JVC GR Mini Camcorder Review:  JVC GR-DVL815 Mini DV Camcorder

JVC’s line of affordable Mini DV cams hit the shelves this year and among them is the GR-DVL815. Banging the multi-digital-output drum, JVC has equipped the GR-DVL815 with plenty of connectivity. Equipped with FireWire and USB, it still provides the standard analog S-video and composite connections. And the folks at JVC have added the analog Random Assemble Edit function (that works so well in the HR-DVS1U Mini DV/S-VHS dual deck) to this Mini DV.

Many companies have come out with a line of DV camcorders perfectly geared for display on the Circuit Guys chain store floor, and the GR-DVL815 is one that new, budget-minded DV fans should pick up and examine.

While the GR-DVL815 seems targeted to the casual point and shooter, the 680,000 pixel, 1/4-inch interlaced CCD offers a crisp image and accurate color representation for the price.

Nice Lines

The GR-DVL815’s camera body is modeled after another JVC winner, the GR-DVL9800U. And like that $2,000 camera, the more affordable $1,000 GR-DVL815 is well-balanced in the hand and very comfortable to hold. All controls zoom, menu, snapshot and focus are on top of the camera for easy index finger manipulation. The VCR transport controls are also on top, and the buttons double as the exposure functions: Back Light, Program Auto-Exposure, Manual Exposure and JVC’s Night-Alive full-color, low-light mode.

The camera controls are positioned a fraction of an inch too far back on the camera to be extremely ergonomic for this reviewer’s hand, but are not beyond getting used to. JVC, like many, has chosen to put the tape door on the bottom of the GR-DVL815, making it impossible to change tape while mounted to a tripod. It has also placed the tripod attachment threads as close to the edge as possible, which prompts us to warn you: Don’t put too much stress here, it is only plastic.

Multi-Digital

The GR-DVL815 is well suited for casual users who have access to a fairly well-equipped computer that offers USB and/or FireWire.

On the USB side, digital still images loaded onto the included 16MB memory chip can load onto multi-platform computers and be manipulated with bundled image software called Mr. Photo. Kind of friendly, eh? This simple, but very usable software can get your photos onto your hard drive and over the Internet with just a bunny-hill learning curve.

On the digital video side, the FireWire connect made it a breeze to export footage from the GR-DVL815 onto a Mac with Final Cut Pro, working as well as many higher-end transports. We did, however, experience a head-cleaning prompt after several hours of running our evaluation unit. After cleaning the heads as ordered, the functionality seemed to return without incident. We also noticed that when ejecting and receiving tapes, the servo tape door was a bit noisy on our review unit, but always functioned properly.


Cam Operations

The 36mm f/1.8 lens has a 10x optical zoom, two user settings for 40x and 400x digital zoom and an excellent electronic image stabilization system. The manual features on the GR-DVL815 are worthy and give point and shooters upward mobility as operator skills advance. Manual white balance, exposure and focus and the notable ability to boost video gain for shooting in low light situations, all make this Mini a good purchase. However, the unit lacks headphone and external mike jacks. The lack of these jacks is not a surprise however, since this camera was not built for advanced users who require them.

The GR-DVL815’s low-light functions are well looked after with an under-the-lens video light nestled between the on-camera mikes and the JVC proprietary Night-Alive full-color, low-light mode. The on-camera light, which uses quite a bit of battery power, works very well, and is just the thing for shooting situations, such as blowing out birthday candles. The Night-Alive mode, however, is worthless in all but motionless low-light situations. Instead of using a monochrome, military-like night vision, Night-Alive is an extremely slow shutter speed, full-color rendition (which looks very good). However, the slow shutter causes any camera or subject movement to result in smeared, blurry video. Therefore, its usefulness is limited to videotaping motionless subjects with the camcorder locked-down on a tripod.

Camera and Edit Deck

It is nice to see that JVC still thinks about the users who want to shoot some video of their kids and send a watchable tape for the relatives to enjoy on a VCR. The GR-DVL815 also has offers Random Assemble Editing. With this feature, the GR-DVL815’s remote can log eight scenes from the DV tape and then assemble them with transitions to a compatible VHS VCR. This feature allows users to carry out some extremely basic editing functions without acquiring or booting up any editing software. Folks with the patience to master this setup may have all their video-editing needs filled without ever spooling up a hard drive.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: f/1.8 Bright Lens, 10:1 optical zoom, 400:1 digital zoom

Image sensor: 680,000 Pixel, 1/4-inch

interlaced CCD

Viewfinder: 110,000-pixel, 3-inch, 270-degree rotating LCD color monitor

Focus: auto, manual

Variable shutter speeds: 1/500, 1/250, 1/100, 1/60 sec.

White balance: auto, manual

Digital effects: 12

Audio: 12- or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: FireWire, S-video, Composite

Outputs: FireWire, S-video, Composite, USB (for digital stills), RCA unbalanced audio

Edit interface: FireWire, JLIP

Other features: 16MB still image memory card, Random Assemble Editing

Dimensions: 3.82 (h) x 3.27 (w) x 7.14 (d) inches

Weight: 1.33 lbs. (sans tape and battery)

Performance Times

Pause to Record: Approx. 1.5 sec.

Power-up to Record: Approx. 5 sec.

Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape):

Approx. 5 min. 45 sec.

STRENGTHS

  • Good image
  • Manual controls
  • Video light
  • Random Assemble Editing

WEAKNESSES

  • Controls are a bit awkward
  • Tape door on the bottom

SUMMARY

  • A good choice for the novice videographer that wants an affordable Mini DV with some manual controls.

$1,099
JVC of America
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 252-5722
www.jvc.com

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