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A Cinematic Solution at a Sensible Price: How JVC’s GY-LS300 Expands Production Capabilities

The 4K camera's features run the gamut from live streaming to zooming with prime lenses to hot-swappable recording cards.

Back in 2005, JVC introduced its ProHD line of camcorders with the intent of bringing the cost of high definition production down to a level where everyone could afford it. Now the company has launched the 4KCAM family, with the goal of doing the same for 4K production.

The 4KCAM camera line includes the compact GY-HM17OU UHD camcorder and GY-HM200U UHD streaming camcorder, both with fixed lenses, and the GY-LS300, a 4K camera that records a variety of 4K, HD, SD and web-friendly proxy formats. The GY-LS300 includes a built-in HD streaming engine with Wi-Fi and 4G LTE connectivity for live HD transmission directly to hardware decoders, as well as support for various streaming protocols for direct streaming to Ustream, YouTube and other content delivery networks.

The GY-LS300 comes with a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) universal lens mount, and adapters are available for PL, EF, Nikon, C and other lenses.

In September, JVC released a free v2.0 firmware update for the GY-LS300 camera that increased the camera’s maximum resolution, adding Cinema 4K (4096 x 2180) and Cinema 2K (2048 x 1080) recording modes at various frame rates, where the resolution until then had topped out at UHD frame sizes (3140 x 2160).

Fred Blurton, an independent producer in Chicago, has used GY-LS300 cameras for several projects, including a shoot at the Chicago Mosaic School.

Besides resolution, one figure that stands out about the GY-LS300 is its suggested price of $4,395—and the street price, which is about $1,000 less. Keep that in mind when we discuss the features of this 4KCAM offering.

“There were several major breakthroughs we were trying to introduce with the design of the GY-LS300,” says Craig Yanagi, manager of marketing and brand strategy at JVC. “One is Variable Scan Mapping, which lets you manually adjust the circumference of the light coming through the glass to optimally fit the sensor. So no matter which size lens you are using, you can acquire the light all the way down to, for example, 80 percent of a standard Super 35 image catcher area and still record in 4K. If the camera is set to HD, you can go all the way down to 50 percent with 16mm film lenses. That gives you tremendous flexibility.”

Based on user input, JVC engineers built on the capabilities of Variable Scan Mapping to deliver a new feature called Prime Zoom, which is available with the camera’s v2.0 firmware. When outfitted with a Micro Four Thirds prime lens, the camera’s zoom rocker can be used to vary the area of the sensor that is being scanned, resulting in zoom capability even with prime lenses. The GY-LS300 can deliver up to 2.3x zoom when shooting HD or 1.25x zoom for 4K. The Prime Zoom feature may also be used as a lens extender for zoom lenses.

Other features enabled by the 2.0 firmware update include a “JVC Log” mode, histogram display, color matrix adjustment, spot meter and black paint setting. In JVC Log mode, the GY-LS300 delivers wide latitude and high dynamic range—up to 800 percent. The camera’s Super 35 CMOS sensor delivers a higher contrast ratio between dark and bright areas within the frame without saturation while providing details within highlights and shadows.

The camera records to SDHC/SDXC media in a variety of image formats. Previous to the v2.0 firmware, the camera recorded Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) video in QuickTime (.mov) file format at 150 Mb/s, which requires UHS-I Speed Class 3 SDHC/SDXC cards to keep up with the data rate. The firmware update added a 70 Mb/s recording mode that makes it possible to record 4K on Class 10 SDHC/SDXC memory cards.

The camera’s dual codec design allows users to make two copies of footage simultaneously. The camera is also able to stream live HD over the Internet to content delivery networks such as Ustream while recording full HD.

Yanagi notes, “We listened to our customers and made sure this firmware upgrade delivered the features they wanted, as well as recording modes specifically designed for the 4K digital cinema market.”

Steve Herrlin on the October Three Consulting shoot. Photo by Kody McCormick.

He adds, “The last point, but not the least, is that we designed the GY-LS300 to have the form factor of a real camcorder. It’s more attuned to what working shooters are accustomed to than a handheld DSLR is. All in all, we feel this is the most feature-rich 4K UHD camera anywhere near this price point.”

Even though the JVC GY-LS300 is just newly coming on the market, I spoke with three of the earliest adopters of the camera, who share their experiences with it. Note that these shooters were using the GY-LS300 prior to the v2.0 firmware update.

Steve Herrlin

In the Chicago area, freelance DP Steve Herrlin has been a fan of JVC cameras for some time. When he and producer Kevin McCormic had an elaborate corporate video to shoot for October Three Consulting, they got their hands on two GY-LS300s for a three-day shoot.

Designed as a “conversation starter” for human resources executives, the short video includes expert interviews and B-roll footage to explain why October Three entered the benefits administration market and what type of services clients can expect from them.

“We wanted a lot of dynamic camera movement, so the A-camera spent most of its time on a Kessler CineSlider, and the B-camera was on either a Glidecam or tripod,” Herrlin says. “Because we were shooting 4K with an MFT lens mount, we could use a variety of lenses.”

