JVC of America
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
If you’re in the market for a new analog camcorder but you’re still undecided on which format you should invest in, you may want to consider JVC’s GR-SXM520U S-VHS-C ET cam. Super VHS ET allows S-VHS quality recording on standard VHS cassettes for increased economy and convenience. The higher image quality helps reduce generation loss when making copies, and by using a tape adapter you can play its tapes in a full-sized S-VHS VCR.
JVC’s $700 GR-SXM520U S-VHS-C ET camcorder is aimed at beginner- and intermediate-level video hobbyists who want high-quality images, playback in a full-sized VCR and (relatively) compact size. The beginner will be pleased with its easy, point-and-shoot recording, and intermediate shooters will like the manual controls it offers. But if you’re interested in using an external microphone or monitoring your audio with headphones, you’ll have to look elsewhere, because they’re sorely lacking on the 520U.
All About Looks
The camera’s greatest claim is that it can record S-VHS-quality images on standard VHS-C tapes. We shot several scenes in both standard and S-modes, including shots with bright colors and busy patterns, then called a few clerical workers to view the footage and see if they could tell the difference. They couldn’t. Our editors fared better, noting slight improvements in the sharpness of certain parts of the frame, but even they admitted that, to the eye, the difference was subtle. When we shot a resolution chart we were able to identify a distinct increase in image quality. We noted a gain of nearly 75 lines of horizontal resolution. While the uneducated eye may have difficulty discerning the increased image quality, it’s definitely there.
The GR-SXM520U sports a three-inch flip-out LCD monitor with brightness control, a small speaker and a black-and-white viewfinder. The flip-out viewscreen allows you to easily see what you’re recording and it lets you comfortably review what you’ve just recorded. The speaker allows you to listen to your audio on playback, but is disabled when the camera is in record mode (to prevent feedback). The built-in light, positioned below the lens, worked well and came in handy recording in low light conditions when we shot a subject up to about eight feet away.
The zoom control rests where we could toggle it easily with the right index finger. The 520’s variable speed zoom worked well. As long as we stayed in the optical range, we could zoom in as slowly or as quickly as we wanted. Transitions from slow to fast zooms were smooth.
The 520 has a 16x optical zoom lens and a 400x digital zoom. That 400x might sound impressive on paper, but in reality, it’s not. Stick to the optical setting and move as close as you can to your subject. The 16:1 optical zoom length is typical for VHS-C camcorders. Though a few competitors offer optical extensions up to 26:1.
Behind the zoom control is a five-second-record button. Press it, and every time you hit record, the camcorder automatically records for five seconds, then goes into pause mode. The 520 has an electronic image stabilizer to help keep shots steady. We found that it performed well, minimizing the nausea associated with shaky handheld shots.
Hands on or Automatic Pilot?
There are two shooting modes on the GR-SXM520U, Automatic and Program. When in automatic mode, you just point and shoot. We were pleased with how well the automatic setting performed. It adjusted its exposure well in a variety of lighting conditions. The autofocus worked well in most of our tests, but we found that it was easily fooled when we tried to shoot complicated scenes with blowing leaves behind our subject.
The program mode, accessed through the menu, gives you manual control over focus, white balance and exposure. The manual focus wheel can be operated with your left hand while you hold the camcorder with your right. Although we could focus accurately, we had to turn the small wheel for what seemed like an eternity to focus on objects that were far away. The focus wheel has a built-in resistance device that makes it difficult to adjust the focus while shooting without jiggling the shot.
The menu button provides access to select and set a number of options. Including eight preset titles, like "Happy Birthday" and "Congratulations," picture effects like wide screen (letterbox), a low light option, digital zoom on/off, tape (speed) mode and a macro setting for shooting up close. The exposure settings and the special effects are accessed using the same menu button. Pressing it repeatedly chooses between the different effects like sepia, fog or neutral density. The effects button also allows you to select any of seven different transition effects including fade, mosaic and window to start and end your shots. With some other camcorders, you have to press the effects button once before you start to record, and then once again to fade out. This can be awkward and often causes the camcorder to shake. With the GR-SXM520U, however, you press the effects button once to turn the effect on, then when you press record, it fades in and when you press pause, it fades out. It’s a one-touch, no shake in-camera transition.
Unfortunately, there is no headphone jack and no external microphone jack. We consider these features essential, even on a $700 model. The absence of these features make this camcorder less appealing to those interested in producing anything more than home video.
If you want high-image quality and can live without the mike and headphone jacks, the GR-SXM520U might be for you. Its high resolution helps retain picture quality when making dubs, and it’s compact enough to fit in a large backpack.
Video Performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera): 325 lines
Horizontal resolution (playback): standard mode 200 lines; S-VHS ET mode 275 lines
Pause to Record: approx. 1.5 seconds
Power-up to Record: approx.10 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape): Approx. 6 min. 30 sec.
Format: S-VHS-C ET
Lens: 16:1 optical zoom, 400:1 Digital, F1.6, f=3.9 to 62.4mm
Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 270,000 pixels
Viewfinder: 3-inch color LCD flip-out viewscreen, b&w viewfinder
Focus: auto and manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000
Exposure: auto, manual
White Balance: auto, manual
Image Stabilization: electronic
Digital Effects: fader, mosaic, 5 wipes,
sepia, sports, ND effect, fog, twilight,
Outputs: S-video, RCA video and mono
Edit Interface: JLIP
Other Features: built-in light
Dimensions: 7-13/16"(W) x 4-11/16"(H) x
Weight (sans tape and battery): 2.1 pounds