First, many thanks to Kevin Rand at NorthEast Audio Visual in Manchester, NH 1-800-358-6328 for the opportunity to evaluate this camcorder. Thanks also to JVC’s New England Representative, George Doiron.
I am evaluating JVC’s GY-DV500 as a transition technology to the DTV world from my department’s Sony EVW-637, a DXC-637 head combined with the EVV-9000 Hi-8 recorder back. We need a rugged, reliable camcorder that works well in low light, is lightweight, uses power conservatively and produces a clean picture with excellent color rendition.
As with many corporations, budget constraints are a major consideration. Because of this both the purchase or lease cost and the cost of operation have to be taken into account. The cost of DV tape stock as well as the price of the camera were major reasons I chose to look more closely at the DV500.
We produce an average of three 10-minute videos each month, mostly for non-broadcast use in a combination of heavy industrial and office areas. The industrial areas are unevenly lit and use both sodium and mercury vapor lighting. The offices are lit with fluorescent fixtures of different types. Computer screens running at various scan/refresh rates are everywhere.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE DV500
Let’s get the few negative attributes out of the way first.
The microphone that comes with the camcorder is, to be kind, not very good. Take it off and put it away. The mic is not shock isolated and is very cheaply made, mostly of plastic. Not only is the mic “cheesy”, but it mounts to the viewfinder in a manner that restricts the VF from being fully extended though it’s already limited range of adjustment. JVC does offer a camera body-mounted semi-isolated mic mount. Buy it…then choose your favorite phantom-powered short shotgun mic.
The viewfinder image on the camcorder I tested seemed to be a bit “soft”, but I had no problem achieving critical focus. More objectionable is the previously mentioned limited extension range. There is an optional viewfinder available for the DV500, although I have not been able to confirm the size or resolution of the screen, nor its physical dimensions or extension “travel”.
Given the obvious thought put into this camera’s engineering, I have to assume there is nothing wrong with them, but I was surprised to see what I consider to be “gaping” sets of totally unprotected vent holes on the bottom of the camera at either end of the shoulder pad. Circuit traces and wires are clearly visible through these vents. In a dusty or humid environment, these could pose a serious problem. I wish the engineers had used filter fabric and screen and/or offset cover grates over these openings.
I would have preferred to see metal baton switches used in place of the sliders for the black stretch and the backlight controls.
Finally, the “free” Fujinon 14x lens provided with the camera is adequate, but it is not wide enough for many uses. At 7.3mm, the lens has relatively narrow field of view.
THE GOOD STUFF
Now that I’ve said what I don’t like about the DV500, let me describe what I do like about it, almost everything.
Let’s start with compliments for one of the finest operation manuals I have seen in a long time. There is little evidence of poor translation, and the instructions were thorough and accurate. The only confusion I ran into was the section regarding export of the “SSF” or Super Scene Finder information. This was resolved a few sections later where those points were clarified.
Overall, the construction of the camera is rugged and well-thought-out, with the possible exceptions of the previously mentioned stock viewfinder’s extension range and the bottom vent holes.
In use, the physical balance of the camera is excellent on-shoulder and the shoulder pad is wide, comfortable and stable. Although the approximately 11 pound weight is light, it is not too light to provide stability. Even with the provided lens’ narrow field of view, I had no problem maintaining a stable handheld shot.
The camera controls are excellent and well-placed. Although it will take a bit of time for an operator to get used to all the switches and their positions, they all serve good purposes and are not just frivolous gadgets.
The menu displays in the viewfinder are excellent and the operations menu is user-configurable for showing audio levels, voltage and other information. Not only is the menu display well laid out, but the shutter/menu wheel is very intuitive and quick to use.
The range of menu-driven controls and features on the DV500 is absolutely astonishing given the camera’s price-point. Features like two 4:3 and one 16:9 safe-area generators, gamma and color matrix adjustment for matching with other cameras or to achieve a “look”, even a battery “fuel gauge” that allows the user to enter the battery type being used for greater metering accuracy. The DV500 also has a skin detail function as well as enhancement control for both horizontal and vertical detail, with scene files provided in the menu to store custom setups. Another feature which sets this camcorder apart from all others in its price range is an excellent variable-speed shutter to compensate for the scan timing of computer screens.