For the interviews, the A-camera was equipped with a Fujinon 19-90mm T2.9 Cabrio PL cinema lens using a Metabones lens adapter. The B-camera was outfitted with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L zoom lens and Metabones lens adapter.

Steve Herrlin. Photo by Tom Kledzinski.

JVC’s documentation cites that a standard sensitivity of ISO 400 will allow 12 stops of exposure latitude. Herrlin found that the GY-LS300 lived up to that promise, although he set the B-camera to ISO 800 to get a shallower depth of field and kept it tight on the interviews while maintaining an f/4 on its lens.

“I was really impressed with the intuitive layout of the camera’s menus, which helped a lot given our tight shooting schedule,” Herrlin recalls. “And with all our camera movement, everything stayed smooth. We found no artifacting or pixelation.”

Even though Herrlin’s crew had an experienced audio engineer, they still recorded directly into the GY-LS300’s onboard recorder, benefitting from the camera’s two-channel XLR audio inputs, each with phantom power. They used its mounted shotgun mic only for B-roll.

“We shot 4K but delivered 2K,” Herrlin says. “That gave us the ability to reframe and zoom in post, saving a lot of reshoots. The two JVC GY-LS300s really came through for us.”

Can he recommend any improvements? “Sure. The camera would benefit from an additional threaded tie-down,” Herrlin says. “Also, it comes with a small viewfinder, probably to save cost. I’d like a higher resolution one, and a viewscreen that can stand up to bright outdoor sun.”

Sanjeev Chatterjee

Prof. Sanjeev Chatterjee is using the JVC GY-LS300 to shoot a documentary about healthy eating. Photo by Uma Chatterjee

Sanjeev Chatterjee, MFA, a
 professor at the 
University of Miami School of Communication, purchased his GY-LS300 to shoot an ongoing documentary exploring our shifting relationship with food. Among his many previous documentaries, One Water screened at the United Nations in 2004 and 2005, and he received a Fulbright scholarship for a series of short docs about the East Kolkata Wetlands in 2011.

“I really appreciate the flexibility the GY-LS300 gives you to adopt any kind of lens,” he says. “I like both Canon and [Duclos] Veydra lenses, and the JVC mounting system handled them very well.”

Chatterjee is most impressed with the camera’s internal electronics. “It produces a fine 4K image, and has some valuable features—like the live HD streaming—that other cameras cannot touch,” he says. “I’ve also made good use of the camera’s time lapse capabilities in 4K. And the ND filters let me get a narrow depth of field while maintaining a rich color depth.”

To achieve extended recordings, he has relied on the camera’s relay recording functionality and the fact that cards are hot-swappable. “At 4K, they get filled up. I haven’t yet tried recording 4K on one and a lower resolution proxy file on the other, but I’m sure that will be very handy when it comes to starting the editing process. I also love the long battery life for the camera, although the battery for the external viewfinder I was using was exhausted pretty quickly.”

You can learn more about Sanjeev Chatterjee’s documentaries, especially the progress of his current project about healthy eating, on his web site at the University of Miami.

Fred Blurton

In Naperville, Ill., Fred Blurton is a DP and owner of Fred Blurton Productions. He was so impressed with his JVC GY-LS300 that he has already posted a series of testimonial videos about it.

“I got my hands on a preproduction model of the JVC GY-LS300,” Blurton says. “It gives me the capabilities I was looking for, like ‘finite focusing,’ in a camcorder form factor.”

Fred Blurton

That took a bit of explaining. “What I mean is there is both Focus Assist and Extended Focus. When you turn on Focus Assist, you can pick one of four colors that will peak when something is in sharp focus. Then there is a button on the camera’s handle for Extended Focus. When you press it, the viewfinder pixels go 1:1 and you can zoom in to the area of critical focus and fine-tune it like the magnification on the back of a DSLR. With my background as a still photographer, I find these features invaluable.”

Blurton prefers Rokinon cine prime lenses with their MFT mounts, which JVC offered as a special during the last NAB Show, and also his Canon glass. He finds he can switch between them quickly thanks to the adapters that sit on the back of the lenses.

“The Variable Scan Mapping comes in especially handy when using different lenses because it lets you get the most out of the Super 35 sensor by cropping out the edges,” he says. “One of my favorite lenses is an 8-15mm Canon fisheye, which produces a circle image. At 10mm to 15mm it is full frame, but at 8mm it has some vignetting at the edges. Thanks to the Variable Scan Mapping, I can maintain the fisheye look even at 8mm but keep the full-frame image.”

Does he have any suggestions for JVC? He does, and the suggestion is so good that the same idea was implemented in the camera’s v2.0 firmware update.

An image pull from actual GY-LS300 footage shot by Blurton

Blurton’s suggestion is that JVC “incorporate a sort of virtual zoom. You could program the rocker switch to adjust the Variable Scan Mapping on the fly, and thereby take a prime lens and get some limited zoom capability out of it.”

This is just what JVC engineers did with the camera’s new Prime Zoom feature.

You have to experience the GY-LS300 yourself to appreciate all the features JVC has built into it. From live streaming to zooming with prime lenses to hot-swappable recording cards, it will be interesting to see how features in this new model influence the rest of the market.