CAMERA PANASONIC UX180 4K
REVIEW: Panasonic UX180 ‘Do Everything’ Camera Almost Does Everything
We reviewed the Panasonic UX180 camera, which aims to cover all of the bases—and almost succeeds.
The Panasonic UX180 is intended as a “do anything camera,” with ergonomics and workflow that make it good for live events, documentaries, ENG, BTS, and more. It follows in a lineage of cameras like the DVX-100 and HVX-200 that were once popular not only for ENG work, but also for narrative content—though that narrative market is now often covered by DSLRs.
Making one camera that covers all the bases is hard, and to truly have a camera that does everything well is impossible. Inevitably, sacrifices will need to happen. While the UX180 comes close to really being good at everything, it has a few weaknesses that make it the right choice for only certain subjects.
The rolling shutter makes this camera less than ideal for sports or heavy action work.
Below, we reviewed a UX180 that Panasonic loaned us for several weeks and tested it in a variety of situations.
The UX180 is a 1” sensor camera with a built-in 20x zoom that is 24mm equivalent at its widest. It shoots to SD cards, is 4k-capable, and allows for 120fps slow motion in HD and 60fps slow motion in 4k. It keeps to the “camcorder” form factor, with a viewfinder at the rear, as opposed to the shoulder mount form factor of a similar camera like the FS7.
Panasonic build quality is generally solid, and this camera is no exception. It feels very similar to the DVX100 and HVX200 in terms of types of materials used, and while those materials sometimes feel “plasticky,” both of those cameras were workhorses, lasting most owners many, many years of service.
Panasonic has refined the design over the years in a few important ways. The battery compartment is now much deeper, which is a nice upgrade. With earlier models, if a user bought an extended life battery, it would stick awkwardly out of the back of the camera. With the new deeper port, users can use massive, long batteries without the battery interfering with other aspects of the camera use.
Panasonic also ships the camera with a dual-port battery charging station, which is something we wish every camera manufacturer would do. Ironically, the batteries last so long that we never worried about power. But for any intense day of shooting, having two batteries on the charge with one charger is a real advantage.
The buttons feel solid and responsive, the menus were quick, and there was never a moment when you wondered if a feature was working or not. Full-sized professional connectors are used, including both full-sized SDI and full-sized XLR. As such, the camera fits seamlessly into professional workflows.
One mild frustration was the auto-viewfinder sensor. While you can adjust its sensitivity or turn it off entirely, it never quite worked like it was supposed to. If you held the camera close to your body for stabilization while using the fold-out LCD, it would often turn off the LCD and activate the viewfinder, which was frustrating. Setting the camera to LCD-only didn’t work for shots moving outside where it wasn’t possible to use the LCD and you wanted to switch back to the viewfinder quickly.
The ideal solution would enable both the viewfinder and LCD full time, but that would likely be too taxing on the processor and battery in 4k capture mode.
Buttons and switches and rings and inputs and outputs hooray!
The UX180 is a video camera. It has three clear rings for focus, iris, and zoom, and while it no longer has the “manual” zoom mode that was so useful on earlier cameras (snap in, get focus, snap out), the motor zoom is smoother. Manual zoom probably is impractical for a 20x zoom range.
DSLR image quality is wonderful, but it comes with ergonomic compromises. Adjusting audio often means going into menus. Furthermore, audio inputs are small and need a breakout box.
The UX180 is the opposite: everything is a breeze. It has full-sized XLR inputs, controlled with switches for mic or line. It also has audio dials on the outside of the body, with a door to cover them to prevent accidental movement.
Focus assist brings up a helpful zoom so you can see focus clearly. There is also a contrast focus highlight available, so you can be really confident you are getting focus accurately. The camera also has a built-in waveform monitor with a hot key to make your exposure decisions as accurate as possible.
If you want big-sensor, tiny depth of field imagery, the GH5, 5D, or XT2 is a better choice.
But there was one minor issue. When the waveform monitor was brought up, the dial usually used for shutter controlled the waveform position (upper left, lower right, etc.) instead of the shutter. This is frustrating; if you want to adjust our shutter for exposure (not a frequent use, but sometimes necessary), you have to keep switching the waveform monitor on and off.
Our tests showed about 4-5 stops of over exposure latitude and 5-6 stops under, giving a 9-11 stop latitude or so in Log mode. (Panasonic literature claims 12 stops, which isn’t far off from what we saw.)
In a universe where 13-16 stops of latitude is common, this is, of course, narrower, and will require more decision-making on set as to which area of the image to prioritize. However, for the price point of the camera, this is actually a very fair latitude, and we seldom felt restricted by it.
ISO is not a perfect tool for measuring video latitude, but we came up with something around 640 ISO for when the camera is used with no gain. However, because of that extra room in the underexposure, you could feel comfortable rating it at 800.
With the mild gain turned on, the camera was capable of shooting pleasing nighttime images with a reasonable amount of noise that could be corrected in post.