JVC GR Camcorder Review:  JVC GR-DVL9800 Mini DV Camcorder

The promises of this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) are finally coming to fruition as a slew of new digital camcorders is passing through Videomaker‘s test bay. One of these is JVC’s new GR-DVL9800 Mini DV camcorder. This camcorder is an update of JVC’s GR-DVL9500 (reviewed in the January 2000 issue of Videomaker). It offers a few new features, however, many of the updates are to the digital still camera portion of this device, not the camcorder side of it.

Like its predecessor, the 9800 offers a number of manual controls to keep the intermediate videographer happy without breaking the bank.

The Basics

The GR-DVL9800 is a single-chip progressive scan camcorder. This means that it can be used for digital stills, as well as video. Its design will be familiar to people who already own or have used a GR-DVL9500, it has the same basic body shape and the microphone is located in the same place.

To zoom, you operate the slider left (wide) and right (tight) using your right index finger. Your right thumb operates the record/pause button. The menu wheel is located behind the zoom control; we were able to reach it easily.

This camcorder offers auto and manual focus. The autofocus worked adequately, but wasn’t fast. The camcorder occasionally had trouble finding its focus. Manual focus is adjusted by turning a small dial on the top rear of the camcorder. This same dial is also used to adjust the aperture and to navigate through a wide variety of menu settings. During our testing we discovered a design flaw in this wheel. When holding the camcorder in the right hand and making adjustments with the right index finger, the wheel spun freely and worked well. But when we attempted to use the left hand to spin the wheel to the right, the small gripping ridges on the wheel caught on the plastic housing and caused the wheel to stick. This could pose a serious problem to shooters. Imaging trying to change your focus from the bride’s mother to catch that once-in-a-lifetime shot of the bride entering the auditorium, only to have the wheel stick, jarring your shot and causing the focus to stop on the back of uncle Charlie’s head.

The white balance can be set manually or automatically too. This camcorder had a bit of trouble at times with the white balance. More than once, we had to set it a number of times before it was acceptable.

The GR-DVL9800 has a 10:1 optical zoom, and you can select either a 40:1 or 200:1 digital zoom extension. Of course, the greater the digital zoom range, the more image degradation you can expect to see.

Advanced Video Features

The GR-DVL9800 has a few features that make it better than the average camcorder. Some features that you might really enjoy are the inclusion of headphone and microphone jacks right on the camcorder. No need to attach some sort of additional docking station if you want to use an external microphone and monitor your audio with headphones.

The camcorder also has a JLIP jack if you want to do some old-fashioned linear editing from your camcorder to a JLIP-equipped VCR. A nice touch for the person with a linear editing suite, who’s stepping up to DV.

The camcorder has a neat high-speed recording option and a slow-motion playback option. This will make it particularly attractive to videographers who plan to shoot video for sports training. When you engage the high-speed recording, you don’t get the whole picture. You have to choose either a half screen that looks like a super wide screen shot, a half screen that looks like a tall skinny shot (for a golf swing or baseball swing) or a half screen that is just a small 4:3 ratio. When you play back your high-speed shot in slow motion, it looks really nice; no motion blur. For in-camera editors, JVC has included a gaggle of wipes, fades and dissolves that can be added as you shoot.

Finally, the GR-DVL9800 includes an automatic lens cap and a clear filter over the lens. The clear filter is another nice touch. We always recommend putting a clear filter over your lens to protect it from marauding dirt and fingerprints. It’s a lot cheaper to replace the clear filter than to replace a scratched lens.

Still Magic

The GR-DVL9800 also sports a bunch of features for the digital still camera crowd. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a progressive scan camcorder. That means that it can record in a format that doesn’t split the fields like regular camcorders. This is a great feature if you plan to take stills from your video to edit into your productions, print on photo paper or post on the Web. It even has a flash. Unfortunately you can’t use the flash as a video light. You can capture your stills on either the Mini DV tape (like most Mini DV camcorders) or onto a MultiMedia card. JVC includes a 4MB MultiMedia card with the camcorder. You can also buy other cards, some of which have greater capacity.

One of the more interesting digital still camera features of the GR-DVL9800 is the dual shooting mode. This mode allows you to take stills and store them on the multimedia card, while the video rolls onto the tape uninterrupted. You can also fake a snapshot while recording video. If you wish, a cutesy, fake shutter sound can activate each time you take a still. The stills are recorded for about five seconds, and the soundtrack continues while the still is on screen. If you want, you can also hold down the snapshot button to take a still every second instead of holding each one for five seconds.

The GR-DVL9800 is a nice combination of a basic DV camcorder, and a decent still camera to boot. Video shooters will love the high-quality picture and the ability to shoot in manual mode. Still shooters will like the flash and the use of the MultiMedia card for transferring images. On the downside, shooters should be aware of the sticky menu wheel and slow automatic focus system.


TECH SPECS

  • Format Mini DV
  • Lens 10:1 optical 200:1 digital zoom, f/1.8, 37mm filter diameter
  • Image Sensor 1/3-inch Progressive Scan CCD (680,000 pixels)
  • Viewfinder 3.5-inch color LCD monitor, .55-inch color LCD viewfinder
  • Focus auto, manual
  • Maximum Shutter Speed 1/250 sec
  • Exposure auto, manual, backlight and spotlight compensation
  • White Balance auto, manual
  • Digital Effects 16 fades, wipes and dissolves, high and low speed shutter, video echo, strobe, classic film, black and white, sepia, twilight,
  • Audio 12- or 16-bit stereo
  • Inputs IEEE 1394, S-video, AV, mini mike, JLIP
  • Outputs IEEE 1394, S-video, AV, headphone, JLIP, PC still, print data port,
  • Edit Interface JLIP, IEEE 1394
  • Other Features Flash, Multimedia Card, high speed recording, slow-motion playback, digital stills
  • Dimensions 2 11/16 (w) x 1 1/2 (h) x 4 3/8 (d) inches
  • Weight (sans tape and battery) 0.56 pounds

Video Performance (approx.)

  • Horizontal resolution (camera) 460 lines
  • Horizontal resolution (playback) 450 lines

Performance Times

  • Pause to Record 1 second
  • Power-up to Record 6 1/2 seconds
  • Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape) 2 minutes 43 seconds

TEST RESULTS

Strengths

  • Good picture quality
  • Excellent digital still features, including flash
  • Headphone and mike jacks

Weaknesses

  • Autofocus and white balance could be better
  • Menu/Focus wheel catches on the housing and sticks

Summary

  • This is a solid camcorder that offers a host of features for the casual/intermediate videographer who also wants a digital still camera.

Half Camcorder, Half Still Camera

GR-DVL9800 Mini DV Camcorder
($1,999)
JVC of America
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 252-5722
www.jvc-america.com

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here