JVC GY-HM700U Review
“The new camera uniquely records directly to inexpensive SDHC memory cards in Apple''s QuickTime (.MOV) format for Final Cut Pro, and optionally to SxS media compatible with Sony''s XDCAM EX format. Recording in the editing system''s native format eliminates the time-consuming transfer step and dramatically speeds up the postproduction workflow, a major advancement for JVC and the industry.”
“Dramatically” and “major” are spin, but if you read my review of JVC''s handheld GY-HM100U, which adopts the same strategy of wrapping Sony XDCAM EX compression as either MPEG-4 (.MP4) or QuickTime (.MOV) files, you know that I described the instant gratification of dragging and dropping QuickTime files into Final Cut Pro''s Browser window directly from a camcorder as “an absolute joy.”
Like forbidden fruit, once a Final Cut Pro user has tasted this ultimate convenience in transfer and NLE playback, it''s hard to go back. Pretty pleasespeaking as a usermight other camcorder manufacturers offer this breakthrough choice too?
JVC''s press release says that the GY-HM700 is “the industry''s first shoulder supported [italics mine] camcorder to store files on inexpensive SDHC memory cards,” then adds:
“SDHC cards are economical, highly reliable, and make possible a recording system that consumes up to 20 percent less power than tape- or HDD-based systems. The per-minute cost of SDHC memory is comparable to videotape. Moreover, SDHC media is the first practical solid-sate solution to physical archive.”
Three major claims. I''ll get to the issue of power consumption a little later, but to favorably compare the cost of consumer-priced SDHC memory to tape (which type of tape?), whether entirely the case yet or not, is crossing a new threshold in our industry''s headlong rush into solid-state media.
Moreover, describing cheap SDHC as an archival medium is breathtaking. Is it true? Perhaps JVC would like to spearhead an industry-wide discussion of this possibility. The question of archiving digital video files is not only timely but also critical to wider acceptance of file-based recording. It remains the major stumbling block to those producers wary of abandoning tape.
The GY-HM700U comes in two flavors: plain vanilla ($6,995 at B&H) and vanilla with fancy sprinkles, designated GY-HM700UXT ($7,495 at B&H). The latter is identical to the former, with exception of the addition of the KA-MR100G memory recorder module for SxS, a Sony/SanDisk (hence SxS) flash memory card format based on the ExpressCard/34 standard and created for the Sony PMW-EX1 and PMW-EX3. (We''ll come back to the KA-MR100G in a moment.)
The basic GY-HM700U shares the long, narrow form factor introduced by the GY-HD100U in 2005 and refined by the GY-HD110U, GY-HD200UB, and GY-HD250U models in 2007. (JVC has placed all its chips on this 1/3in. shoulder-mount platformit ceased making 2/3in. or 1/2in. broadcast camcorders with the onset of HD). The HD100 and HD200 series were HDV, and the removal of the tape transport and eject door has freed up real estate on the side of the GY-HM700 opposite the operator. The result is an attractive design refresh that features dual SDHC card slots and an uncrowded placement of mini USB and mini FireWire connectors.
Carried over are pro features from the top-of-the-line GY-HD250U (which, like the GY-HD200UB, is still available), including HD/SD-SDI output with embedded audio and timecode, a 6-pin DIN connector for remote control, and image inversion for use with lens adapters that flip the image. Missing, however, are timecode in/out and genlock.
As befits a third-generation design, everything that worked well before works even better this time, with many elegant additions: The “half headphone” attached to the handle now orbits 180 degrees to readily accommodate ears on heads long or short; a gorgeous new LCoS color viewfinder sports, at its front, a big studio-friendly tally light that wraps around the top so the operator can see it too; and a spectacularly large 4.3in. LCD panelthe largest flip-out I''ve ever seenframes beautifully designed, well-organized menus graced with upper- and lower-case characters, one of the best camcorder user interfaces I''ve encountered. I almost enjoyed browsing menus.
Key to my near-enjoyment is a big, round, 1in.-diameter “Cross-Shaped Button” (JVC''s term) that rocks up, down, right, left, with a button in the center. Hmmm … where have we seen this before? (Shhhh … one licensing fee to Apple is enough!) It doubles successfully as both menu entry and playback control, with eye candy thrown in for good measure: A bright LED-lit ring that encircles it and glows bright blue in camera mode, bright green in playback, and yellowish (what the Brits call amber) in USB transfer mode.
