JVC Mini DV Digital  Camcorder Review:  JVC GR-DVM90U Camcorder

Manufacturers are able to fit much more into tighter and tighter spaces these days. Case in point: the new JVC GR-DVM90U mini dv digital camcorder. Weighing in at only 1.3 pounds, this dainty little camcorder has a lot to offer to the beginner to intermediate videographer who wants to move into the digital world. The GR-DVM90U mini DV works great as a digital still camera too. Best of all, it fits in your pocket.

Small Even By Mini DV Digital Camcorder Standards

Don’t let its small size fool you. Fitting into the pocket of your windbreaker is just the beginning for this mini DV digital camcorder. The GR-DVM90U packs plenty of manual controls, has mike and headphone jacks, an abundance of built-in transition and color effects, includes digital still and video e-mail options with a MultiMedia card and software for your computer and has an edit control jack and built-in editing functions.
One drawback of the camcorder’s small size is picture shake. We found it difficult to hold shots steady as we recorded. As we zoomed towards telephoto things got even worse. We were disappointed to learn that the DVM90 mini DV digital camcorder does not have an image stabilizer. If you want to shoot steady shots, you’ll need to shoot everything from a wide-angle lens setting or lug along a tripod.
Another drawback to its small size is the lack of surface area to place control buttons. Most of the aforementioned features must be accessed through a menu system. Only a few buttons reside on the camera body.

A Mini DV With Lots of Buttons and Menus and Dials

Your right thumb is the primary controller for operating the DVM90 mini DV camcorder. The record start/stop, zoom control, snap shot button and menu wheel are all located on the back of the camcorder and are operated with the right thumb. Directly below the start/stop button is the snapshot button, which allows the user to capture still shots to tape or the MultiMedia Card. Both buttons are black and can be easily confused in the heat of a shoot. In our tests, we occasionally hit the snapshot button accidentally when attempting to press the start/stop button. Users will need to be careful to press the correct button when shooting.
Forming an integral part of the control panel is the menu wheel. Searching the menus for desired effects (there are 16 transitional effects, as well as audio sound effects and digital color effects), and advanced manual controls like white balance, can become a bit tedious, but again it is necessary to sacrifice convenience for compactness.
You can access manual focus and exposure controls by flipping the auto/manual switch on the right of the camcorder body to manual, and pressing the proper portion of the selector disc on the top of the unit for focus or exposure. Rotating the menu wheel then makes the actual adjustments.
What JVC calls the menu "wheel" functions more like a toggle switch. The back and forth motion required to make adjustments (unlike the circular motion that the word "wheel" implies) makes it difficult to dial in focus and exposure quickly and accurately. An actual wheel might have made these adjustments easier.
The lens offers a 10:1 optical zoom and up to 200:1 digital zoom. We found that after about 60:1, the quality of the picture went down significantly. There is an option to set the digital zoom at 40:1 maximum zoom, which we recommend. Obtaining a smooth digital zoom is challenging, but the optical zoom is easy to control. The 10x optical zoom offered by the GR-DVM90U is below average. Other models in this price range offer 12x, 16x even 20x optical zooms.

Hear Here

Mounted on the top of the camcorder is an omnidirectional, stereo microphone. The on-camera mike works adequately when the camcorder is positioned within six feet of the subject. Outside of six feet, we recommend an external mike. But be warned. The external mike jack input, along with the analog outputs, edit control jack, printer jack and tripod mount, is located on a docking station that attaches to the base of the camera. Unfortunately, the mike jack is located in a position that makes it impossible to shoot handheld while a mike is plugged in, so if you’re taking an external mike, you’ll need to make sure you have the docking station and a tripod too. You can’t mount the camera to a tripod without the docking station and you can’t shoot handheld with the mike plugged in.


Editing in the Camera

The GR-DVM90U comes equipped with a variety of functions for the videographer who wants to employ a VCR to do basic editing. The JLIP edit control lets the camcorder control a JLIP-equipped VCR for auto-edits. Simply identify the shots you’d like and the order you’d like them, and the GR-DVM90U will offload them to VHS with its automatic editing feature.

Digital Stills

The progressive scan mode makes for crisp digital still shots. You don’t even have to interrupt your video shoot to take a snapshot on the memory card.
Just set the record mode to Dual on the Mode dial and the camcorder will store snapshots directly to the 4MB memory card that comes with the camcorder. Other memory cards are available that have greater storage space if you so desire. Switch the dial to PS mode and record snapshots directly onto the tape.

All in All

The JVC GR-DVM90U performed well under a variety of test conditions. Image quality and color reproduction were excellent. This model will definitely meet the needs of beginning videographers. The DVM90U has enough manual control to satisfy many intermediate level shooters, but its small size and reliance on toggles and menus make accessing most advanced features a chore. The compact size makes it extremely convenient for shooters on the move. Videographers will appreciate the versatility of this camera when it comes to editing.
Camcorders of this type are designed to be small. Considering its size, the GR-DVM90U is packed with features. The JVC is a fine camera for the videographer who wants a pocket-sized digital video camera.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 10:1 Optical, 200:1 digital zoom, f/1.8, 27mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 680,000 pixel 1/4 inch

progressive scan CCD

Viewfinder: 2.5-inch color monitor, .55-inch color LCD viewfinder

Focus: Auto, Manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/250

Exposure: Auto, Manual, Backlight and Spotlight

White Balance: Auto, Manual

Digital Effects: 16 fades, wipes and dissolves, high and low shutter speeds, video echo, strobe, sepia, twilight, classic film, black and white

Audio: 12 or 16 bit

Inputs: IEEE 1394, S-Video, AV, 1/8-inch mini mike jack, JLIP

Outputs: IEEE 1394, S-Video, AV, headphone, JLIP, PC still, print data port

Edit Interface: JLIP, IEEE 1394

Other Features: Flash, 4MB Multimedia Card, high speed recording, slow motion playback, digital stills, PS, dual or video modes

Dimensions: 2-1/16 (w) x 4-15/16 (h) x 3-7/8 (d) inches

Weight (including cassette, battery, and multimedia card): 1.3 lbs.

STRENGTHS

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

WEAKNESSES

  • Mike jack in an awkward place
  • Docking station required to mount on a tripod
  • No image stabilization

SUMMARY

  • A great vacation camcorder that has enough manual controls to grow with a beginner and keep the more advanced shooters happy.

PERFORMANCE TIMES

  • Pause to record: .87 seconds
  • Power up to record: 7.68 seconds
  • Fast-forward/Rewind (60-minute tape): 5 minutes, 33 seconds

$1,699

JVC of America

1700 Valley Road

Wayne, NJ 07470

(800) 252-5722

www.jvc-america.com

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