A bunch of new high-end AVCHD camcorders from Canon, JVC and Sony have arrived—or will soon be here in time to record holiday parties. All cost close to a grand but deliver the best video you’ll see this side of a quality HDTV. JVC’s new Everio GZ-HM400 mirrors many ongoing trends including 1920 x 1080 high bit-rate recording and 32GB of built-in flash memory. It also has a 10.3-megapixel CMOS sensor capable of capturing 9MP stills. As Digitaltrends.com readers know, we’re constantly searching for the perfect two-in-one imaging device. Let’s see if this new Everio takes the prize…
Features and Design
The GZ-HM400 is sleek, long and low. Measuring 2.7 inches wide, 2.9 tall and 5.4 inches deep, the black-bodied, silver-accented camcorder has a nice, sophisticated feel. No one will ever mistake it for an inexpensive Flip. And with this price tag, no one should. It tips the scales at 1.1 pounds with battery and card.
The front is dominated by the 10x Konica Minolta HD lens with built-in cover. Filter diameter is 46mm. On the right side is a flash to help with stills and below that is an adjustment dial with set button for select manual controls. Slightly behind this is the Focus/Bright switch that lets you choose between focus and exposure compensation when you’re in manual mode.
The right side has a fairly comfortable adjustable Velcro strap; the body is slightly indented providing a nice feel. As always, we recommend you handle any camcorder or camera before you buy. On the top you’ll see the stereo mic, a compartment for the separate accessory shoe, a zoom toggle switch and a dedicated snapshot button for taking photos. The shoe is very strange since it requires an adapter to connect optional mics or lights. No other company makes you do this. And it’s not a hot shoe that ties into the camcorder’s controls. This was a weird one.
The left side is the heart of the action and where the fold-out 2.8-inch 16:9 LCD monitor resides. When the LCD is closed you’ll see a few logos and the gold-lettered “HD” pops out; overall it’s a bit cluttered but one shouldn’t expect Bugatti styling. When you open the LCD you’ll find the Laser Touch bar on the far left. Rather than a more accurate joystick as found on Sony and Canon models, this system is wildly inaccurate as you fly past the desired menu settings. We didn’t like it in earlier Everios and still find it pales in comparison to the competition. Running along the lower portion of the screen are five buttons; their functions change depending on the setting.
On the body is the compartment for optional SDHC cards; it opens with the touch of nearby switch. (Make sure you use at least Class 4 cards for best results.) Other controls include Upload, Display, Export, Info/Direct Disc, Play/Record, the main mode switch (still/video), a speaker and USB port. Just above this nest of buttons are dedicated Aperture, Shutter and User keys. On the rear are DC-in, mini HDMI, component and mic connections. The rechargeable battery rests neatly in a recessed slot and the Record button sits right by your thumb. Overall it’s a nicely designed set of controls that won’t take long to learn; we only wish JVC would drop the Laser Touch system.
What’s In The Box
The GZ-HM400 comes with the camcorder, battery, AC adapter to charge it, USB, A/V and component cables along with a shoe adaptor, remote and 44-page Quick Guide. The CD-ROM has a PDF of a more detailed guide as well as Digital Photo Navigator 1.5 and the Everio MediaBrowser HD software for handling stills and videos.
With the battery charged and an additional 4GB Class 4 SDHC card in place, it was time to start recording.
Performance and Use
The JVC Everio GZ-HM400 features a 10.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, something unheard of in consumer ranks until this year. With it you can record 1920 x 1080 video at 60 frames per second. The camcorder even offers 24 Mbps encoding, the max offered by the AVCHD format and it’s one of the key specs to look for in any top camcorder. Our current standard bearer, the Canon Vixia HF S10, offers this setting along with an 8MP CMOS sensor. We’ll get into a comparison shortly. Along with superior video, the –HM400 takes 3456 x 2592 pixel stills, true native 9MP images, not interpolated specs as hyped by other companies.
We took the new camcorder with us to Berlin and used it while walking the IFA show floor. During our free time we visited the historic area of the city, walking for miles taking typical touristy clips. We constantly switched back and forth between video/still, opening and closing the LCD panel quite often. As usual, the camcorder was initially set to auto then we dug into the manual options for video and photos. Video quality was set to UXP, 24 Mbps, and the 32 gigs of onboard memory handled almost 3 hours of this. We used the 4GB SDHC card for stills and we didn’t get close to taking the 960 available.
When we arrived home, it was time to make prints, review the memories close up on a monitor along with checking it all out on a 50-inch HDTV via HDMI.
Before commenting on the results let’s state the GZ-HM400 is enjoyable to operate and we had no problems with the LCD screen, even in bright or dark locations. If only JVC used a joystick instead of Laser Touch, we’d really have no major complaints using it.
As a movie maker, the quality of the GZ-HM400 is quite good with very accurate colors and we had no problems focusing in dim light. Scenes taken of the historic section outdoors were as close to reality as you’d like with little noise. The optical image stabilization did a good job eliminating the shakes. We were pleasantly surprised at the footage taken indoors of the Pergamon Museum statuary and the Ishtar Gate. Although digital noise was noticeable, it was not too annoying. What was a problem—especially outdoors—was the roaring audio noise picked up by the microphone even with wind reduction engaged. It was breezy in Berlin but it wasn’t hurricane force. This really took away from the overall experience while reviewing the clips.
As for the photographs we were quite pleased with them as well—no wind noise to deal with, thank goodness! Focusing was quick and spot on, with accurate colors here as well. That said they simply did not have the pop of the Canon HF S10. Since we doubt people will own both, if you opt for the –HM400 you’ll be happy with the results. A final note: the battery held up nicely given the constant turning on/off as we moved from one attractive scene to another.
The JVC Everio GZ-HM400 is a very good camcorder that also takes quality 9-megapixel stills. We have issues with it (Laser Touch, wind noise) so it’s not the perfect two-in-one device we’ve been searching for. If you keep those limitations in mind, you should be happy taking it along to record life’s adventures.
- Excellent 24Mbps AVCHD video
- Low digital noise even in low light
- Quality stills
- Quick focusing
- Top notch LCD screen
- Inaccurate Laser Touch controls
- Mic picks up too much ambient noise
- Strange shoe adapter setup