Less ostentatious but no less clever are innovations in operating the HM700. These include the user choice of reassigning the Return Video Button (RET) on the lens handgripwhether Canon or Fujinonto the Focus Assist function (see my comments regarding this subject in the HM100 review); the option of setting timecode without entering the menu tree (see photo at right); and what I regard as the best zebras in the business: two patterns for which both upper and lower limits can be set in increments of 5 percent. For instance, I can set the upper zebra pattern zone between 95 percent and 100 percent to monitor my highlights, and place the lower zone between 50 percent and 60 percent, if that''s where I like my skin tones to fall. Not quite a waveform monitor, but very precise and almost as useful.
Imaging has improved, too. While the 1/3in. progressive 3CCD pixel count hasn''t changed1280x720 per CCDa newly developed diagonal “Triplex Offset” and dedicated “proprietary front processing” have been introduced, per JVC, boosting actual resolution to “2.5Kx1.4K pixels.” While pixel shifting isn''t perfect (greater possibility of moiré in some circumstances), the HM700''s images appear low in noise for a 1/3in. camcorder, with remarkably smooth detail even under higher gain settings.
Some of the credit goes to the HM700''s new stock zoom. Instead of the lackluster Fujinon 16X (5.5mm-88mm) found on the original HD100 and HD200 series, a newly developed Canon 14X (4.4mm-62mm) is supplied as standard. (For comparison, the 12X Carl Zeiss zoom found on Sony''s HVR-Z7U is 4.4mm-52.8mm.) You can see almost immediately that images appear sharper, with better contrast. While close focus is just less than 3ft. from the front of the lens, there''s a macro ring that''s fun to play around with for closer shots. (Screw-on diopters are always an option, too.)
Of course this is an old-fashioned mechanical zoom, which means no autofocus and no image stabilization except for your shoulder. You''ll have to keep track of the big plastic lens cap, as in the past. On the other hand, the robust handgrip is placed forward for best leverage; the Push Auto-Iris button is where it''s supposed to be; smooth, repeatable manual focus is always a delight; and the geared zoom motor is plenty brawny. No sputtering zoom crawls with this lens!
As in the case of the HM100, a side benefit of Sony''s XDCAM EX format is that both 25Mbps and 35Mbps modes deliver uncompressed 16-bit, 48kHz PCM audio. The supplied plastic cardioid mic is a different matter, but you would replace it with a superior Sennheiser or Sanken anyway, wouldn''t you?
To convert a plain-vanilla HM700 into its XT version, the optional KA-MR100G memory recorder for SxS cards can also be purchased separately ($1,000 at B&H) and attached later. It sandwiches tightly at the rear, between the camcorder body and an Anton Bauer minibrick Dionic battery. Inserting the MR100G extends the camcorder''s length nearly 2in. Fortunately, the 2in. cantilevering of the 1.7lb. Dionic battery, if anything, improves balancea testament to the HM700''s excellent shoulder-mount ergonomics.
Returning to JVC''s press release: “By attaching the optional KA-MR100G dockable media recorder, it is possible to record Sony XDCAM EX-compatible .MP4 files onto high-speed SxS memory cards, while at the same time recording the same .MP4 files to inexpensive SDHC cards. Having two copies instantaneously available provides more versatility in the field with the assurance of always having a backup.” Well, sort of.
The MR100G was developed originally with the HDV-based HD200 series in mind. At one point the MR100G instructions state, “When connecting and recording with a camcorder other than GY-HD200/GY-HD250, the recording may not work properly.” Oops. Another editing pass perhaps?
Not surprisingly, then, the MR100G connects to a cam¬corder using IEEE-1394 (FireWire), the standard HDV conduit. In the case of a HD200 series camcorder, it can be a short FireWire cable, or in the case of my review HM700UXT, an internal FireWire connection hidden from sight. (Much like Sony''s similarly named HVR-MRC1 solid-state recording module, which records HDV to CompactFlash also via FireWire.)
Here''s where things get tricky, however. On the one hand, having a dual SDHC and SxS recording capability makes the HM700 the first and only file-based camcorder that can record its own backup files simultaneously. On the other hand, it''s a kludge with several drawbacks.
The MR100G only records .MP4 files. No QuickTime. Conversely, the only time the HM700 can internally record .MP4 files is when an MR100G is attached. Otherwise the HM700 is limited to QuickTime files. If you''re into .MP4 files, you''re a happy camper. If you''re into Final Cut Pro ease of transfer, you''re going to be mildly miffed. You can''t record simultaneous QT backups of QT files.
