The JVC GY-HM100U Professional handheld HD camcorder
JVC is often under-recognized for its major innovations in digital camera technology. They are an underlying driving force, pushing the market towards advanced features at groundbreaking prices. JVC advanced the DV camera revolution in 1999 with the GY-DV500, a camcorder that combined higher end camera features and performance with the DV format.
The company continues to challenge the status quo. The latest example is the JVC GY-HM100U, which condenses all of the features of a professional HD camcorder into the size of a handheld unit, while offering image quality that rivals its more expensive competitors.
The JVC-HM100U is obviously not the only handheld HD camcorder on the market, but it is the smallest that contains a full professional camera feature set, high-level image resolution, and memory card recording. It's essentially the smaller brother of the shoulder-mounted GY-HM700U, which offers larger CCDs and interchangeable lenses. However, the JVC GY-HM100U is designed to yield compatible image quality so that its footage can be intercut with that of the JVC GY-HM700U and upper level camcorders of different brands. Its size makes it an ideal B-camcorder for use in small spaces or where mobility and unobtrusiveness may be a factor.
The JVC GY-HM100U has three 1/4-inch progressive CCD sensors. The associated digital signal processor processes everything on a full 1920x1080 raster, providing maximum image information, regardless of the final recording format.
One of the more attractive features of this camcorder is that it goes a step up in bit-rate (and image quality) by offering a 35 Mbps option. Most camcorders in this price range are in the 25 Mbps range or less. You can select 35 Mbps by choosing HQ in the recording mode menu. When more memory capacity is a priority, it's possible to record in either 25 Mbps or 19 Mbps SP modes. The JVC GY-HM100U delivers a full range of HD formats including full 1920x1080i at 60/50 and 1920x1080p at 30, 25 and 24 frames. It can also record 1280x720 in either 60, 50, 30 25, or 24p. This range of recording formats is unusual for a camcorder of this size and price.
The camcorder uses inexpensive SDHC memory cards for storage, with capacities now available up to 32 GB (As with all memory cards, this capacity will increase in time). The camcorder has two memory card slots, providing a total recording capacity of 64 GB. This accommodates up to three hours and 20 minutes of recording time for 1080i/720p in the HQ mode, and four hours and 40 minutes for 1080i in SP. You can achieve a maximum of six hours of recording time when shooting 720p in the SP mode. The memory cards are also hot-swappable—when one of the two cards is filled, it can be replaced on the fly, allowing the camcorder to run continuously.
JVC chose to offer two file formats for this camcorder: QuickTime and MP4 (MPEG-4). This creates a particularly efficient path if you are using Apple Final Cut Pro, since QuickTime files can be placed directly on the timeline without transcoding, (although it's worth noting that Avid and most NLEs are now designed to handle QuickTime files with relative ease, allowing this camcorder to be used with any editing platform). In addition to QuickTime, the MP4 XDCAM-EX file format provides an option that widens file compatibility.
Looking over the external features of the JVC GY-HM100U, you'll find most of the controls and options of a full-featured professional camcorder. There are two XLR inputs for audio, physical controls for input level, white balance, gain and an ND filter. Controls for shutter speed and iris are conveniently located on the back of the camcorder. A zebra pattern is provided for monitoring exposure, and this can be selected to register from 70 to 100 percent in five percent increments.
The JVC GY-HM100U is equipped with a Fujinon 10:1 Zoom HD lens that's engineered to reduce distortion, ghosting and flare. The lens has a macro capability, allowing extreme close-ups with the subject as near as two inches from the lens. It also has an optical image stabilizer.
On the LCD door there's a convenient "Index" button that gives you an instant display of the remaining recording time on the memory cards, as well as the remaining battery charge. You can also call up a thumbnail display of all of the shots that have been recorded and review them instantly on the LCD screen.
The JVC GY-HM100U also offers a wide selection of outputs. There's a built in HDMI port for convenient access to HD monitors, and supplied cables can be connected to provide component and A/V outputs.
To transfer the memory card contents to a computer for editing, you simply place the cards into an appropriate card reader, or use the supplied USB cable to transfer data directly from the camcorder.
The specs are impressive for a camcorder of this size and price, so the big question is whether the image quality compares well with other camcorders in its class.
I tested the camcorder using these formats in the HQ mode: 1920x1080/24p, 1920x1080/60i and 1280x720/24p. In addition, I recorded shots in both QuickTime and MP4 file formats.
