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Review: Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder

We put the AG-CX10, Panasonic's entry-level pro 4K camcorder, through its paces, assessing the camera's key features and usability, as well as the quality of the footage it delivers.

Like many popular movie characters such as Batman and Darth Vader, the AG-CX10, Panasonic’s new entry-level professional 4K camcorder, has an “origin story.” This one comes from Panasonic’s consumer camcorder line. It starts with the HC-X1500 ($1698 at B & H), which has essentially the same camera body as the AG-CX10 ($2,595 at B & H). The step-up consumer HC-X2000 ($2,197 at B&H) has the same body, and adds a removable handle with two XLR inputs and manual audio controls, a really good LED light with dimmer.

The AG-CX10 justifies its “pro” designation (signified by the “AG” in its name) and higher price tag by including all the key features of the X2000 and adding HD-SDI out, support for the high-bitrate P2 MXF codec, and NDI|HX compatibility via an optional add-on license. It’s billed as the “little brother” to Panasonic’s popular and similarly NDI-enabled AG-CX350, although physically it more closely resembles the HC-X1500 (Figure 1, below), and shares its smaller sensor and longer zoom.

Figure 1. The Panasonic AG-CX10 (left) and the HC-X1500 (right)

The CX10 also has a wired LAN connection that can provide a more stable IP connection than Wi-Fi, when available. Using free software called “Virtual USB Driver,” the camcorder can be used as a wireless, high-quality replacement for a laptop webcam in today’s ubiqitous videoconferencing and remote production environments.

Powering Up and Recording

The first time you take the AG-CX10 out of the box and attach the battery, you’ll notice two things: The CX10 is pretty small, and the battery is pretty large in comparison to the camera itself. To fit it in the smaller camera, instead of the power connectors facing forward, they face up, and the battery faces up, and takes up half of the camera body. It is an interesting way of solving the mounting of the battery, but if you need to change batteries and you have a Manfrotto-style tripod plate, battery changes will require taking the camera off the tripod, then removing the tripod plate to access the battery. Fortunately, the battery lasts a long time, and despite extensive testing on battery power, I have yet to run it down to 40%. I will discuss that in more detail later.

The main power switch on the CX10 is located under the LCD, which you’ll see when you flip it out. The camera powers down every time you close the LCD, unless you are recording, or you have the small viewfinder pulled back to the “out” position. This is very good for saving power. You just have to take care that you know whether the camera is actually on or off.

For recording, there are two SDXC/microP2 card slots (Figure 2, below), that can be used in dual (both record at the same time) or sequential mode (one fills up then recording continues on the other). If you’re using dual mode, I recommend using the same size card in both slots, because the CX10 will treat the cards as the same size, recognizing both as the same size as the smaller card to keep recording times equal. Panasonic sent me 128GB and 64GB cards. In “dual” mode, the CX10 saw the 128GB card as a 64GB, as 64GB was the smaller of the two.

Figure 2. CX10 card slots

In other manufacturers’ cameras, having different-sized cards works in “dual/parallel” recording mode without deferring to the smaller card. The logic is that if you need continuous recording, the 64GB card will fill up first and be off-loaded, while the 128GB keeps recording. If the same or larger-size card replaces the 64GB card, you will probably have enough time overlap to insert a new card when the 128GB is full without losing any coverage. I would imagine there is a simple software fix for that if Panasonic wants to go that route.

Navigating the Menu

These days you can't just take a new camera out of a box and shoot. You need to go into the menu and adjust settings first. Besides setting the time and date, you need to set the resolution, frame rate, codec, codec options, audio setup, etc. The AG-CX10 is no different. Navigating the menu will take some getting use to. Having worked mostly with Sony and Canon camcorders from 2009 to 2019, I found their menus intuitive and easy to navigate, with either a menu wheel, mini-joystick, or touchscreen. Canon went further, making commonly accessed shooting adjustments easily accessible via a touchscreen. By contrast, I found the Panasonic menu (Figure 3, below) neither intuitive or easy to navigate, especially for someone with large fingers like mind.

Figure 3. The CX10 menu

You can access the menu two different ways on the CX10. One option is to hit the “menu” button, located right below the hinge for the flipout view screen, and just above the tripod plate. If you have the CX10 mounted on a tripod or monopod, the menu button is extremely difficult to get to. There is a tiny wheel for navigating the menu on front that can also a bit difficult to access if you have the camera on a tripod. The alternative is a “long tap” on the LCD touchscreen. I think that will be the preferred method for most users; just be sure you have some LCD cleaner in your camera bag if you find you need to go this route.

Once you get into the menu, you need to find what you are looking for, as it is not always located where you think it should be. One example is the recording codec. You might expect to find it under the Recording sub-menu. In fact, Panasonic has placed it under the System sub-menu. There are several other items you will likely need to hunt for. Hunting through the menu with your finger on the touchscreen can be an arduous task (again, especially if you have larger fingers). I much prefer having the tiny joystick found on Canon camcorders to navigating a touchscreen.

Manual Controls

While some manual controls, such as the audio, are easy to access on the CX10, other buttons are not. For some reason, Panasonic decided to put the menu, iris, gain, and several others buttons and controls along the bottom contour of the camcorder's body. They are very tough to see and operate if you have the CX10 on a tripod (Figure 4, below). The menu button is right below the hinge for the LCD display, which makes it even more difficult to get at while mounted on a tripod. If this is going to be an issue for you, you can use the menu to assign and reassign features to different buttons on the camera that aren't as difficult to get to.

Figure 4. CX10 manual control buttons, aligned along the bottom

On the other side of the coin, chances are you won't need to go into the menu too often if you, dare I say, keep this camcorder on full auto. I know that is heresy for professional camera ops. I had a hard time with it at first, but the manual controls (outside the audio controls on the handle) were so difficult to access easily, I didn’t have much of a choice. I almost never use autofocus, but on this camera I found it works really well. I had issues trying to get it to focus manually, because for some reason, the peaking doesn't seem to be working. After using the CX10 on some shoots around the house on auto-focus, I tried it on a real job, with surprising success.

The LED light that is built into the camera handle is actually quite good. It will light someone nicely 5-8 feet from the camera. It is also nice that there is a built-in dimmer. With the camera being on the smaller side, mounting a light on it that is nearly the same size would be awkward. The built-in light makes that unnecessary.

When it comes to media, the AG-CX10 can take microP2 or SDXC cards, which are visually identical, but the microP2offers “pSLC technology” that is designed to make them more reliable than normal SDXC cards. That said, you pay a lot more for the microP2. A 64GB microP2 card costs $320 at B&H. My 256GB Kingston SDXC cards ($44.95 at B&H) worked just fine, even with the highest 4K bitrate setting of HEVC 59.94p/200Mbps.