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June 2019
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Review: JVC GY-LS300 4KCAM Handheld S35mm Camcorder, Part 1: Lens Support, Functionality, and Usability

JVC is running ahead of the pack again with the GY-LS300, an affordable ($3,995), interchangeable-lens, Super35/variable-sensor area, 4K/HD camcorder that also features internal streaming capability, first model in a new product line.

The Competition

When it comes to interchangeable-lens cameras that can shoot and record 4K internally in the prosumer market (around $5,000 or less), the market was quite small when the LS300 was introduced. Sony's FS700 ($5,000) requires accessories to record 4K. Canon's EOS-1D C sells for $8,000. Sony's 4K-capable α7 series interchangeable lens cameras required an external recorder, till June 2015, when the α7R-II ($3,200) was announced.

The α7R II (Figure 6, below) will record 4K internally. A “full-frame 35mm camera, the α7R II also enables the user to select different size active sensor areas- something JVC is calling Variable Scan Mapping. The α7R II lets the user select between full 35mm or S35 (APSc) active sensor areas- the latter of which reportedly has no pixel binning or interpolation. Early full-frame footage from the α7R II shows aliasing and moiré when the whole sensor is used. So I think it safe to consider the α7R II a S35 4K camera.

Figure 6. The Sony A7R II. Click the image to see it at full size.

One other camera that has been growing in popularity since its release in early 2014, and which may be the $3,500 LS300’s main competition, is Panasonic's $1,500 GH4 DSLR (Figure 7, below). The GH4 has been producing reliable and great-looking 4K footage since its release. It also has an M43 mount, like the LS300, but the sensor in the GH4 is smaller than the S35 sensor in JVC’s LS300. Moreover, when the GH4 shoots 4K, it crops in on the M43 sensor even further to sample the pixels 1:1.

Figure 7. The Panasonic DMC-GH4 (left) and the JVC GY-LS300 (right). Click the image to see it at full size.

JVC says its single CMOS sensor has “approximately 13.5 megapixels (MP) and achieves a standard sensitivity of ISO 400 with a total of 12 stops of exposure latitude. Super 35 Cinema lenses may be used and will retain their native angle of view. When the camera is used with MFT, Super 16 and other size lenses, JVC’s proprietary Variable Scan Mapping feature (Figure 8, below) will maintain the lens’s native angle of view. This gives filmmakers the flexibility of using widely available MFT lenses as well as high-end cinema lenses.”

Figure 8. JVC’s Variable Scan Mapping. Click the image to see it at full size.

I use a variety of ENG, C-Mount, and other glass on my GH4 with various M43 adapters. The LS300’s Variable Scan Mapping would enable me to use a wide range of glass without the expense of optical adapters, aside from those that “speedboost” full-frame glass down to APSc.

The LS300 brochure shows a few different sizes but in actual use, I found that I could select among eight different 4K sensor sizes from S35 to M43. And in HD, I could choose from 16 different sensor sizes, from S35 through M43 (Figure 9, below), to Super 16 and down to “HD,” which looks to be what a 2/3" ENG camcorder would have. When I tested the LS300 with an ENG lens, I found that this sensor size fit perfectly within the circle of light the ENG lens threw onto the sensor. No optical adapter needed.

Figure 9. The LS300’s M43 Mount. Click the image to see it at full size.

Handling

The LS300 is evolved from a small consumer-sized camcorder body. It’s definitely bigger than most palmcorders with a bit of girth and heft. The large sensor and ND filter are add-ons to an impressive hunk of body. The whole camcorder part is actually rather squat, reflected in the horizontal mounting of the battery on the back. Thankfully, it’s not internal.

In the video that accompanies this article, I do a walkaround of the LS300 and discuss the various buttons, dials, ports, and switches that adorn the camcorder.

The grip is off to the side and the width means a bit more torque than if the camcorder were more vertical because your hand is further from the center of balance. Swing out the screen; add the handle, mic, and a lens, and you've now pretty much made it hard to hand-hold this camcorder for any length of time. My hand couldn't do it and I've worked 12-hour days with my Sony HDV camcorder.

Part of this is aggravated by the fact that the LS300’s design evolved from the HM200, with its integrated zoom lens, and the HM170, which also lacks the XLR handle. This is also evidenced by the orphaned zoom rocker on the LS300, which really serves little purpose on an interchangeable-lens camera. When you add the additional sensor hardware, and then a nice piece of heavy glass on the front, you realize the grip needs to be about 4-5 inches further forward. Canon addressed this issue similarly on numerous camcorders spanning form their Hi8 models, though HD, where the grip was far forward of the body, next to the interchangeable-lens area (Figure 10, below).

Figure 10. Canon’s grip-far-forward XL1. Click the image to see it at full size.

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Free upgrade for all current GY-LS300, GY-HM200, and GY-HM170 owners adds log gamma setting and a unique Prime Zoom feature to the GY-LS300, as well as a histogram and new 70 Mbps 4K recording mode for all three camcorders
In Part 2 of this review we'll focus on image delivery, comparing the JVC LS300's HD and 4K image-making capabilities with the Panasonic DMC-GH4, focusing on its handling of deep shadows, bright backgrounds, variable sensor mapping, depth of field, sharpness, and aliasing.
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