At least you can have MP4 back-ups of your QT files (or vice versa, depending upon which is your backup). But if you also want timecode to match, well, you must be exceedingly careful in setting up the MR100G. The FireWire bus sends only start/stop signals, MPEG2 video, and timecodethat''s it. As a standalone recorder, the MR100G doesn''t otherwise communicate with the HM700. It doesn''t know which camera resolution1920x1080, 1440x1080, 1280x720the HM700 is capturing unless you specifically program this information into it. Nor does it know frame rate. And if, in the heat of battle, these two bits of data are overlooked and don''t match those of the camera, the MR100G won''t record anything.
If you don''t select external (EXT) in setting the MR100G''s timecode sourceyes, the MR100G boasts an internal timecode generatorit will record its own timecode, which will bear little relationship to that of the camera. In a similar vein, see how close you can get the MR100G''s independent date/time settings to those of the camera. In attempting this, perhaps it''s a good thing the MR100G has a “Cross-Shaped Button” just like the HM700, minus the glowing ring, to facilitate your manual data entry.
If you''re thinking of converting the SxS slot to SDHC using SDHC-to-ExpressCard/34 adapters from Hoodman or eFilm, forget about it. The MR100G doesn''t support the USB bus needed to enable this workaround. I found myself instead fantasizing about someday being able to dual-record to SDHC using the two existing slots. Why not? It would function like a RAID 1, mirroring the same data to both cards. Again, why not?
As in the case of the compact HM100, I viewed my QuickTime files directly from the HM700 (connected by USB 2.0) on my Mac''s Desktop using the Browser''s little preview window. I also dragged them directly into Final Cut Pro 7''s Browser and dropped them into a timeline in the time it took to write this sentence. (Not wishing to rely on the HM700 as a scratch drive, I would ordinarily copy them first, of course.) I transferred .MP4 files using Sony''s XDCAM Transfer (File > Import > Sony XDCAM). No problems. For the record, the HM700 comes with JVC''s own ProHD Log and Transfer Plug-in for Final Cut Pro, which I suspect is much the same thing.
For some reasonCCDs? screaming-fast DSPs?the HM700 uses 23W of power compared to 20W for its predecessor, the HD250, or, by comparison, 7W for Sony''s tape-based Z7. This is the reason a sizable Anton Bauer minibrick Dionic battery is required in the first place. One consequence of which is weight. Another is heat. The bottom front of the HM700UXT and the bottom rearespecially the base of the MR100Ggrow noticeably hot to the touch over time. You''re going to need a handful of Dionics to shoot for any length of time.
Because of the HM700UXT''s long, slender shapeat 23in., it''s 10in. longer than Sony''s Z7I would give serious thought to breaking down an HM700 for traveling. In the days of 16mm, we rarely carried an Arri SR or Aaton in a case with a long zoom attached. The thinking then was that if the case were dropped, inertial forces upon impact would torque the lens and possibly wrench the camera''s lens mount. At least, that''s what we feared. As a result, we always traveled with camera and lenses broken down, which made for smaller, more compact cases. I would suggest the same thing for the HM700. Unless you prefer big, impressive-looking shipping cases checked as expensive baggage.
Lastly, I wish to compliment JVC on its clear, helpful, remarkably well-designed website. Everything you would need to know about JVC camcorders is there. Exemplary.
The website is where you''ll find PDFs of user manuals to download. And you''re going to need them. For some reason, JVC doesn''t believe in indexes at the end of its thick, detailed paper manuals. Good thing PDFs are easily searched.
Product: JVC GY-HM700U
Assets: File-based recording to cheap SDHC cards using Sony XDCAM EX formats; choice of file type, either Apple QuickTime for direct drag-and-drop into Final Cut Pro or MPEG-4 when using optional KA-MR100G memory recorder for SxS cards; new LCoS color viewfinder; huge 4.3in. LCD panel; HD/SD-SDI output with embedded audio and timecode; 6-pin DIN connector for remote control; image inversion for use with lens adapters; exceptionally well-organized menus; can set timecode without entering menus; dual-zone adjustable zebra patterns; new professional 14X Canon lens supplied as standard; solidly built.
Caveats: Timecode in/out and genlock are missing; no autofocus and no image stabilization beyond your shoulder; KA-MR100G can be tricky to work with.