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Review : The JVC GY-HM100 Camcorder

written by Stefaan Lesage on 18/01/2010

First of all, let me tell you this is by no means a complete and technical review of the new JVC GY-HM100. I'm not a cinematographer, so I won't be throwing too many technical details at you guys...

Introduction

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JVC GY-HM100

From time to time I have to video tape something, which could be a special occasion or some session at a conference. For that task I've been using my Sony HDR-HC1E camcorder, which captures 1080i50 footage on HDV tapes. It's a great device and I'm really loving it, but my biggest concern now is the time I have to spend waiting while the tapes are importing into final cut pro.

So, I decided to have a look at a camera I could use which shoots HD footage on memory cards, so I could switch to a tapeless workflow instead. I noticed a JVC GY-HM100 at a Final Cut Studio session organized by Apple, and was hoping I could get my hands on one to give it a try. It took me a while to get a Camcorder for some testing, but after a while I found a company called Stake5 here in Belgium which was renting the JVC GY-HM100.

Last week I contacted the friendly folks at Stake5 and apparently they had a few of them available, so I immediately drove up there to rent one. So the review you are reading here is based on the week I spent with the JVC GY-HM100, shooting some footage, importing it into Final Cut Pro and editing it.

Supported Video Formats

The JVC GY-HM100 can record HD footage in quite a few different formats including the standard PAL and NTSC modes (50i/60i, 25p/30p) but even a 24p mode and in quite a few different resolutions (1920x1080, 1440x1080, 1280x720). Sadly it doesn't seem to record in Standard Definition format, but I have to say I only used that when I switched from SD to HD anyway. So personally I'm not really missing that feature.

Native Final Cut Workflow

The JVC GY-HM100 is sometimes advertised as the first camera which offers a full / native Final Cut Format. Since I'm using Final Cut Studio myself, I had to check if it really lived up to that promise. If I'm correct the actual format used is XDCAM EX, but you have the opportunity to capture your footage in one of the 2 different formats. So I did a few tests with the each of the formats supported by the Camcorder.

Using the Quicktime Format

This is what is supposed to give you a native Final Cut Pro format. The movies get recorded on the memory cards in a QuickTime format. I decided to give that a try, and indeed you can simply drag the QT Files from the memory card directly into Final Cut Pro and start editing.

But personally I was missing something, perhaps caused by my the habit of my tape based workflow. For that reason I'm used to the Log and Capture feature in Final Cut Pro. I used that to skim through my tapes and indicate which parts of a tape I want to import into Final Cut. While doing that I give my clips a decent name / description, ... Once I'm done with that I would batch capture the selected clips and everything would be tagged / organized properly.

So, I thought I could achieve the same thing with the Log and Transfer feature. It works in a similar way to the Log and Capture feature, except it is based on files. Sadly I couldn't use that feature to log and transfer the QT files from the device into Final Cut Pro. It didn't work when I first copied the files to a HD neither.

Drag and drop seemed to work perfectly, but I couldn't indicate which parts of specific clips I wanted to import into my project. I had to import the whole clip.

Using the MP4 Format

It is possible to set the device up so that it stores the captures in MP4 files. This file structure isn't the default file structure used by Final Cut, but it is used by a few other editing systems and thus is supposed to be more compatible.

I checked a few things on the internet before I tried that format, and noticed the folks at JVC are offering a Log and Transfer plugin for Final Cut Pro which supports the MP4 format. So now they have me hesitating ... do I want to have native Quicktime files so I can edit them directly in Final Cut Pro, or do I want the Log and Transfer feature which I could use in combination with the MP4 files.

Choices ... always choices

Audio

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The GY-HM100 comes with 2 XLR inputs

By default the JVC GY-HM100 seems to have a lot more audio features than my current camcorder. By default it comes with a microphone jack and mini headphone output and a built-in microphone. Nothing special here, but what's quite interesting is that it also comes with a shotgun type microphone which you can connect to one of the two XLR inputs on the handle which you can attach to the camcorder.