The VTR setup menu, can be viewed both through the viewfinder and on the exceptionally readable LCD screen on the left rear of the camera. This screen, which also shows audio levels, warnings and the battery gauge, uses what appears to be an electroluminescent panel to backlight the display in an appealingly eerie shade of green that makes the characters “pop” for excellent clarity.
JVC has, in the DV500, produced a camera capable of producing fabulous images. During the evaluation, I tested the camera in darkly lit halls, sodium and mercury lit production and storage areas, brightly lit office and control room spaces, unlit areas in a house at night and outdoors at midday and sunset with snowy winter scenes. In every one of these situations, the color rendition and subjective resolution made me feel like I was there. I evaluated the images by connecting the camcorder’s “S” output to a Sony 13″ professional broadcast monitor adjusted to the camera’s SMPTE color bars, which is also a most welcome feature.
During shooting, even when the camera indicated the white balance didn’t accept a value in a low pressure sodium lighting situation, the white balance did work…and work very well. Blues, reds, fluorescent orange, yellows, purples, flesh tones all were reproduced-on tape with an accuracy that I have never seen on any camera costing less than three times the list price of the DV500. In lower light, the +9 gain-up function was very good. The black compress and black stretch settings worked very well to reveal or suppress details hidden in shadows and could even be used to reduce noise when +18 dB gain was engaged. Although I tried to get the CCD’s to misbehave, I was unable to cause either smear or bloom during my tests.
The LoLux feature, although noisy, provided clear video in near darkness. For covert news gathering, surveillance work and nature shooting, this feature could easily make the DV500 a favored tool. The “full auto shooting” feature is good for event and news uses, but be aware that you do pay the price of reduced color fidelity in some situations.
One attribute that bears special mention is the method of detail processing used by JVC. Because of the dual-edge horizontal and vertical detail processing, I was unable to generate any significant stairstepping (aliasing) when shooting diagonal lines either moving or stationary. The performance of the DV500, even with its 1/2″ CCD’s, far exceeded the performance of my DXC-637 with 2/3″ chips.
DV audio is “unlocked” from the video. This has caused much suffering in the past due to sync drift. The DV500 has a “locked” audio feature which is intended to prevent the audio/video sync from drifting when long segments are downloaded digitally. The audio, apart from the supplied microphone, is excellent. Other audio features worth noting include a front-mounted volume control for the front mic input and an input matrix control allowing for great flexibility. As an added convenience, switchable 48 volt phantom power is available at all three XLR connectors.
JVC has outfitted the DV500 with a 4-pin firewire Input/output port, composite and “S” video and RCA audio output connectors. The camera can be connected to virtually any video system. JVC also built the DV500 with its use as a source VTR in mind.
The addition of JVC’s proprietary serial machine control connector is also an excellent feature. Where proprietary interfaces are often an unnecessary nuisance, JVC has been working hard with a number of the major manufacturers of NLE systems to make driver software and interface cables available to provide machine control for both the DV500 and the companion BR-DV600 VTR. The connector also allows connection to JVC’s EditDesk S-VHS systems for easy and relatively inexpensive interformat tape-to-tape editing.
The use of this machine control system allows producers to use the powerful, if somewhat unusual “SSF”, or Super Scene Finder, function to automate the digitizing process.
The SSF function allows the operator to record take, incue and outcue timecode references on the head of the tape. The DV500 also has a button marked “NG” which, when pushed after a bad take, erases the reference from the SSF data, eliminating it from an automated downloading session to save drive space.
One additional rear panel connection is for 12VDC for powering wireless mic receivers.
JVC has provided for a number of powering options. The DV500 comes with an NP-type case, but can be changed to an Anton Bauer mount. The power consumption is rated at 20 watts, which for a full-size digital camcorder is excellent. Even with a tired Anton Bauer NP-13+ and lots of zooming, I achieved run times similar to what I experience with the EVW-637.
In short, the “hype” about this camera is real. Believe it. The GY-DV500 is a true work of technical art. I am not easily impressed and I do not believe there is any such thing as a perfect piece of video production equipment, but as a bridge to the quickly evolving and still-uncertain digital video world, it would be hard to come up with a better engineered, more affordable solution. Evaluate a DV500 before you buy any other camcorder. If nothing else, you will come away appreciating its true value and excellent engineering.
In my opinion, the JVC GY-DV500 deserves all five stars.
Craig Zurhorst has been involved in video production for over 15 years and currently works in the training department of a fortune 500 company. He can be reached at Email Craig Zurhorst