1700 Valley Rd
Wayne, NJ 07470
JVC’s GR-SXM740U is an inexpensive, entry-level camera that might just do everything you need. As an analog camcorder with a sharp image, this could be a great camera for a causal user who doesn’t necessarily want to edit their video on a computer.
The Big Stuff
The GR-SXM740U really isn’t that much bigger than the tape transport, with the exception of its protruding lens. An S-VHS-C tape is, however, roughly four times as large as a Mini DV tape, so this camera is not small, relative to its digital cousins. The larger camera also sports a large LCD screen (3.5-inches), although it does not have a particularly high pixel count.
The camcorder is fairly comfortable to hold and use. The weight is distributed well, and the most important controls are easy to reach. Many important functions, such as focus, exposure and white balance, are accessed through a menu. We found that menu navigation was simple. Interestingly, the unit does not include a remote control.
The S-VHS-C ET format is a high quality analog format. S-VHS-C tapes can be played back in S-VHS VCRs using the included cassette adapter (JVC even includes a AA battery). While S-VHS VCRs are not found in every living room, they are certainly more common than Mini DV or Hi8 VCRs. Buyers should note that S-VHS-C ET tapes will not play back in standard VHS VCRs.
The unit features a 16:1 zoom lens. We found that the zoom operates reasonably smoothly. We noted three distinct speeds at which the zoom operates, depending on how far you push the control.
Manual focus was usable, but somewhat finicky. It’s the very first menu item, so getting there requires a little effort. After selecting manual focus, it is adjusted using a small wheel. We found it odd that once we composed our shot with manual focus and started the tape, the general-purpose wheel went back to controlling the brightness of the LCD view screen. The wheel clicks into discrete positions and doesn’t smoothly glide through the manual focus range as we would have preferred.
The automatic focus worked reasonably well, although when we were zoomed in tightly, it hunted around before settling on a focal setting. Telephoto shots also caused some autofocus confusion while we panned. The GR-SXM740U’s electronic image stabilization worked adequately to reduce shake when shooting handheld.
It’s All Under Control
For a $500 camcorder, we were pleasantly surprised to find a decent manual exposure control, although we found that the automatic exposure chose appropriate settings in the situations in which we used it. White balance is selectable between automatic, manual and presets for outdoors, cloudy days and halogen lights. The manual white balance was easy to set and worked very well. High-speed shutter control is limited to a fast 1/2,000 setting.
We found it interesting that the camera doesn’t have a tally light, but this may be an advantage when shooting home video of people who act unnatural when they know the camera is recording.
The unit’s monaural microphone is right up front. It picked up voices well in our tests, but it also picked up the zoom motor during zooms. When using the manual focus dial, the clicky control sound was audible on the tape, but the actual focus motor wasn’t. We didn’t notice the focus motor in autofocus, either. The camera does not have an external microphone jack.
The sound quality was about as good as the linear monaural soundtrack of the VHS family of formats gets. It sounds OK, but not breathtakingly great, and certainly not as good as analog hi-fi stereo. The unit also includes a speaker (but no headphone jack). The playback level is adjusted with the zoom control.
Subjectively, we found the quality of the images produced by the GR-SXM740U to be quite good. The color balance was good, with realistic skin tones, and the video was sharp and bright. It wasn’t until we objectively measured the resolution that we realized this camera shoots truly excellent video. The resolution was nearly as good as some Mini DV camcorders and beat out all of the other consumer analog camcorders we’ve recently tested, regardless of format. The GR-SXM740U has some standard but well-executed in-camera transitions and digital effects, which are especially useful for analog video, which might not be destined for further editing on a computer.
An S-VHS-C Winner
JVC is now the sole manufacturer of S-VHS-C format camcorders. It’s a good camera, although we would recommend it much more highly if it had included headphone and microphone jacks, as well as hi-fi stereo sound. It is in a tough spot though, competing with digital (Mini DV) camcorders that cost only a couple of hundred dollars more and with a number of analog Hi8 camcorders that are less expensive. Still, if you are invested in VHS-C or S-VHS-C and want the convenience of popping tapes from your camcorder straight into an S-VHS VCR in your living room, the GR-SXM740U is a fine camcorder. If small size or computer compatibility are issues, we’d recommend spending a couple hundred more and going DV.