Reports | Technology

JVC HD100U HDV Camcorder: First Impressions

1 Nov , 2005  

Written by David Tames | Posted by:

David Tamés test drives the new JVC HD100U camera which joins a crop of new affordable HD camcorders.

It’s a breakthrough year – 2005 is officially the year that HD camcorders finally dipped below the $10K price barrier. Late in 2004 Sony started shipping the HDR-FX1 camcorder which was quickly followed up in early 2005 with the HVR-Z1U sporting professional features. Then at NAB 2005 back in April Panasonic announced the HVX200 camcorder while JVC announced the HD100U camcorder. Last month Canon joined the fray with their announcement of the XL H1. It’s been a while since so many new camera introductions have created so much excitement (and confusion), and rightly so. Each of these cameras makes HD acquisition more affordable and a viable option for independent filmmakers, until recently this was a five-figure proposition and a post-production challenge. I recently took the new JVC HD100U out for a spin courtesy of Marty Feldman at The Camera Company and I’ll share with you my first impressions of the camera. For technical details regarding the HDV format, see the "for more information" links at the end of this article.

Form Factor

First thing you notice about the JVC HD100U is that given its ENG-style on-the-shoulder form-factor, it looks and feels more like a professional camera than other HD cameras in the sub-$10K category, since its shape and the layout of controls mimics its professional big brothers. If you like shooting with something small and svelte like Panasonic’s DVX100A, you might find this camera a little too big and heavy. On the other hand, if you’re used to professional or industrial camcorders, you’ll be right at home with the HD100U and appreciate how much lighter it is.

Features

The GY-HD100U features 3 1/3-inch CCDs (1280 x 720), 720/24P HDV recording, and accepts 1/3-inch bayonet-mount lenses. It comes standard with a 16x Fujinon zoom lens with mechanical or servo control of focus, zoom and iris. Other available lens options include a 13x (3.5mm) wide zoom, a wide-angle converter for the standard 16x lens, and an adapter allowing 1/2-inch lenses to be used on the camera. Prime lenses can also be used with a 3rd party adapter. The P+S Technik Mini35 adapter can be used for mounting 35mm camera lenses onto the HD100. The camera has dual XLR audio inputs with phantom power. A wide range of settings are available including "cine" gamma, color matrix controls, adjustable zebras, etc. Analog component output (curiously at 60P) is provided as well as composite and S-video SD outputs and a 6-pin Firewire connector. In short, most of the features and capabilities you’d expect to find on a professional camcorder these days are to be found in this camera. The camera records onto miniDV tape, or an external hard drive, or both at the same time. With the dual record mode the tape can serve as a backup and the hard disk media can be used for ingest into your editing system. If you’re recording something important you’ll want to go with the dual record mode, as any drop-outs will span a number of frames due to the nature of MPEG-2 compression.

True 24P

HDV comes in two flavors, 720/24P and 1080/60i. What really sets this camera apart from the pack is JVC’s decision to go with the 720/24P progressive scan format. Although Sony and Canon offer "cine-like" frame modes, they are simply not true 24P. Independent filmmakers are all over the JVC because it offers true 24P image acquisition. The decision to shoot 24P or 60i quickly becomes something akin to a religious or political debate in some circles. It’s both a technical and aesthetic choice, each offering a different look and feel, with viewers experiencing a different physiological response from each. Images shot in 24P are said to feel distant, unreal, almost mythical, while 60i images feel live, real, in the present. It’s a discussion that comes up today as often as the film or video question used to come up in the late 90s when DV took independent filmmaking by storm. For many narrative filmmakers, 24P is the holy grail for digital cinematography, it’s what’s been missing until recently in all but the most expensive video cameras. Cameras that offer true 24P (a low image refresh rate) make it easier for filmmakers to tell stories without the medium feeling too "real" to viewers. On the other hand, most people who shoot live events, news, and reality shows prefer the immediacy and liveness that 60i (high image refresh rates) provides, the medium does not create a layer of detachment the way 24P does. A limitation of the HD100U is that it does not offer an interlaced option when shooting HDV (it does, however, support 480/60i and 576/50i in SD mode).

