JVC Pro GY-HD200u Digital HD Review

Looks Like a Pro

Manufacturers sometimes like to slap the word “pro” on their camcorders as a way to compensate for less than professional capabilities. Clearly, this is not the case with JVC’s recent addition to their professional products line, the GY-HD200u high definition camcorder. While the sticker of $8,995 pushes the upper limits of many of our reader’s budgets, there are just too many features packed into this camcorder for the serious shooter not to cover here in the magazine.

More than Good Looks

OK, we admit it. Looks should be one of the last things you consider when buying a camcorder, right? But you just can’t help but be impressed with how the HD200u stands apart from other camcorders in its class. With its compact shoulder design, a 16x Fujinon removable lens in front, sleek (though not Spartan) main body, component/DC assembly and brick battery dock at the rear, this is a camcorder that holds its own in a crowd of professional high-def camcorders.

Hoisting the HD200u to your shoulder confirms that JVC has built a solid, rugged performer. Weighing in at 10 lbs. 7 oz with tape and Anton Bauer battery, you know you’re armed with some serious metal and glass. Even the tape door, usually requiring delicate closure of an inner cage on other camcorders, is very robust. Simply pop in the tape and close a sturdy outer door.

Formats and Quality

The HD200u is capable of recording to tape in several formats. In HDV mode, you can choose between 720/60p, 720/30p,720/50p, 720/25p, and 720/24p. Playback options via the component/SDI output include 720/60p, 720/50p and, with the 1080i camera menu item on, live (not to tape) 1080i/60i and 1080i/50i. The HD200u also outputs composite signals of 480/60i and 576/50i. All image recording formats (except the 1080i camera) are also output via the IEEE 1394 connector. You also have the option of shooting and recording to tape in standard definition DV, selecting from 480/60i, 480/24p and 480/24a formats.

In our tests, we shot a variety of subjects in all modes and were particularly impressed with the silky smooth image quality of the 720/60p format. JVC’s new Super Encoder has now made recording this progressive frame rate possible in an HDV format. This is a huge advantage for producers shooting fast moving subjects, or just anyone simply wanting an incredibly fluid look for their camera movements. The native 24p will remain a favorite for indies looking to recreate the temporal likeness of film. Like all 24p frame rates, however, some strobing is inherent. Recording in the DV mode, the 24p format records in a 2:3:2:3 pull-down sequence for easy editing in a standard NTSC environment while the 24pa format records in a film-standard 2:3:3:2 pull-down for film editing output.

On the output side, we captured clips shot in HDV 720/30p and in HDV 720/24p to see how they fared in an editing environment. Using Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 on a system exceeding minimum requirements for HDV editing, we had no problem making simple edits. We also tested the live conversion from HDV 720/60p to 480/60i via the composite output on a calibrated rear-projection television and found the quality of the signal to be very high. We could not find any evidence of compression or conversion artifacts.

Camera Control

One of the features that sets the HD200u apart from much of the competition is the use of a high-quality manual lens. A 1/3″ bayonet lens mount connects the standard Fujinon 16x lens that features manual focus and both manual and servo control over zoom and iris. Those of you that long for direct access to these fundamental controls won’t be disappointed; they all give you a very fluid feel with fine degrees of adjustment. If you don’t have time for all-manual control, with a single flip of a switch, you can engage HD200u’s Full Auto mode where even gain values are determined for you. Auto exposure was very fast and reliable in most situations.

We found the ever-important focus assist worked well on the HD200u. When you press the focus assist button the viewfinder display turns to black and white and a peaking indicator outlines what is in focus in blue. A peaking dial allows you to control just how much of the critical area of focus is indicated by the assist–a very useful feature.

Film aficionados will be interested in the optional JVC HZ-CA13U lens adapter ($4,395 list) that allows you to use 16mm PL (positive lock) lenses. A Reverse Picture function even inverts the image for you so you don’t have to contort yourself during shooting or fuss with image tweaking in post.

Dig into the menu and you’ll find a host of pro-level controls. For the shooter with some experience, the HD200u provides you with fine control over key gamma and color settings. While the Cine color matrix preset does a nice job adjusting gamma for a more film-like quality, you have nearly total control over all the gain, threshold and rotation settings of key image quality parameters like black, gamma, white balance, white clip, knee and detail.

