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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.

The CX10 in the Field

My first shoot with the CX10 was for a music video. The first day I was capturing a 12-person gospel choir in a recording studio. It was really cramped with all the social distancing rules and dividers and mic cables all over. If I had used a larger camera, I wouldn't have had the freedom to move around and get shots of the backup vocals being recorded.

The second day, it was just the lead singer and engineer in a small guesthouse converted to a recording studio. Again, the camera's small size and relatively wide lens allowed me to get some great shots in a cramped vocal booth. The client was happy with the footage.

The next client shoot was for a friend from high school, who made the wise decision to be a doctor, rather than not follow her love of photography and video production. She called and asked if I could live stream her son's bar mitzvah from her mom's backyard so family and friends around the world could participate.

I could have livestreamed to YouTube or other streaming platforms directly from the CX10, but I wanted more control, and a backup. The setup was similar to the kit I describe in an upcoming article in the 2021 Streaming Media Sourcebook. I had the AG-CX10 on tripod and monopod as the main camera (Figure 5, below), and an IDX wireless HDMI link to the Lumantek VS4 switcher, which went HDMI into the Elgato HD 60 S, that went into the computer for streaming to YouTube.

Figure 5. The CX10 at the my friend’s livestreamed backyard bar mitzvah

In addition to the AG-CX10, I used a Canon XA40 on a tripod with a wide shot as a b-roll camera, so my tech could cut away from the CX10 when I was moving for a better shot. I recorded on both cameras UHD 29.97p, but streamed 1080 29.97p for a high quality video. While the CX10 can record and output 4K 60p video, using its internal LAN or WiFi it can stream up to 1080 60p. That's not a bad thing. Most people who watch live streamed events are probably watching small screens, where 4K would have taken up too much bandwidth without any real benefit to viewers.

The lighting was a bit challenging as the sun was penetrating the thick clouds and fog and getting into the tent. The table where the Torah was being read was in an area that was getting the best light, so that was very helpful.

Evaluating the Footage

One thing that the client (also an avid photographer) and I noticed as in shots where you were seeing both inside and outside the tent at once, with one neither too dark or blown out, was pretty amazing.

While going through the footage in Premiere Pro, I was able to make some very high quality stills from the 4K footage. The client was impressed with that also.

The CX10 has a feature that allows you to review footage on it, and take high-quality stills via playback. Curiously, there is no function that allows you to take a still photo with the camcorder while it is in camera mode. That is a function I’ve found very useful on almost all camcorders going back to DV.. Its not a terrible omission, but it is a feature many will miss.

While I haven't delivered the edited version, the client and online viewers who commented on YouTube were very happy with the live version.

Other Shoots

Over the long New Year's 2021 weekend, my wife and I traveled to Morrow Bay for some hiking along the coast. I was able to get some really good footage of the elephant seals and their pups from the cliffs at least 50 to 60 feet above where they were on the beach. These are huge animals weighing 3,300-5,100lbs,12-16 ft in length, so you do want to keep your distance. The State of California has made these beaches off-limits to humans to protect us and the seals.

As I was in vacation mode, I removed the CX10’s top handle, with the pro audio connectors, controls, and light. For nature shots, I upped the frame rate to 59.94p. I was able to get some pretty incredible shots with the 24x optical zoom. If I wanted to, I could have used the camera's iZoom, which is a high\-quality digital zoom, to get up to 32x in 4K mode. I was also surprised how well the built in mics recorded the seals' calls. The 5-axis hybrid electro-optical image stabilization in the CX10 works very well. I was able to get stable shots of the elephant seals even from 200 feet away.

The final shoot I did with the CX10 was an event shortly after the recent lockdown in California was lifted. It was an outdoor shoot, but it was much more challenging. It was gray with clouds going in, and out but mostly in. The flipout LCD was not very easy to see outdoors, even in cloudy conditions. The auto systems didn't do as well. The person speaking looked washed out. I tried switching to manual, but that immediately screwed up the white balance as it defaulted to indoor, instead of the camera's last white balance value. I tried going to the menu to adjust some of the settings, but the CX10 wouldn't let me access the menu while recording. I couldn't stop, so I went back into full auto mode, and went from 1/4 ND to 1/16, which appeared to solve the problem of the speaker's face being washed out.

