DeSales University TV/film major Cara Maiatico works with the JVC GY-HM70U camera. JVC recently introduced the GY-HM70U, a shoulder-mounted camcorder capable of low-light work that captures fine HD images through an f1.2 16x lens. With an MSRP of only $1,995, this is an affordable camera that should handle a range of video applications.
Weighing in at about seven pounds, the camera doesn’t seem that heavy. In fact, it does have the heft I appreciate when trying to shoot handheld— something video-capable DSLRs cannot match.
The GY-HM70U is powered by AC or two BN-VF823U 7.2-Volt lithium-ion batteries. Obviously, two batteries give twice the operational time, and the number of usage minutes depends on how you use the camera. Both batteries are recessed and removed easily.
Motion and still images may be recorded to either of two SDHC or SDXC memory cards that are garaged behind a plastic door under the LCD screen. To the immediate left of the flip-out screen are six user buttons that control various settings: Mode; Camera/Media; i.Auto; plus or minus AE; Shutter; and Iris. Moving left is the switch for auto and manual focus, white balance adjustment and the adjustment thumb wheel. The 25.5mm to 476mm 16x zoom lens is extremely fast at f1.2, and the lens is protected via an internal closing mechanism instead of the traditional lens cap.
The opposite side of the camera houses the HDMI and USB outputs as well as a mini-plug microphone input, mini headphone jack, remote port, RCA video/audio output and DC input.
The internal workings are what make this JVC camera unique. A single 0.44-inch CMOS sensor (rated at 12 megapixels) allows capturing video in the ACVHD progressive format at 28 Mbps. The three modes of capture include 1920x1080 at 60p at full 28 Mbps; 1080 at 60i in either 24, 17, 12, or 5 Mbps; and standard definition (720x480) at either 6 or 3 Mbps. Personally, I have never shot at 1080/60p before and am not sure why anyone would want to shoot in SD at 3 Mbps—but at least you have options. Another feature that separates the GY-HM70U from others at this price point is the ability to shoot in slow motion at 300 frames per second. Of course this is only in 720x480 SD, but at least you have a high-speed option.
Not being a big “specifications” person, that information is readily available online. I am more interested in seeing what this camera can do visually.
Accessing everything could not be easier with one of the best touchscreens I have encountered. Many lower-quality screens “give” too much with simple pressure on the screen. The GY-HM70U has what seems like a glass 3.5-inch LCD screen that does not cave in with finger pressure. It is also extremely sharp.
Pressing the menu button on the lower right accesses the record settings, including special recording, setup, connection settings and media settings. The media setting in the lower right displays via thumbnails what footage you have captured on the card(s). There is a one-second lag once the selection has been chosen, but the clarity is unmatched in what I have seen. If shooting in 60p or 60i, you are immediately warned that you are shooting in a high-definition mode and playback on DVD is not possible.
I shot several scenes in 1080/60p and 1080/60i. On the LCD screen, I could not tell the difference in quality. Shooting in progressive and interlace should be different—I honestly could not tell them apart in the camera.
Another feature that I relish with this JVC camcorder is the multitude of record options. When you want to begin recording, you can press record on the LCD touch screen, the button on the handgrip by the zoom control, or on top by the handle. In some situations, I can see where three options to record or stop the footage might be advantageous.
The media display will show all the files you shot in 60i on one screen and when you switch to the 60p mode, those files will be available for display when in that mode.
The GY-HM70U is quite new and shooting in 1080/60p does have its drawbacks. My version of Final Cut Pro 7 could not access 60p footage. With Apple’s editing software, Final Cut Pro X is your best bet for opening and editing footage in 1080/60p. Other vendors’ editing software, such as Sony Vegas 12 and Adobe Premiere CC, will work with 28 Mbps 1080/60p video.
Since I could not really tell the difference anyway, I simply continued to record at 60i.
The camera, although it has an f1.2 lens, is a little grainy in low light. I believe it’s an average lens, so the optics are not as pristine as that of a prime DSLR lens. However, as I mentioned, at this price point you get an entire camera for less than a high-quality lens.
I’m not a big fan of using any automatic settings, and I also hammer that into my students’ minds. I did try shooting some extremely backlit scenes and the automatic exposure found the correct setting immediately on its own—something cameras rarely do.
With the absence of XLR audio inputs, I needed adapt the mini connector to fit our low-impedance microphone. The camera’s sound quality is average, with the automatic settings acceptable in a pinch. Using the onboard microphone allows too much background noise and operator adjustments to be heard.
If you are a one person director/shooter/audio tech, you can get by with the onboard mic. For most of my shooting, I used the camera’s audio as a scratch track to later match with a separate recording using a shotgun mic. The levels in manual are a little difficult to adjust unless you have child-sized fingers. But again, our students wanted this camera for its video capabilities, as most of our audio recording is done using a separate audio recorder.
The camera’s sharp LCD screen makes it easy to see the audio levels in just about any lighting condition. The JVC GY-HM70U really shines in this regard.
There are few negatives with this camera. One is the lack of professional XLR audio inputs.
Also, I would appreciate more control over the zoom speeds. I did not feel confident using the zoom on camera while I was recording. Instead, I would pause, zoom in or out, then continue recording.
One other thing separating this camera from a great camera is the optics, which might be a reasonable expectation since high-quality optics can easily cost several thousand bucks just for a lens. This is the only place where a DSLR might have better glass. In JVC’s defense, you might easily pay more than twice the cost of the GY-HM70U just for a DSLR lens that gets close to the features of the lens on this JVC camcorder.
There is very little not to like with the JVC GY-HM70U camcorder—the camera is excellent at what it does for its price point. It does have a plastic feel and I hope it holds up to the use/abuse our department will give it. Since it has been added to our equipment cage, it has been in the students’ hands constantly.
Last, I believe this is probably the best consumer camera you can buy. It has many professional features, but it still feels like a consumer device in the end.
When you consider what it does for its price, you can’t lose.
Chuck Gloman is chair and associate professor of the TV/Film department at DeSales University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.