JVC Mini DV Camcorder Review:JVC GR-DV800

$900

JVC America

1700 Valley Rd

Wayne, NJ 07470

(800) 252-5722

www.jvc.com

Sure, you may already be capturing your child’s soccer triumphs with a compact Hi8 or VHS video camcorder. You may also have a digital still camera for fun around the campfire. However, until recently, you would have had to make some serious sacrifices to get both good video and stills out of the same camera. Or you could wait until something better comes out. Well, something better is out. The new JVC GR-DV800 is an all-in-one imaging solution in a tiny package.

Left Hand Left Out?

Key features for this Mini DV camcorder are a single 1/4-inch CCD for digital stills that rival some dedicated digital still cameras (2 megapixel or 1600×1200). A large 3-inch LCD monitor, a Web camera function and e-mailable video clips are also at the top of the list of this feature-rich camera. The GR-DV800 certainly isn’t the smallest camcorder available, but it does fit nicely into your palm. Slip into the hand strap and the zoom control appears naturally under your index finger.

If you’ve owned a camcorder before, chances are you could get by just fine without even a glance at the manual. Most of the controls are easy to find and understand at first look. Clear large printing outlines all functions for knobs, switches and buttons. The only one that might have some users reaching for the manual is the Navi Store button, which makes getting around on tape or finding stills easier. This innovative feature marks a place on the tape and saves a thumbnail on the memory card you can retrieve later using Select/Navi button.

We found that you can wake the camera from standby by simply opening the LCD or pulling out the viewfinder. To put the camera back into standby mode, just close the LCD or push the viewfinder back in. This is one of those simple features that makes you wonder, "Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?"

Like most new camcorders, a menu system gives you access to almost all functions beyond the most common ones. This camera also hits one of our least favorite pet peeves: the bottom-loading tape design is a hassle especially when shooting from a tripod. The camera has to be removed from the tripod to eject the tape.

A Closer Look

A very smooth and quiet motor controls the 10:1 optical zoom. Both manual and auto focus are available on the GR-DV800. The four-way mode selector puts the camera into Manual mode, then you use the scroll wheel to bring your subject into focus.

The auto focus range is very good from about two-inches to infinity, but even under standard lighting conditions it is not very quick to lock onto the subject. Low-light auto focus is even less inspiring. Moving subjects and low contrast lighting conditions may also fool the auto focus system. The electronic image stabilization system does a good job eliminating the triple espresso jitters keeping your static shots and slow pans and zooms relatively shake-free.

The on-camera stereo mike is well placed on the top of the lens barrel and is capable of capturing acceptable quality sound when close to your subject. During quiet sections the automatic gain circuitry picks up a small amount of tape transport noise, but still less than many other cameras in this price category. For richer audio, you’ll still have to use an external microphone. Fortunately, a standard mini microphone jack and a headphone jack are available for just such an occasion.

Image Quality

The real challenge of any camcorder is to resolve good detail and color in light and dark areas of a scene. The GR-DV800 provides good overall imaging but the blacks were slightly grainy and gray, the whites lost some detail and colors were slightly washed out. You might expect better image quality from a camcorder in this price category. Since there are fundamentally different technical issues with video and stills, all camcorders that use a single CCD for both video and stills have to make some imaging compromises. Stills are certainly noticeably better than most camcorders and are comparable to, but not as good as, some older digital still cameras. For example, we shot the same sunny outdoor scene with the JVC DV800 and a Canon S10 (2 megapixel digital still camera) and the S10 was clearly superior.

Other Handy Features

Within the menu you will find the standard set of features such as iris control, Program AE modes, special effects, titles and white balance. The auto white balance works very well moving from indoors to outside. With the Blank Search feature, just drop in a half used tape you have laying around, hit the button and the camera will cue the tape up about three seconds before the blank space begins.

This camera excels in packing in other useful features such as a self-timer for both video and still recording. You can produce low resolution 160×120 pixel video clips from the memory card for easy e-mailing. The camera has a generous 36.5-degree field of view, which will get you out of tight spots very nicely. A slight fisheye effect is noticeable at the very edge of the frame, especially if you have long horizontal or vertical lines in the shot.

Hybrid Hit

The GR-DV800 is one of the most feature rich camcorders available in its price range. All in all, this hybrid camera seems to make good compromises when combining digital video and still capabilities into one unit. It is loaded with innovative features, most of which are quite useful, at a very competitive price. Overall this is a good solution for those looking to reduce the electronic baggage the next time they head out with the family.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: F1.8, f=3.8-38mm, 10:1 optical, 52mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD

Viewfinder: 0.24-inch color

LCD: 3.5-inch color

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: electronic

Maximum shutter speed: 1/100

Manual Iris Control: no

Exposure: auto, manual

Program Exposure: 4 modes

White Balance: auto, manual, presets

Digital effects: 5

Audio: 12 or 16 bit

Microphone Input: 1/8-inch

Headphone Output: 1/8-inch

Inputs/Outputs: FireWire, S-video, RCA, mini-mike, USB

Edit interface: FireWire, JVC Edit interface

Other features: digital stills, multimedia card, flash mount

Dimensions: 74.5mm x 91mm x 185 mm

Weight: 1.4 lbs (sans battery, tape)

STRENGTHS

  • Megapixel stills
  • Blank Search/Navi Store features
  • Convenient power features

    WEAKNESSES

  • Bottom-loading tape mechanism

    Performance

  • Tested Resolution: 425 lines
  • Field of View: 36.5 degrees

    SUMMARY

    A reasonably priced hybrid video and digital still camera in a comfortable package.

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