Unfortunately, when I reviewed the footage in the studio, the speaker's dark suit, and the dark green bushes behind him appeared murky and noisy. It appeared that when I dialed the ND to 1/16, it triggered the auto gain, and it went way overboard. All the dark areas of the image look sub-par. Fortunately this was a lecture, not a TV show or an event that my career was riding on. I will be able to fix it in post, but I won't be trusting the full “auto mode” outdoors on cloudy days again. And with the menu preventing adjustments during recording, you need set up your shot as best you can before shooting.

Battery Life

One thing that generally upsets me when I do a review is when a company sends only one battery. I would never go out on a real job with only one battery. That said, one thing I noticed from the few shoots that I have done with the CX10 is that it is very power-efficient, even when I run it with the onboard light on. For the bar mitzvah shoot, I was shooting for close to 3 hours, and using the light being about 25% of the time, and the battery still had at least 40% of its power left at the end of the day.

Another nice thing is that keeping the battery on the camera so it is ready to go doesn't drain it like on most Canon camcorders. So it's likely that on most shoot' you'll never change batteries on the CX10, but I highly advise having a second battery at the ready just in case.

Camera Control

I try not to be a “camera snob” who refuses buy a camera for less than $15,000, but one thing I like about higher-end pro cameras is that they give me precise controls over certain functions. Though it’s officially part of Panasonic’s pro camcorder line, the AG-CX10 has origins as a consumer camcorder, that has been “hot-rodded” with some pro features. While you can shoot excellent 4K/60p video with the CX10 under the right conditions, some of the controls (with the audio a notable exception) are generally difficult to access, so I found myself putting it in “auto” mode most of the time out of necessity rather than by choice.

Fortunately, after testing the CX10 for a while, I saw this one had a great autofocus, as well as auto white balance, iris, etc. The auto-focus never hunted or got confused—a pleasant surprise. I guess in an era of cars that can drive themselves, camera manufacturers can make accurate autofocus.

Camera Choices

If you like feel and basic features the CX10, but don't need the high bitrate P2 recording codec, you may be just as happy with its near-identical consumer cousin the HC-X2000, which coss $400 less. If you don’t need the pro audio features, HD-SDI out, or on-camera light and want to save $900, the HC-X1500 might prove more to your liking.

If you’re looking for a cinema camera, or a production camera with lots of manual controls and changeable lenses, Panasonic has a number of fine choices from the VariCam or Lumix series you should check out.

There are a number of other camera options in the CX10’s ($2,595) price range from different manufacturers, as well as Panasonic. For only $100 more you can purchase Panasonic's AG-UX180 professional camcorder with a 1” MOS sensor which will be better in low light, (compared to the CX10's 1/2.5” sensor), but doesn't have the built-in light on the removable handle, and records in only an 8-bit codec, not 10-bit MXF like the CX10. It doesn't have the built-in streaming options either. If you want a camera that has the AG-CX10 feature set, but with a better sensor and better manual controls, check out the AG-CX350. For $3,695 you get a 1” sensor, HDR, VLOG, and 4 audio channels on a larger body with room for more manual controls.

I would recommend the Panasonic AG-CX10 to anyone who needs a compact, high-quality, ENG or EFP camera that will be simple enough for a beginner, but enough quality that pros will appreciate, and manual audio controls. The CX10 proved a solid main camera on the client shoots I used it for, and it would also make a good “B” camera next to more professional camera for a larger production. The full auto mode is good, but as with any camera running on auto it can make mistakes. That has to be taken into consideration.

As Dirty Harry says, “A man's got to know his limitations,” and that goes for cameras as well. The AG-CX10 gives you a lot of pro features in a very small package, but you need to know its limitations. If you are going to do professional work with it, know what you can and can't do if you put it in “full auto” mode. When you don't need the “pro” features, you can remove the handle with the light and pro audio connectors, and have a really great camera for shooting discreetly or just going on vacation.