Handy Hard Disk
JVC recently introduced its first high-definition camcorder in its Everio product line, the GZ-HD7. This 1920x1080i camcorder may be compact, but it captures colorful HD images with a host of auto and manual functions. It is well suited for the serious amateur looking for an unobtrusive HD camcorder capable of very long recording times.
The HD7 records in what JVC calls “FullHD” to a 60GB hard disk drive (HDD) as the primary media. It can also record to SDHC cards, using either of two lower data rate streams. A lot of the hoopla around the camcorder’s early introduction centered on JVC’s new variable rate MPEG-2 codec that is capable of 30Mbps, exceeding that of HDV’s 25Mbps. We’ll investigate how this may impact overall image quality.
Exterior and Navigation
Pick up the HD7 and you immediately get the sense you’re holding a serious tool. It weighs less than two pounds, but it feels very solid and well balanced. It’s also a fair amount wider than many camcorders in this class, providing ample area for the controls at the rear. The body is black but has three types of surfaces: matte plastic, brushed aluminum and a combination of glossy plastic and metal.
The controls are laid out with quick access in mind. At the rear, the power, record, aperture, shutter and brightness buttons are within easy reach of your thumb. The brightness button gives you control over auto-exposure compensation. You control the values of each by using a small tensioned wheel that also falls naturally beneath your thumb. HDMI, USB and iLink connections tuck neatly under the horizontally-mounted battery.
Index, multi-function, mini-joystick (Set Lever) and function buttons adorn the left edge of the 2.8″ LCD monitor. The index gives you updated information on battery and HDD capacities. The Set Lever is the main navigation control and quick selection of low light (Nightalive) and program AE modes. The function button governs key manual settings, such as white balance, zebra levels, color bars and more. On top, you’ll find a very small zoom rocker and still photo button grouped on the right. On the top left are auto/manual and backlight compensation buttons. In the LCD bay panel, you have access to play/record mode, aperture priority, menu, direct backup, speaker and even an S-video connector.
There are several ways to manage your files once you have recorded them. There is a dedicated section of the menu just for this. It includes options for formatting the camcorder’s hard drive, deleting clips, resetting file numbers and even what appears to be a type of disk defragmenter, called “Clean-up HDD.”
We recorded subjects under various lighting conditions and felt the overall image performance was good but not above average. There was perceptible noise, most visible in dark areas but also noticeable in the mid- and lighter tones. Colors are vibrant and tend to be slightly oversaturated, which many non-professionals find appealing. There is slightly more ghosting of moving images or pans in the 1440 CBR and SP modes, especially with high-contrast subjects. At FullHD, ghosting is minimal. A JVC representative confirmed that future improvements to this first-generation MPEG-2 codec should be updatable by end-users.
Auto white balance is relatively fast but quite warm. Our test showed a 14% variance from pure white toward red-green. Conversely, there was a shift toward blue-green of 4% when using manual white balance. We also got slightly different shifts from pure white depending on the lighting.
Auto focus is very responsive but not overly so. When you are panning from a subject with an average amount of contrast, focused at infinity, to a similar one a few feet away, focus will lock onto its new target in less than a second. Low contrast subjects take longer. Manually focusing the HD7 is a joy. The ring has the smooth and positive feel of a professional high-end camcorder. The focus assist is easy to use and very accurate. You even have the choice of red, green or blue as your in-focus highlight colors.
Auto exposure response is slow and not very smooth. It can take the HD7 as much as two seconds before it starts to adjust exposure when going from a bright to dark scene, and the transition is marked by discrete steps that look choppy. Some buffering of auto exposure is a good thing, but this is excessive. If you need to shoot in very low light, you can quickly select the night mode with the Set Lever. While this mode does a fair job at resolving images in low light, it appears to be capturing images at a very low frame rate, giving a pronounced stuttering effect.
Zoom on the quality Fujinon lens is optical to 10x and digital at user-selectable limits of 40x and 200x. Quality is very good throughout the optical range, but the images get progressively less acceptable with greater magnification through the digital range. The optical image stabilization does a good job of minimizing minor vibrations, but it is somewhat less effective than others we’ve tested in this class.
Finally, editing the HD7’s unique .tod files in an editor like Adobe Premiere Pro is not just drag-and-drop. You must convert the file into a recognized .mpg format, using the included CyberLink PowerDirector. If you just need to do simple editing, however, PowerDirector may be all you need.
The stereo mic is on top of the lens barrel, where it is unlikely to be bumped or contribute to handling noise. With it so close to the internal hard drive, we were pleasantly surprised not to hear noise from the spinning and read/write operations of the HDD. Audio quality is very good for operator narration and respectable for subjects within three feet or so, but, as with all on-camera mics, audio fidelity drops off rapidly at greater distances.
The 3.5mm mini-jack for using an external mic greatly improves sound quality. But where’s the headphone jack? When we asked our contact at JVC about this, he said it was simply to keep costs down, and he added that they have no plans to offer an after-market solution. While we don’t recommend them, there have been a few home-brewed workarounds. Of course, if you’re determined, you still might want to wait until the warranty period is up before whipping out the soldering iron.
The menu option to select “External Mic Level” is simply a selector. You cannot manually control levels for either the built-in or external mics.
The HD7 is crammed with features meant to appeal to many different types of shooters. There’s even a standalone ShareStation unit (sold separately) that allows you to burn and archive your footage to DVD, for those of you who want to enjoy the high-definition video later or don’t have or want to use a computer. At first glance, the great manual features and quality construction make it appealing to those aspiring to professional work. The overall video performance, however, is only average, and the lack of serious audio capabilities probably makes it better suited to the hobbyist who needs long recording times.
Recording Format (Video): MPEG-2 TS
Recording Format (Audio): MPEG-1 layer 2
Signal Format: 1080/60i
Recording Modes (Video): FHD, VBR average of 26.6Mbps; SP, VBR, average of 19Mbps; 1440 CBR, 27Mbps
Recording Mode (Audio): 48kHz, 384kbps
Image Pickup Device: Three 1/5″ progressive CCDs
Number of Pixels: 570,000 effective pixels
Lens: Fujinon f1.8 to 1.9, f=3.3mm to 33.0mm, 10:1 power zoom
Filter Diameter: 46mm
LCD Monitor: 2.8″ diagonally measured
Viewfinder: .57″ color LCD
Focus: Manual, auto
White Balance: Manual, auto, presets (outdoors, cloudy, indoors)
Manual Shutter: Yes
Max Shutter Speed: 1/4000
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/2
Iris: Manual, auto
AE Modes: 5 (portrait, sports, snow, spotlight, twilight)
Connectors: HDMI, component, iLink, S-video output, USB
Mic Input: Yes
Accessory Shoe: Yes (cold)
Dimensions: 3-5/8″ x 3-1/16″ x 7-3/8″
Weight: 1.5 lbs (with battery and strap)
- Manual focus ring
- Focus assist
- Long recording times
- No headphone jack
- Slow auto exposure
- Inaccurate color balance
A solidly-built HD camcorder packed with auto and manual features with well-designed controls.
Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer and lecturer.
JVC Company of America
1700 Valley Rd.
Wayne, NJ 07470