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Good Price, Even Better Imagery: JVC’s GY-HM70 Is A Low-Cost, Highly Capable Camcorder

The JVC GY-HM70 proves conclusively that the under-$2,000 camcorder market is alive and well. While DSLRs and large-sensor cameras seem to get most of the hype these days—users flock to them, and for very good reason—there are many shooting scenarios in which the conventional video camera may actually be the better tool for the job.

The GY-HM70 is positioned as a low-cost event production camera. There are many similar cameras on the market, but this entry from JVC incorporates features far above its price range in a package that handles well, is versatile and, I might add, produces great images.

JVC has been praised for extending the shoulder-mount form factor across its product line. While JVC engineers could probably have found a way to accommodate much of the camera’s functionality into a palmcorder-sized package, the company wisely chose to stick with the shoulder-mount style.

This camera is extremely lightweight, at less than 7 lb. with two batteries and cards. With its well cushioned shoulder pad and adjustable handgrip, it feels good to the touch. I actually prefer a heavier camera because more inertia means more stability, but it is easy enough to balance the GY-HM70 on your shoulder and get stable shots. Additionally, its light weight and flip-out screen make it easy to hold the camera in other positions for shooting.

Unfortunately, first impressions give the illusion of a flimsy camera. It is plastic. But remember, it is also less than $2,000. To those accustomed to shooting with a traditional video camera, the GY-HM70 feels very comfortable. The handgrip hosts the power knob and a record start/stop button. I wish the button were a little larger and more prominent, but after a few minutes of use I was able to hit it easily. There is another start/stop button on top of the camera, along with an additional zoom rocker.

Two great features jump out right away: the camera’s dual battery mounts and dual SD card slots.

The two batteries, mounted on the rear, may be used sequentially and hot-swapped, allowing for nearly four hours of recording time. (Note that the camera ships with just one BN-VF823 battery pack.)

The camera also has two slots for SDHC/SDXC cards. The setup offers only sequential recording—no hot-swapping—but with two cards, you can record for hours.

It is this camera’s servo zoom, extended record times and easy handling that make it ideal for event production.

The 29.5mm wide-angle GT lens offers 10x optical zoom, 3.76-37.6mm, for a 35mm equivalent of 29.5-476mm. Try to run-and-gun with a DSLR and a lens of that focal length! There’s also an optical image stabilizer. By oversampling the HD (2 megapixel) frame within the 12 megapixel imager, the camera achieves a smooth 16x dynamic zoom with the 10x optical lens. Digital zoom is up to 200x.

The camera includes both automatic and manual modes for focus, iris, shutter and white balance. The viewfinder allows diopter adjustment and the flip-out 3” LCD screen has touchscreen menus.

One area of concern is the absence of ND filters.

The HM70 has a single 2/3” CMOS sensor, which performed quite well in a run-and-gun situation, not missing on-the-go shots as a large-chip/shallow-DOF camera might. The autofocus is very fast.

It borrows “smile detection” from the feature set of consumer DSLRs. For a more traditional manual focus, the focus ring is quite smooth and has a nice throw.

The camera shoots AVCHD wrapped as MTS. It records 1920 x 1080 footage as either 60p (max data rate 28 Mb/s) or 60i (data rates from 24 Mb/s to 5 Mb/s). There is also a 720 x 480 60i SD mode. For added fun, a slow motion mode shoots SD resolution at 300 fps.

Low-light performance is pretty amazing. The lens itself opens to f/1.2, and with the auto slow shutter mode, the camera requires only 1 lux illumination. There is a gain switch as well, but the amount isn’t specified in decibels.

Almost unheard of in cameras in this price range is its white balance functionality. Choose auto white balance, manual, or fixed color temps of 3,200° K, 5,200° K and 6,000° K.

The camera may be used to shoot still photos. The imager captures 12 megapixel jpeg files to the SDHC/XC card. Stills and video may be shot simultaneously in 2 megapixel resolution.

To test, I shot the camera in a number of indoor and outdoor situations, mostly run-and-gun because that’s the camera’s intended use. The results were good. With all my shooting, I simply couldn’t wear the batteries down. The built-in mic picked up audio as well as any mic in the price range. Also, the mic sports a zoom feature. I don’t use such things, but it’s there for those who might find a use for it.

As one would expect, there is some aliasing when shooting complex backgrounds with lots of lines. I wouldn’t characterize the aliasing as a serious problem—in other words, it’s not a deal-breaker. This is a CMOS camera. Fast pans or lots of action may cause jello-vision. That’s just the way it is.

Editing footage may prove a bit of a challenge. Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 on my Mac opened the files without a hitch, but it is well known that Apple FCP X doesn’t like MTS files.

VLC Player will open the files. ClipWrap from Divergent Media will open and rewrap, but there is something about JVC’s implementation of the AVCHD codec that doesn’t agree with ClipWrap technology. My files showed green flashes, rendering the footage unusable.

What did work? I was able to create an FCP X-compatible file by transcoding the MTS files in Adobe Media Encoder to ProRes 422. This is really less of a JVC issue and more of an issue with Mac OS X and MTS files.

Amid the NAB Show hubbub a few months ago, the JVC GY-HM70’s impact was subtle but significant. It’s not the large-sensor/beyond-HD camera that captures our imagination. It is a camera for those who need a professional solution for in-house, web, visualization, event coverage and other applications where picture quality is important. And the HM70 will deliver just that. 

Product:JVC GY-HM70

Pros: Lightweight. Appropriate form factor for use. Dual SD slots and dual battery slots. Offers both fully automatic and manual modes. Crisp viewfinder and touchscreen LCD. Optical image stabilization. Produces sharp images.
Cons: No ND filters. HD resolutions of only 1080i/1080p. Only off-speed frame rate option is 300 fps in SD. Plastic-y feel.
Bottom Line: A lot of camera for the money. It can take that corporate event or presentation to the next level, making viewers think it was shot on a much more expensive camera. A real winner.
MSRP: $1,995