GOP compression at 150 Mb/s. If you need 4K at 60 fps at 10-bit 4:2:2 you can easily get that via the HDMI output to a compatible recorder (I recommend the Atomos Ninja V). The footage straight off the SD card is nice and detailed, with good color. HEVC is also an option for select formats and will provide much better quality at highly compressed sizes, but I would make sure you have a computer that can work well with it. There is also a 3G-SDI output if that is what you need, but it is limited to Full HD at 60p.

Completing the imaging pipeline is a great lens. It appeared very sharp throughout the range with crisp, clean details showing on the screen. The only thing that became a slight nuisance was the differences in minimum focus distance as you zoom in or out. It’s a little frustrating to be zooming in and then all of a sudden everything goes out of focus.

It all looked good when I brought it into Resolve to do some light editing and grading. The only issues I found were a lack of detail in low-light shots. The noise is controlled but it seems the noise reduction is cutting detail to do it.

Operation and Controls

It is a quite conventional camcorder with controls where you would expect. The lens has two control rings, by default set to zoom and focus, a variety of buttons on the side underneath the tilting touchscreen, physical audio controls on the removable handle, and more. If you’ve seen a video camera, you know what I’m talking about.

It is helpful to have the EVF, but I had issues using it with my eyeglasses, and it is a bit small.
It is helpful to have the EVF, but I had issues using it with my eyeglasses, and it is a bit small.

Let’s talk about the displays. The 3.5" touchscreen is nice, but it’s nothing special. Could be a little brighter for sunny days and the touch functionality isn’t as responsive as a modern smartphone, but it suffices for general menu navigation. I would recommend taking some time to learn and customize the physical controls, because that would speed up operation of the camera dramatically. The electronic viewfinder, on the other hand, is a bit small, even if the articulation is quite nice. I had issues using it with my eyeglasses, so it is an area I would like to see improved in future versions. Some people might do just fine with it, but it won’t be a universally loved feature, I’m sure.

The main selector dial/button for the AG-CX10 camcorder and your quick access buttons for shooting.
The main selector dial/button for the AG-CX10 camcorder and your quick access buttons for shooting.

The buttons were fine. Nothing to write home about. The main selector switch/button works well. I would prefer if they felt a little more clicky; sometimes it just doesn’t feel like you are truly pressing them, even when you know you are. But during shooting, any quick-access controls are all good. The two manual rings on the lens work very well. One is specifically for focusing and the other can be set for zoom or iris. Being different sizes makes it very great for just feeling and working without taking your eyes off the screen.

Autofocus

Something that surprised me about the marketing of the AG-CX10 was supposedly great autofocus. I’ve been skeptical of AF for video for a long time, but the past few years have completely changed that. Canon is now packing its Dual Pixel AF tech into flagship cinema cameras, while Sony has brought its phase-detect pixels to the full-frame FX9 cinema camera. Panasonic hasn’t been the king of this field, so I was curious to try it out here, especially since it offers face detection.

I am happy to report that it is very good, in fact. In the default modes, it will shift focus gradually and accurately to match any new subjects. It even did a good job tracking my cat around a room as I was shooting handheld. Surprisingly good. I would trust it for shooting in a variety of scenarios, though I would still be cautious about subjects with extreme differences in distance, because it might take a little longer to register and then move too slowly for your tastes or requirements.

Supposedly the trick Panasonic uses to pull this off is through analysis of color in the image, in addition to contrast. It seems like the company really figured something out to get performance to be very usable for a camcorder, definitely helped by the fact that this is a smaller-sensor camera that generally offers more depth of field.

Face detection also worked very well, tracking a face with ease. I wasn’t able to get multiple people involved to do some real tests with tracking multiple faces and see how it responds, but if you are planning on doing an interview or stand-up shot, then the AG-CX10’s focusing should be very reliable for you.

Built-In Live Streaming

This review was conducted (safely!) during quarantine times, here in New York. It also meant that livestreaming, a feature that would usually just be a passing mention for me, is something I really wanted to try. Built-in 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and an included Ethernet adapter provide two methods for connecting to your streaming setups. The Wi-Fi is particularly nice, since it means you can go completely wireless if you want. What you can then do is set up your RTP/RTSP/RTMP/RTMPS stream—Facebook Live, YouTube, and more—in the menu.

Plenty of inputs and outputs for controllers, external devices, and more.
Plenty of inputs and outputs for controllers, external devices, and more

Setup can be extremely annoying, though. You need to get your URL and stream keys together, and if you have a Windows computer, great. You can download the Windows-only P2 Network Setting Software to export the data to the SD card. Then, the camera can read everything from the card and be happy. If you don’t, you will have to type everything in via the menu, and these are not fun links to write out. Oh yeah, and keep in mind you can only livestream in up to Full HD at 60p, so make sure your camera is set to that. You can record the Full HD video to SD cards while streaming.

With all that out of the way and a functioning network connection, you just turn on streaming (or set it to a custom button like I did) and it’ll connect. Not needing additional tools or items to get streaming is amazing. If this is your first time streaming, you should take some extra time to learn the platform you are using and all its settings, to make sure they work, but it shouldn’t take too long.

Two XLR inputs make it easy to hook up professional audio recording solutions, such as wireless lavaliers or shotgun microphones.
Two XLR inputs make it easy to hook up professional audio recording solutions, such as wireless lavaliers or shotgun microphones.

For more professional setups, the AG-CX10 is able to be set up with NDI | HX for live production and there is an ROP tablet-based remote-control option.

Compared to the Competition

If you are looking at other camcorders, I would say the extra bells and whistles found on the AG-CX10 put it above the competition. I’m talking about the built-in light, 4K60 with 10-bit internally, a versatile lens, and built-in live streaming. Some competitors do offer larger sensors at similar price points, but you definitely aren’t getting all the other features I just mentioned.

Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder
Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder

The other major comparison would be to mirrorless cameras. In a similar price range, mirrorless cameras do offer outstanding image quality in a compact package. My argument would be to look at everything you have to do to get the most out of mirrorless. I use mirrorless cameras for my work and would still recommend camcorders to most because they are simply easier to use for video. The built-in ND filters, XLR inputs, and better controls are lifesavers when you are working. Also, to get the same range of lenses, you will need to buy an all-in-one zoom (which will probably be huge) or bring multiple lenses and have to swap out between shots. There’s no comparison to a single camcorder zoom lens.

I’m telling you, unless you have good reasons to go mirrorless for your video work, you can get more bang for your buck by going with a camcorder, and I would highly recommend the Panasonic AG-CX10.

Any questions? Any comments or concerns? Leave them below and we will be sure to get back to you! Also, stay tuned for a full video review, coming soon.

Close

Close

Close