I shot about 2 GB of video and then connected the JVC GY-HM100U to a Mac Pro. The transfer process is designed to be very easy. Once the camcorder is connected and switched on, a PC menu appears on the camcorder; you press a button and the card contents appear as a drive on the Mac desktop. From there it's a simple drag and drop procedure to put the data on the drive of your choice. Using the USB connection, transferring 2 GB of video took about two minutes.
It's also possible to edit directly from the camcorder in Final Cut Pro. After connecting the camcorder with a USB cable, the computer recognizes it and treats it as if it were an ordinary external drive. You can also edit straight from the memory cards using a card reader. This method allows you to start editing immediately, with no intermediary steps, or to choose selected scenes from the cards for transfer.
After opening up Apple Final Cut Pro, I dragged the QuickTime clips from my disk drive into an open bin and they were immediately available for viewing and editing.
I first examined the 1920x1080/24p footage, which consisted of shots taken in a garden and on the street. I used an Olevia 27-inch HDMI monitor to display the output from Final Cut Pro.
Image quality was outstanding. The detail was crisp, but not harsh, and color rendition was very elegant, with a richness, depth and color range one would expect from much more expensive camcorders. And you can choose from any of the HD formats currently in use. The 1080p/24-frame mode yields true 1920x1080 progressive frames. I used the cinema gamma setting, and the color renditions were deeper in the darker areas and quite beautiful. The garden shots revealed very rich greens and reds that far exceeded my expectations. The overall image quality rivals any of the HD camcorders on the market in the under $10,000 price range that I've seen.
The 1920x1080 images—both progressive and interlaced—were particularly impressive in clarity, detail and color richness. The 720p images were slightly softer, but similar to those shot with other camcorders operating in 720p.
The camcorder also offers features that are useful for enhancement. Under the "Camera Process" menu, I found that choosing "Cinema Gamma" or "Cinema Vivid Color" yielded beautiful color results. Combining one of those settings with the 24p option created a very pleasing film-like look.
The audio features are also up to professional standards. The camcorder comes with a camcorder-mounted shotgun mic that can be plugged into one of the XLR inputs, and there's a second XLR microphone input too. These inputs have industry-standard controls for phantom power, auto and manual level control. There's also a built-in stereo microphone in the camera housing, which could be used if the operator wants to remove the shotgun/XLR attachment in order to make the camcorder ultra-compact. All audio is recorded in the uncompressed PCM format.
I didn't encounter any problems editing in Final Cut Pro. Although the camcorder uses MPEG-2 compression, the editing speed and accuracy was as good as any other format. The images recorded in the QuickTime format employed an XDCAM EX codec at 35 Mbps. This camcorder and Sony's XDCAM EX both employ Long GOP MPEG-2 compression, but Final Cut Pro edits them with ease when recorded in the correct format. The GY-HM series are the only camcorders that record in the native QuickTime format optimized for Final Cut Pro.
Files recorded in the QuickTime format loaded instantly into Final Cut Pro with no need for processing, and they also worked fine in Avid, although they did have to be transcoded upon import. A log and transfer plug-in is required if you want to import MP4 files into Final Cut Pro. The MP4 file format provides compatibility if you are cutting with footage from other XDCAM-EX cameras. Unless you need this feature, I would recommend recording in QuickTime.
Before I began testing this camcorder, I thought it might be limited to performing as an adequate B-camera for use in a pinch. However, I was prejudiced by its small size. Once I began putting it through the paces, I found that its image quality made it suitable as the primary camcorder for projects that fall within a limited budget. And the image is crisp, sharp and colorful enough to intercut with just about any HD camcorder in the mid-range professional category.
The only complaint I could muster about this camcorder is one that applies to all compact fixed-lens models. The smaller lenses, combined with the smaller imager sizes, do make it hard to get a narrow depth of field. But JVC has an answer to this problem with the next model up: the JVC GY-HM700U. For a little more money, one could add the GY-HM700U, which includes larger CCDs and interchangeable lenses.
This is an outstanding camcorder. Abandon any preconceptions regarding the size or brand, and you will see a very impressive image that seriously competes with much more expensive camcorders. JVC has designed an unusually efficient codec and image processing system that delivers robust detail and an expansive color range at lower bit-rates. Moving up to the 35 Mbps bit-rate has proven to be a choice that yields excellent full HD picture quality at data rates which still allow the camcorder to make use of small, inexpensive SDHC memory cards. For size, ease of use, image quality, and price this is a hard camcorder to beat.
Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to TV Technology.