Today everything records high-def video. Cameras like the new Sony NEX-5 do it well and even inexpensive digicams do a fairly decent job of it (forget cell phones). Yet if you want really great quality high-def movies, nothing—and we mean nothing—beats a full-fledged camcorder. Yes, they’re expensive but once you go beyond watching YouTube clips on a monitor and view colorful, accurate scenes on a big-screen HDTV you’ll be sold. We got the chance to try out the Everio GZ-HM1, JVC’s best consumer-oriented model, to see just how good a 2010 edition can be…
Features and Design
The silver-bodied black-accented GZ-HM1 doesn’t have the slick noir vibe of Canon’s top models such as the Vixia HF S21 but it doesn’t have the bubble-gum look of low-priced videomakers either. The long, low-profile camcorder has a sturdy, workman-like appearance and it fits neatly in your hand. With the battery attached, the nicely-balanced camcorder weighs slightly over a pound and measures 2.7 x 2.9 x 5.4 (WHD, in inches).
On the front of the GZ-HM1 is a Konica Minolta 10x f/2.8-4.5 optical zoom which accepts 46mm filters. The lens equates to 48.3-483mm in movie mode, 38.5-385mm as a still camera. It’s not the very wide angle we prefer that’s finding its way into select 2010 camcorders, but still they’re good ranges. The protective lens cover opens and closes when you power on/off the unit. Also here is a flash for improved still quality and a set button for the adjustment dial on the lower right. This dial lets you manually adjust focus and brightness. The right side has a comfortable, adjustable Velcro strap to keep the camcorder steady as you shoot.
The top is fairly basic with stereo mics near the lens, followed by a strange accessory shoe set-up. Rather than just attaching an optional mic or light directly to the camcorder via a hot shoe as top models do you first must screw in a supplied adaptor. Then the optional gear gets attached to this cold shoe. Yes there’s a mic input on the back but this set-up is clunky. So even with high hopes, we discovered right off the bat this camcorder is not perfect. The GZ-HM1 does have a nice, large zoom rocker switch as well as a dedicated shutter button for taking snapshots. Nearby are three buttons that takes this camcorder beyond the ordinary. There are aperture- and shutter-priority keys as well as a User key. When you’re in Manual you can adjust the shutter speed between ½-1/4000th of a second and aperture f/2.8-5.6. As you make adjustments with the Laser Touch slider on the left of the LCD screen you’ll immediately see if you’ve under- or over exposed your shots. The User key gives options for a dedicated mode such as white balance, backlight compensation and so on (11 choices).
The left side is where you’ll spend most of your time since it’s the home of the swing-out 2.8-inch widescreen LCD monitor. The screen is rated 208K pixels and even though it’s not a super number, the screen holds up nicely even in direct sunlight. The display is a bit small to our liking and we hope JVC bumps it up to at least a 3-incher with newer models. To the left is the Laser Touch interface which we really don’t love as it’s not very accurate and we tended to overshoot the desired setting. A physical joystick is preferred or the touchscreen system of the Canon HF S20. Hopefully JVC will update this system on its newer models.
Running along the monitor’s lower bezel are five buttons including OK and Menu. The operations for the other three keys vary with the mode you’re in. On the body opposite the screen is the SDHC card slot. Even though this camcorder has 64GB of flash memory (good enough for almost 6 hours of highest quality UXP video), having the slot is good in case you want to save your photos and videos to a card to use a reader or watch videos directly on a compatible HDTV. We were surprised this sophisticated camcorder doesn’t accept the newer SDXC cards but this really isn’t a big deal—yet. In time card makers will get close to the new format’s 2 terabytes capacity; right now 64GB is the largest while 32GB is the max for SDHC.
Other controls on the body include power on/off, play/record, Upload, Display, Export and Direct Disc. Upload makes posting to YouTube fairly simple, Display changes the amount of clutter on the screen, Export lets you transfer videos to iTunes, while Direct Disc simplifies the burning process (DVD, AVCHD and Blu-ray). You’ll find the USB out here as well.
On the back is a slot for the battery, the record button and two compartments for a variety of connections—mini HDMI, component, DC-in, headphones-in, A/V and mic in. The bottom of the Made In Malaysia camcorder has a metal tripod mount and battery release switch.
All-in-all, the JVC GZ-HM1 is a pretty straight ahead 2010 camcorder with few surprises.