Still Images

The only thing I will say here is that the JVC GY-HM100 can capture 2 megapixel still photos if you need them. Most of the time I'm carrying my DSLR around so I probably wouldn't be using that feature a lot. But hey, it is quite useful if you don't have any other still camera with you.

Memory Cards

The camcorder records to SDHC Cards, which are commonly used in other devices as well. These SDHC cards are actually rather cheap compared to some of the other systems / memory cards used in professional Camcorders. You can actually put 2 of those cards in your camcorder and choose on which card you want to record. The camcorder can be configured so it automatically switches from Card A to Card B when the card is full.

I recorded some material at 1080p25 and I could fit about 55 minutes of footage on a single 16 Gb SDHC card. With 2 cards in the device I could record almost 2 hours of footage. Using 2 32 GB cards you could probably record 3,5 hours of footage in 1080p25 format.

Manual Controls

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Controls on the back are sometimes hard to use

My Sony HDR-HC1E offers quite a lot of manual controls, so I was looking for similar things in the JVC GY-HM100 and it offered almost the same set of manual controls. Of course you can use the Auto Mode and let the device configure itself, but in some situations you want to have manual control over things like Focus, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Exposure and especially White Balance.

The JVC GY-HM100 offers all of that and even some more. I have to say that in some occasions using the dial to modify the Aperture / Shutter Speed / Exposure is a little cumbersome. The dial is a bit small and placed right next to the battery making it difficult to use, especially in cold weather when using gloves.

There is one thing I'm really missing on the JVC GY-HM100 though ... On my Sony HDR-HC1E, I can turn on an option which would display a grid of 9 blocks on the LCD display. A great tool to compose your image using the rule of thirds, but I happened to be using that a lot to see if I was holding the camera horizontally. I have been looking through the JVC GY-HM100 menus, but sadly I couldn't find that option.

Ease of use

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3 user configurable buttons

Well, the JVC GY-HM100 is a bit larger than my Sony HDR-HC1E, but if you detach the handle with the shotgun microphone it still is a quite portable camcorder. The LCD and Viewfinder are similar to what you will find on similar devices and I didn't have any problems with them.

The Menu system is quite intuitive, and easy to use. I found that everything was well organized and most things were self explanatory. When I took the camera out for the first few test shots the weather here in Belgium was actually pretty cold, so I was wearing gloves. That made it a bit more difficult to use the joystick to navigate through the menus and select what I needed, but everything worked fine without the gloves.

There are 3 buttons on the camcorder which you can configure to your own preferences. 2 of them are easily accessible at the front of the device (close to the focus ring) and the third one is accessible when you open the LCD display.

Conclusion

Well, if you're a Final Cut user and are looking for a descent prosumer level camera which offers a Tapeless HD based workflow, then the JVC GY-HM100 might be the camera you are looking for. It offers great features and wonderful footage. It's quite easy to use and actually offers a few really neat features. The media it used (SDHC) is quite affordable which even improves it's usability.

Pro's

  • Great Video quality
  • Many different video modes to choose from
  • Native FCP workflow (if you're a FCP user of course)
  • Lots of manual control
  • 2 XLR Inputs !!! So you can use pro level microphones with your camcorder
  • Focus assist which will color everything in focus in a specific color allowing you to easily focus
  • Tapeless workflow with 2 SDHC memory cards
  • Light, Portable and easy to use
  • Shotgun microphone included

Cons

  • Missing the Grid I have on my Sony HDR-HC1E. So used to it to see if I'm holding the camera horizontally or to get a better composition
  • Battery Life ! Think the default battery only lasted for about 80 minutes. Maybe there is an option to buy more powerful batteries (I did that for my Sony as well)
  • Only a single ring for both Focus and Zoom
  • Controls on the back are too close to the battery making them harder to use

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