The JVC GY-HM650 is in several ways an important camera. It can record to two codecs simultaneously, and can stream over 3G/4G mobile and and WiFi. And the BBC loves them enough to have placed a very large order. Here's our in-depth review
A few years back if you witnessed a media scrum you would see a combination of DSLR’s for stills shooters competing with the video guys armed with shoulder mounted 2/3” ENG battering rams.
Favoured for their ergonomics and robustness it has to be said that it is hard to beat a full sized ENG camcorder for versatility and speed of working. In an age of miniaturisation they may look to the untrained eye like cameras from times gone by, but technologically they were often way ahead of their smaller cousins.
The Sony EX series changed all of that, and now it is not unusual to see just as many smaller video cameras being shoved up against prison van windows and precariously poised over the heads of scandal-afflicted politicians instead. The sheer number of media organisations that exist now who use video coverage has meant that the market for smaller, relatively inexpensive, news capable cameras has boomed.
Advances in picture quality have meant that such cameras can be used quite happily across a number of production types while still producing a picture that is not compromised too much - if at all.
JVC, long respected for their GY-HM700 range of cameras, have released two handheld style 1/3” chip camcorders designed specifically for the journalistic market, the GY-HM600, and the focus of this review the GY-HM650.
On paper the 3-chip HM650 has some attractive specifications. One of the stand out features that JVC are pushing is the cameras ability to record two separate formats to each of the two card slots, or alternatively to record a direct mirrored backup of your footage.
The 650 comes with a Fujinon-designed lens with control rings for focus, focal length, and aperture. This lens is capable of a bright f/1.6 at the widest end of things, dropping down to f/3 at the narrowest focal length. The focal length range goes from 4.1mm - 93.4mm (equivalent to 29 - 667mm on a 35mm camera). That’s a nice big range, and so refreshing after the limitations of using DSLR lenses.
My initial impressions of the 650 were good. It feels robust with a good weight, and the buttons for the various features are a good size. The inclusion of optical ND filters was also a good sign.
The camera has a flip-out 3.5” LCD display mounted near to the built in stereo mic on the top handle. With regard to build quality the LCD display hinge is possibly the 650’s weakest point. The number one breakage on Sony’s old workhorse, the Z1, used to be the LCD snapping off. I fear that this may well be the case and I feel that it may not withstand the assortment of knocks that it is likely to encounter during heavy journalistic use.
That point aside the LCD is bright and clear with good resolution and colour. While JVC have given the option of “Focus Assist” in the form of a coloured outline to help determine when things are in focus, they have thankfully also included a proper peaking adjustment too. In my opinion a far better and more reliable way of determining focus, and thus it is a very welcome inclusion.
The eyepiece viewfinder is placed at the rear of the camera, and it too has good colour and resolution for the size. Personally with this type of camera I always find myself using the main LCD rather than the rear mounted viewfinders due to ergonomics and reasons of comfort.
Present and correct are physical metal switches for white balance and gain. There are two main record buttons, one behind the usual hand grip and one on the top handle. When the camera is tripod-mounted this positioning of the record start/stop buttons is not too helpful, and so JVC have taken a cue from the 650’s shoulder-mount brethren and have usefully included an additional record button on the front of the body just below the lens.
Connectivity includes HD/SDI out, a full size HDMI out, headphone output, DC input, AV out, LANC, timecode link, and USB. The 650 also comes fitted with a GPS for laying down location metadata.
Completing the package are two audio XLR inputs with the usual assortment of mic/line switches, power, manual audio level control, and input selection.