Achilles’ Heel

One area where the differences between the HD100 and more expensive professional cameras comes to a head is in terms of the image quality of the eyepiece and flip-out LCD display. Instead of a crisp, high resolution viewfinder so critical for proper focus when shooting HD, the low resolution LCDs used in both the eyepiece and flip-out display makes it impossible to focus or see fine detail in the scene. For this you’ll need an outboard display. JVC solved this problem by providing a Focus Assist feature that turns the viewfinder black and white and displays green (or other color of your choice) in areas of high-frequency detail. This can be quickly be turned on and off while shooting with buttons conveniently located on both the side and top of the camera. Shooting with a black and white LCD and bright colors in areas of sharp detail leads to a feeling of sensory deprivation while shooting. An outboard HD monitor makes shooting with this camera more enjoyable. The only feature seriously missing that I can think of is a spot meter with direct IRE reading, which I’ve gotten spoiled using with Panasonic’s DVX100 and V27 Varicam camcorders. A spot meter offers the accuracy and precision of a waveform monitor with the simplicity and portability of the camera. Zebras are nice at indicating highlights, but what’s going on with the rest of your picture? Especially for those going for the film look, what’s going on in the shadows is very important. This is a feature I’d like to see in other manufacturer’s cameras.

Bleeding Edge Blues

Being on the bleeding edge requires patience. After spending a couple of days shooting with this camera, I had no way to ingest the 720/24P material into my Final Cut Pro editing system. I had to resort to a complicated multi-step process I would not wish upon any fellow filmmakers and by the time you read this, will no longer be required. Final Cut currently supports ingest of only 720/30P video from this camera, if you shoot in 24P and edit in Final Cut you re going to need a third-party solution from Lumiere HD. Avid Xpress Pro HD support for 720/30P should be shipping by the time you read this with 24P expected to follow shortly thereafter. All major NLE vendors either support or will soon support the HDV format in it’s various flavors.

Smooth Moves

One characteristic of 24P that drives some people crazy is strobe. Because of the low frame rate, pans appear to "judder" or "strobe." This is one of the technical factors that led to the aesthetics of the slow pan and dolly move in mainstream cinema. JVC addresses this problem with their patented Motion Smoothing process that produces 24 frame per second images with less judder. The footage I shot with motion smoothing turned on did in fact exhibit less judder. JVC accomplishes this by taking the 48fps stream from the CCD and gently blending pairs of frames. You’ll want to turn off this feature if you’re looking for authentic 24fps image strobing typical of footage shot on motion picture film.

Look and Feel

The first thing you notice is the images are very sharp and crisp compared to DV. Given the progressive scan, it’s a delight to not see any interlace artifacts in the image when displayed on a progressive display. I found the overall image produced by the camera (with all of the settings in their default mode) slightly pale, but Marty Feldman at The Camera Company told me the camera I was using was an early release and JVC was still tweaking the default camera settings. In post I was able to color correct for very pleasing results. Shooting close up the engraved patterns on a $20 bill did not display any of the artifacts found in 1080i images, it was like a digital still. Skin tones were pleasing, and the noise in the shadows was under control. The camera offers you the opportunity to tweak wide range of parameters and settings and the settings can be saved to an SD card for later use. Handy for those re-shoots that need to match principal photography. JVC also offers a Cinema Mode giving you a set of predetermined color matrix and gamma values for a filmic look right out of the box. While heavier than its consumer counterparts, the camera weights in 7 pounds with the standard lens, battery and a miniDV tape and balances nicely on the shoulder once you get used to fact that it s front-heavy compared to other ENG-style camcorders.

For more information:

Avid Xpress Pro HD:
http://www.avid.com/products/xpressprohd/

Final Cut Pro:
http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/finalcutpro/ 

More on HD and the HDV Format:
(1) "High Definition From Near to Here" http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/news/archives/05july/hd.htm and (2) NAB 2005 Highlights:
http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/news/archives/05may/nab.htm

JVC GY-HD100U:
http://pro.jvc.com

Lumiere HD:
http://www.lumierehd.com

The Camera Company:
http://www.cameraco.com


For more information: Avid Xpress Pro HD: http://www.avid.com/products/xpressprohd/ Final Cut Pro: http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/finalcutpro/  More on HD and the HDV Format: (1) 'High Definition From Near to Here' http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/news/archives/05july/hd.htm and (2) NAB 2005 Highlights: http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/news/archives/05may/nab.htm JVC GY-HD100U: http://pro.jvc.com Lumiere HD: http://www.lumierehd.com The Camera Company: http://www.cameraco.com