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Review: JVC GY-HM650 ProHD Camcorder

In performance testing, the JVC GY-HM650 produced exceptionally sharp quality. It offers very good manual controls and outstanding auto-mode performance, and shoots very well-balanced pictures in a range of lighting conditions.

This is the second of two reviews of the JVC GY-HM650 ProHD camcorder. In the first review, I looked at the advanced, and largely unique, features of the camcorder, which include dual-codec recording and Wi-Fi and 4G communication (with the appropriate hardware) for file transfer, streaming, remote control, and remote viewing. In this review, I look at usability and image quality.

Note that the GY-HM650 has a sister camcorder, the GY-HM600, without the dual-codec and network-oriented features, but with most of the same optics/sensors and recording capabilities. The GY-HM650 costs $5,995 at B&H, while the HM600 costs $4,495. If you need the capabilities of the HM650, go for it, but for many streaming producers, the HM600 will do just as well.

On that front, both camcorders offer a comprehensive professional feature set that includes 3 CMOS sensors; a 23x non-detachable lens; separate aperture, zoom, and focus rings on the lens; dual XLR input with phantom power; plus a stereo microphone input, optical image stabilization, a 4-position ND filter, full auto and manual operation, and both HD-SDI and HDMI output.

Beyond this, my review focuses on usability and image quality, which I’ll address in largely that order.

Features and Usability

Audio can be the weak sister of some camcorders, but it’s not with the HM650/600. As mentioned, in addition to the internal stereo microphone, there are two XLR inputs with phantom power, plus a 3.5” input. There’s also a cold shoe up top where you can place an external microphone, plus a shotgun microphone holder on the upper right.

You switch inputs via control on the camera body, as opposed to menu controls, which is simpler and faster. To send mono audio from a single mono microphone to both channels, you connect the microphone to input 1 and select input 1 for both channels--you can see this on the upper left in Figure 1 (below). If you’re recording different inputs to the two stereo channels, you can monitor either channel or both, a feature that I haven’t seen before in any camcorder.

Figure 1. The HM650 has very good audio connectivity and control.

LCD Panel

The LCD panel sits atop the camcorder, and features a 3.5” diagonal size with 920,000 pixels. For perspective, it’s eerily similar to the size of the LCD panel on my iPhone 4S. The LCD can display all the normal configuration information, but the font is extremely small, which saves space nicely when you can read the text.

Like the iPhone 4S, however, the LCD has a slightly reflective surface that works well inside, but not outside--particularly in direct sunlight, where the discernible image degrades and the text becomes very difficult to read. I compared LCD viewability with my Canon XH A1 and Panasonic HMC150, and the HM650 came in third.

Figure 2 (below) shows the HM650 on the right compared to the HMC150 on the left. This is a worst case image; when you get closer to the HMC150, the reflection minimizes and the screen is more visible. Still, under the best of circumstances, the HMC650’s screen is much less usable outside than any of my other camcorders. Fortunately, the HM650’s .45” LCOS viewfinder, with its 852x480, 1.22M pixel display, is excellent, and obviously isn’t affected by the sun. If you can use that, you’re fine; if you can’t, and have to shoot outdoors using the LCD panel, it’s something you should check before buying the camcorder.

Figure 2. The reflective LCD panel was an unfortunate choice for outdoor shooters.

Otherwise, the large zoom rocker on the camera handle made it very easy to smoothly change zoom speed, which is critical for event shooters. I also found that autofocus was fast and accurate, and worked well in low light. It’s also very useful for those who often shoot under conditions that they can’t absolutely control.

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JVC's GY-HM650 is a new three-chip CMOS camcorder with computer-like functionality that enables Internet connectivity and a second encoder that enables shooting and storing two different formats to SD card, or storing one format and transmitting live streaming video. Part 1 of this 2-part review details the mechanics of the online and dual-codec capabilities. In the second, we'll look at the GY-HM650 as a traditional camera and test quality and usability.
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