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.
This isn’t a low-light monster, however. If you need a "do everything" camera, this will cover you, but if you have an upcoming all night exterior movie, this might not be the right choice for you. Since the camera doesn’t shoot raw, it’s probably better to turn on the internal gain and correct the noise later than to capture clean and have to both brighten and noise reduce after the fact.
The camera also offers IR nighttime shooting, which is of limited use to most filmmakers. It will appeal to certain nature shooters looking to capture animal footage without scaring off the wildlife with movie lights.
One of the areas where the camera shows its limitations is the very noticeable rolling shutter. For dialogue scenes, interviews, or slower camera moves, you won’t have a problem, but the rolling shutter makes this camera less than ideal for sports or heavy action work.
This is not a DSLR. If you want big-sensor, tiny depth of field imagery, the GH5, 5D, or XT2 is a better choice. However, all of those cameras have drawbacks in terms of ergonomics that just aren’t present in the UX180.
For the price, if you want the ergonomics, it will come with a slight downgrade in image feel.
All of that ergonomic pleasure is a result of the 1” sensor, which is smaller than the sensor in cameras that deliver more cinematic imagery. Building a full-frame camera with an integrated 20x lens that opens to a 24mm wide and processes all the data this one does would be near impossible and cost way more than the UX180. For the price, if you want the ergonomics, it will come with a slight downgrade in image feel.
That said, the image doesn’t look bad; in fact, it’s quite pleasant, with accurate color reproduction that is easy to grade. (Dusk might have skewed slightly more purple in the recorded image above than the blue shade that showed up to eye, but it was easy to correct.)
If your work is exclusively on narrative production, you might be frustrated by the imagery.
Panasonic has always been well regarded for its internal color processing. Here, colors reproduce accurately, especially in the orange/red spectrum. With a night exterior, the UX180 sings. With a day exterior, where the limited overexposure range comes into play, you are choosing to expose for the sky and leave your foreground dark, or expose for the foreground and let your sky go.
Overall, the color and image quality feels a bit more "broadcast" than something like the GH5—which makes sense, since it is a more broadcast-ready camera than the GH5.
For many applications, this isn’t a problem. But if your work is exclusively on narrative production, you might be frustrated by the imagery. Alternatively, if your work involves a wide variety of content, the imagery will deliver what you need most of the time.
That zoom, tho!
The zoom range is simply a constant pleasure. It just never got old having a lens that zooms that wide when you need it, but zooms in that far when you need it. It will be useful in countless shooting situations. The examples up above of the flag are a max zoom/max wide pair.
Bokeh shows some aberrations and fringing, but that is to be expected. And, honestly, for a 20x lens that starts at 24mm, this is not a problem.
Focusing from one end of the range to another does have some noticeable breathing, but only certain situations would really highlight it. With the lens all the way wide and an object in extreme foreground with a rack to the background, you would notice it. But for normal use, focus range, and speeds, breathing won’t be a problem.
The UX180 is wonderful for many applications. If you are a small production company making a living doing a wide variety of work, the UX180 is definitely something to consider. It’s great for live-action situations like covering concerts and events, and with the native SDI output, is great for live switch situations.
If you have a documentary project coming up, this is absolutely a camera you need to be considering.
If you do a lot of fast turnaround jobs you’ll be pleased with the speed of the workflow. Filmmakers who do a lot of documentary or BTS work will love the ease of use and the quality of the broadcast image.
DSLR shooters—or those focused on image quality above all—should look elsewhere. But this camera isn’t targeted at that demographic, anyway. Panasonic has the GH5 from the beloved GH line, which, with accessories, comes in at a similar cost. And if money is no object, there is always the Varicam line.
For those who want a camera that is a genuine pleasure to work with, that delivers amazing quality straight out of the box, and that works well as a one-man-band solution, the UX180 is for you. If you have a documentary project coming up, this is absolutely a camera you need to be considering. It’s hard to argue with the cost/workflow/ergonomic/image quality balance of the UX180.
- 20x internal zoom is amazing
- Ergonomics are stellar
- Overall, a good “do everything” camera, but not right for heavy sports/action
- Image quality is wonderful for a broadcast camera, but is not "cinematic," DSLR-type imagery
- Genuine pleasure to shoot with and great across many applications