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Lifewire / Jonno Hill
Clear, crisp 4K footage
Cleverly designed viewfinder
Comprehensive Wi-Fi functionality
20x optical zoom
Noisy footage overall
Colors could be slightly better
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 has the most complete feature set of any consumer camcorder we tested, and its sharp 4K footage will serve buyers well.
The consumer camcorder market isn’t the booming, hyper-competitive space it once was. DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and even smartphones have swooped in to eat up a lot of the market share that camcorders once held. Despite this, there is a leader in the 4K camcorder market in the form of the Panasonic HC-WXF991. It’s capable of taking crisp 4K video, has a cleverly designed viewfinder, and comprehensive Wi-Fi functionality. We found it to be a versatile option that will serve the needs of many buyers, despite a somewhat high price.
The body of the Panasonic HC-WXF991 is nearly identical to most of the other camcorders in Panasonic’s lineup, such as the HC-VX981K, HC-VX870K, and even its 1080p cousin the HC-V770. While these all look quite similar at first glance, there are a number of notable features which help distinguish this camcorder.
There is a leader in the 4K camcorder market in the form of the Panasonic HC-WXF991.
Starting at the front, the Panasonic HC-WXF991 features a 20x optical zoom Leica Dicomar lens, as opposed to the unnamed lens on some of the less expensive models. Additionally, Panasonic throws in a lens hood, which should prove useful for keeping the lens safe from accidental bumps.
The top of the HC-WXF991 features an accessory shoe mount, sitting behind a foldout cover. A shoe mount is something most users will want if they wish to use an external microphone. It’s one of those features standard for any professional camera/camcorder, but often missing in consumer camcorders. In front of the shoe mount is the microphone, and behind it, the zoom lever and still image button. Just to the left of those last two buttons is the recording mode selector button.
On the right side of the camcorder, towards the lens, is the microphone input, which sits behind a flip cover. Towards the back-right side is a sliding door that reveals the headphone jack, and DC power input. On the rear are the record button, the battery, and the viewfinder (an upgrade only available in the HC-WXF991).
The viewfinder is an interesting addition. When pulled out can be pivoted up towards the user to make looking through it easier. Pulling it out also automatically turns the camcorder on. This is definitely helpful for recording performances, for example, where you might not want to draw the attention of the rest of the audience with the LCD.
Finally, the left side of the camcorder houses the multi-manual dial, the touchscreen LCD, and the 5.27-megapixel secondary camera. The touchscreen is one of the rare areas where Panasonic has dropped the ball. The touchscreen on these models isn’t particularly responsive, and the navigation scheme in the UI further complicates this experience.
The inclusion of the accessory shoe mount means that users can choose from the boundless world of camera and camcorder gear and accessories. Buyers that want to keep all of their equipment first-party only also have a wide range of Panasonic accessories to choose from, such as the VW-LED1PP LED Video Light, VW-VMS10PP Stereo microphone, and VW-CTR1PP Remote Pan Tilt Cradle, which can remotely control the camera.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 is easy to set up, requiring only that the battery be charged using the included adapter, and an SD card installed (which hopefully you’ve purchased in advance). Even if you never picked up the manual before and simply began using the device, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. This is unless you want to explore some of the deeper features that the product has to offer, such as its remote smartphone control through the Panasonic Image app.
Need some more help finding what you're looking for? Read through our best video cameras under $100 article.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 gets high marks from us for video quality, largely thanks to its 4K resolution. The 2160p/30p recording profile at 72 MBps captured a lot of detail in scenes and also did a reasonable job capturing colors. The white balance could use a little work since we noticed that the camcorder often took a little longer to evaluate and adapt to indoor scenes.
Noise is one area that Panasonic could use some help, as we noticed a measurable amount of noise both indoors and outdoors. Noise during darker environment is always to be expected, but images across the entire spectrum of luminance were a little too noisy for our taste. This is a problem that will most likely only be obvious to viewers watching the footage on a large monitor or television but won’t really register on a laptop or smartphone.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 performed better than most of its peers when it came to video quality, and also offers a much more complete feature set to boot.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 has a 20x optical zoom. This is sufficient for most uses, and you definitely get plenty of range, but it’s not the most impressive figure we’ve seen. Most manufacturers also include some digital zoom to fudge their zoom numbers a bit, but don’t be fooled—nearly all of these simply crop and zoom into the existing image, leading to a pixelated video.
The Sub Camera, as Panasonic refers to it in the user manual, can capture video at the same time as the main camera, in the form of a picture-in-picture view. Recording exclusively with the Sub Camera is not possible. This is a strange feature for a camera, but sometimes it is interesting to record your or someone else’s reaction in addition to your actual subject.
The optical image stabilization supported by the Hybrid OIS performs well, allowing us to capture fairly steady footage at every zoom level. This, of course, assumes you’re filming while trying your best to remain still. If you’re walking around, you’re still going to get a bit of shakiness.
As with other models in the same family as the Panasonic HC-WXF991, you can use Wi-Fi to perform many different functions. Whether you want to copy files to a PC, live stream your footage, or use the camcorder as a home security camera, Panasonic has you covered. You can also link the camcorder to your smartphone to control the device remotely. The most unusual feature of all, however, was Multi-Camera, allowing users to connect multiple smartphones to the camcorder and display picture-in-picture windows of the live feed from two devices at the same time.
Still photography is not the central focus of the Panasonic HC-WXF991 and not an area where it excels. The camcorder can capture 16:9 photos at 25.9 megapixels, 14 megapixels, or 2.1 megapixels, but you’d never know it from the photos themselves. Despite the expanded resolution available in still photo mode, we didn’t notice more detail in the photos compared to the 4K video footage. In addition, a large amount of image noise plagued the photos, especially indoors.
Don’t get us wrong, the photos from the HC-WXF991 aren’t bad. It’s just that they don’t offer anything that a still frame from a video clip isn’t already delivering. There’s little reason to use this mode, except perhaps to save storage space.
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The only Panasonic related software you need to complete your experience is the Panasonic Image app, which is used across Panasonic’s ecosystem of digital cameras and camcorders. The app is a mixed bag in our experience, but your exact model and firmware of the camera and smartphone will have the most bearing on how well it works. If everything is working as it should, you will be able to use the app to access all the Wi-Fi related features described earlier.
The inclusion of the accessory shoe mount means that users can choose from the boundless world of camera and camcorder gear and accessories.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 is one of the more expensive options in the consumer camcorder market right now at $800, depending on where you buy it from, but the price isn’t entirely unwarranted. This camcorder brings a lot more features to the table than most products on the market, such as a better-than-average microphone, a dedicated viewfinder, and the Sub Camera. The main attraction is 4K video, which immediately puts the HC-WXF991 in a class above its 1080p competitors.
Buyers who don’t rate 4K as their number one concern for their camcorder purchase may want to consider the Panasonic HC-V770, which performs most of the functions of the HC-WXF991 but at about half the price. Aside from not having 4K video, you also won’t get Sub Camera, the viewfinder, and the dedicated accessory shoe. If you can live without all of those things, you can make a compelling argument for the HC-V770 as a simple 1080p camcorder at an affordable price.
Best in the 4K camcorder market.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991 performed better than most of its peers for 4K video quality and also offers a much more complete feature set to boot. The price is relatively high, but you’ll have few regrets.