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Review: JVC HC-550 4K Camcorder

The JVC GY-HC550 will do very well in news production, corporate video, and event production. The ability to store a station or other logo on the camera for streaming is very useful.

Described by JVC as an “extremely large handheld” camcorder, JVC GY-HC550 (Figure 1, below) packs a lot of features for a handheld model. What sets it apart right away is the box molded into right rear side, with two antennas coming out of the top. This is the wireless LAN that allows you to connect to a network or hot spot for live streaming. It also features a 1" CMOS sensor behind a 20x zoom lens.

Figure 1. JVC’s streaming-ready JVC GY-HC550 handheld camcorder (street price $4,990)

The left side of the camera is covered with many function buttons and a joystick that allows you to navigate the complex menu system (Figure 2, below). On top there is a handle with the 4" monitor that flips out, and behind it are the audio controls on the left side. The right side has the XLR audio connectors the front has a built-in stereo mic that can be used if you have no other audio options. The rear has the HD-SDI, HDMI, Ethernet, remote, and an Aux connector. (I’m not sure what that does.)

Figure 2. Left side of the GY-HC550 with function buttons and controls

The GY-HMC550 comes with a standard 7.2 V battery pack, mic mount, two antennas, lens hood, and AC power supply. The package I received for review included an optional BN-VC296 ($330) and two BN-VC2128G high-capacity batteries (sold separately for $430 each), a dual charger ($330), and JVC's proprietary caddie (for use in camera). The caddie comes empty, but for testing JVC supplied me with a 1TB SSD (not included). I also added my own Azden SGM-250 shotgun mic to the package.

On the rear there are two SDXC slots above the battery slot (Figure 3, below). To the left of the battery slot, there is a larger slot that allows you to put an M.2 SSD in one of JVC's proprietary caddies, for longer recording times and/or higher-quality recording. This allows you to record 4K 60p in ProRes 4:2:2 HQ for super high quality that most SDXC cards can't handle. In layman's terms. 4K 60p in ProRes 4:2:2 HQ is about 12GB a minute, which is overkill for most industrial and broadcast productions, but it’s available if needed for special projects.

Figure 3. Rear view of the GY-HC550 with battery, media slots, and I/O

Navigating the Menu System

This is a camera that you should really read the instructions for--maybe twice--before you start recording, let alone live streaming. Before you start recording, you must go into the extensive menu system and choose between all of the different frame sizes, frame rates, codecs, and recording media.

One thing you’ll discover is that not all frame rates and codecs will work on the SDXC cards even though you can select them. 4K/60P H.264, for example. Like the Canon XF705 (but unlike the Canon XF405), the HC550 does not support 4K/60P recording using the SDXC card slot. For 50P or 60P or 50P recording on the HC550, you’ll need to use the internal SSD in the caddie by choosing EXT (for External) in the menu.

Field Test #1: Outdoor Graduation Shoot

I began my in-the-field testing for the HC550 on two 8th-grade graduation (boys’ and girls’ classes at an orthodox Jewish school. We were originally going to livestream the events, but the “theater-in-the-round” setup the school choose made that something I couldn’t do effectively with one camera. Using a tripod was out of the question, so I mounted the GY-HC550 on my Manfrotto 561BHDV monopod.

The first ceremony, for the boys, started in the afternoon. Once the processional of graduates walking in was done, I was rarely in one position for more than 2 or 3 minutes. I put on the camera's 1/64 ND filter for the bright sun, and switched the camera to “full auto,” as I was not going to have time to make any adjustments while running around. They'd call up a graduate from one side, then the 180-degree opposite side, requiring me to go wide and run to the new position. This went on for about 90 minutes.

The second ceremony for the girls class started right before sundown. I didn't switch to a lower ND filter soon enough. I didn't see this until I was editing. In other cameras I have used, the camera will give a warning to either put on, or turn off the ND filters. Not so with the HC550. The HC550--still on full auto--kicked up the gain, making the graduates’ silver gowns very noisy, and creating some interesting artifacts. When I switched off the ND filter, the footage was much better. Lesson learned!

Field Test #2: Streaming to Facebook Live

The next shoot I did with the HC550 was recording my friend’s weekly Facebook Live broadcast. We set the HC550 to 1080/30p for recording and streaming. Getting the camera set up for streaming takes some practice. Don't expect to figure it out on location. While it may seem trivial, making sure the camera's internal clock is set to the correct UTC time zone is critical. If it is not in the correct time zone, the camera cannot stream. I missed that piece of info, and had to rely on tech support to make the proper adjustment. Unlike other camcorders that set time by timezone--Eastern U.S.A., Central, Mountain, Pacific, etc.--the JVC goes by UTC, so you may need to look up the correct time. California, where I’m located, is -7 UTC.

Once that is squared away, you set the camera's recording codec, frame rate, and resolution, and then resolution, frame rate, and bit rate for streaming. I used 1080/30p H.264 for both, and a streaming bit rate of 9 Mbps, which I believe would be sufficient for this talking-head video without a lot of action.

Next, you connect the camera to an available wireless network through the menu. This is the same process as connecting a computer to a local network.

Connecting to Facebook is pretty interesting. When you choose “Facebook Live” in the camera’s menu, it generates a QR code on the camera's LCD screen. You use the QR code reader on your phone to read it. If you do this successfully, the camera will link to your Facebook page. Then you just need to push the “Go Live” button on the left side of the camera, and you are streaming live on Facebook. It works the same for YouTube. Other sites may be added soon. If you want to record in the camera while you’re streaming live, you must remember to hit the record button also. The Go Live button does not trigger recording.

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