We also liked how JVC gives you fine control over skin detail. By adjusting not only the intensity of skin detail enhancement, but also the actual range of hues the camcorder sees as flesh tone, you have excellent control of how your subject is rendered on tape. Of course, with this amount of control comes an implicit warning: if you start tweaking more than one setting at a time right before an important shoot, don’t be surprised if you get unwanted results.


Audio

There are two locking XLR inputs well positioned on the right side of the HD200u. The audio is compressed in MPEG-1 Audio Layer II at 384kbps when recording in HDV mode. While recording in DV mode the audio is recorded at 16-bit, 48kHz. We recorded audio in both modes using two different mics. We tested the on-camera mini-shotgun by speaking in a normal voice at three and six feet away. With the Automatic Gain Control on, our peak levels were well below the -12dB level indicator. With AGC off, to get levels peaking at around -12dB at the three-foot distance, we needed to set levels to nine. At six-feet the levels predictably dropped about 20%. At these high level settings we did notice a fair amount of amplification noise.

Our next test simulated a more common situation where we had the same person speaking into a handheld mic powered by the HD200u’s phantom supply. AGC worked well but still gave us what seemed like more headroom than necessary. In manual mode, a setting of six was all that was needed to get strong levels that produced a very clean signal. We left the audio limiter on in all cases and found that even the occasional overdriven input did not produce objectionable clipping.

A “U” for you?

There is so much to like about the HD200u; the excellent stability when shoulder shooting; the ability to save settings to a memory card; shutter speeds from 1/6 to 1/10000ths; and we really liked the adjustable and robust viewfinder and cushioned speaker for monitoring audio.

But nothing’s perfect and we did run across a few minor annoyances. Not that it would be a common need, but don’t expect to switch recording modes on the fly. The HD200u powers down and restarts automatically when you switch frame rates. There is also a tiny fan at the rear of the component/DC coupler that produces a very small amount of high frequency white noise. This might be an issue only in the quietest shooting environments.

JVC’s GY-HD200u is a professional quality camcorder in the truest sense of the term. If you have aspirations of breaking into the world of documentary or commercial video production, this camcorder will serve you well. And if you simply want a tool that will give you the creative control you need to create high quality video, no matter what your subject; look closely at the GY-HD200u.

Tech Specs

VTR Section (Audio)
Audio signal recording format (HDV): MPEG-1 Audio Layer II
Audio signal recording format(DV): 16-bit (locked audio), 48kHz PCM for 2 channels or 12-bit, 32kHz PCM for 4 channels
Usable tape: Mini DV tape
Tape speed: 18.831 mm/sec.
Record/play time: 63 minutes (with an M-DV63PROHD tape)

Connectors
Analog composite output: 1.0 V (p-p), 75 ohms, unbalanced (RCA)
Analog component output: Y: 1.0 V (p-p), 75 ohms, unbalanced (BNC)
R-Y/B-Y: 0.7 V (p-p), 75 ohms, unbalanced (BNC)

Audio inputs
Mic: -60 dBs, 3 kohms, balanced (XLR), +48 V output for phantom power supply
Line: +4 dBs, 10 kohms, balanced (XLR)
Audio outputs: -8 dBs, low impedance, unbalanced (RCA)
Earphone jack: -18 dBs to -60 dBs, 8-ohm impedance (stereo mini-jack x2)

IEEE 1394 connector: 6-pin
Remote connector: DIN 6-pin
Accessories provided: Viewfinder x 1, Lens (Th16x5.5BRM) x 1, Microphone x 1, SD memory card x 1
Power requirement: DC 12 V
Power consumption: Approx. 23 W (in the Record mode)
Size: 242 (W) x 233 (H) x 414 (D) mm (9-9/16″ x 9-3/16″ x 16-5/16″)
Weight: 3.7 kg (8.16 lbs.) (including viewfinder, microphone and tape)
Temperature: Operating: 0C to 40C (32F to 104F); Storage: -20C to 60C (-4F to 140F)

STRENGTHS

  • Excellent image sharpness and color reproduction, manual lens, solid build and professional form factor and user controls.

WEAKNESSES

  • No optional auto focus or image stabilization; price.

SUMMARY

A professional-level camcorder capable of providing excellent quality images and manual control of key functions.

Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer, and lecturer.

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