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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.

Field Test #3: Recording Issues

For what I wanted to be my third shoot with the GY-HC550, I was going to be recording a couple, 96 and 94, married 76 years, who met shortly after World War II, during which both had survived Nazi concentration camps. I had set the HC550 to record with one of the 4K codecs at 30p, and it worked for a minute or 2, then just stopped. I tried switching to the SSD (EXT), but the camera didn't see it. I didn't have time to trouble shoot in in the field, as I had elderly talent under lights, so I switched to a Canon XF705 that I was carrying for backup.

The next day, I spoke with JVC tech support, and they resolved the issues. The 4K recording functionality worked correctly on my next shoot.

Field Test #4: Whale Watching

My next shoot was a first for me. I went whale watching on a boat out of Morrow Bay, California. I had never been before. I found that I was one of three people aboard a boat of about 40 who brought serious cameras. The other two had DSLRs, one Nikon, the other Canon. I was the only one with a video camcorder on the boat. To make the most oft this opportunity to do nature videography on the high seas, I used the internal SSD to record 4K 60p in ProRes 422 HQ.

Shooting on the boat proved quite a workout. We were lucky. The captain said the humpback whales were very active that day. I was situated near the bow, constantly hopping from the right side of the boat to the left to get shots of the giant mammals. I also had to be mindful of all the others trying to capture the sights on their cellphone cameras. If a wave had hit at the wrong time, I could have easily knocked this whale of a handheld camera into someones head, causing injury.

At the end of the cruise I reviewed the footage. I got some pretty spectacular shots, especially when I cropped the 4K footage onto a 1080p sequence in Premier Pro. When whale watching, you never know whats going to happen, so every time you see a little something, you roll tape. When you are recording ProRes HQ at 4K/60p, that is a lot of data--about 1GB/minute. The hour of footage I captured used a little under 1 TB, although I ended up dumping around 90% of it.

One thing that probably would have been helpful was the HC550’s pre-record function that you can set for up to 5 seconds. This keeps the camera continuously recording up to 5 seconds of video, so you don't miss a surprise important shot. When shooting wildlife, you rarely are prepared before something happens. You must either keep rolling, or miss something. The pre-record function effectively allows you to keep rolling constantly without wasting media, as it records a continuous loop for 5 seconds until you hit the Record button. This is a great feature for saving once-in-a-lifetime shots that a slow trigger finger might otherwise miss.

After having posted about my whale watching adventure on social media, one of my photography enthusiast friends said she thought it looked like such a great experience she wanted to try it one day. As she was celebrating surviving breast cancer, and I wanted to try it again with Pre-record engaged and other different settings on the camera, I said “Let’s go!”

Although the whales weren't nearly as cooperative this time out, we saw a juvenile gray whale at the beginning and a humpback towards the end. The Pre-record feature saved me a lot of wasted storage. The one humpback didn't come up to the boat like the others, so I had to use the zoom to attempt to get close up. On a boat in the ocean that was pitching in the waves, staying upright--let alone zooming to get a shot--can be a challenge. My shots weren’t as good as the first time, but the settings worked. You can see my HC550 whale-watching footage at the 10:05 mark of the video at the top of this page, or by clicking here.

Field Test #5: Lecture Capture

Next, I used the GY-HC550 on a fairly typical shoot for me: a lecture in front of a ballroom with a PowerPoint presentation. My company generally provides the sound and projection systems for these clients, and such was the case here.

This job got complicated fast. On the way to the venue, the client called me in a panic, saying the featured speaker “may have been exposed to someone who may have had COVID-19 in the lecture he gave the night before.” We thought about having him Zoom from his hotel room, but the hotel's Wi-Fi and Ethernet were both down. After the speaker tested negative for the virus, we weren't too worried, but to keep everyone safe and cover all of the possible legal woes, I came up with the plan to have the speaker stand just outside the hall at a podium. We ran a mic and HDMI to his computer from our Lumantek VS4 switcher, set up the GY-HC550 on a tripod in the room shooting him outside the room, and ran that to the switcher via HD-SDI. The switcher fed the projector and a Blackmagic Design Video Assist I use to record the switched show. We set the camera at 1080/29.97p.

The beginning of the shoot took place at sunset, so the light was constantly getting darker. What impressed me the most was how well the camera handled the constantly changing light. The client and audience were very impressed with how we worked out the situation and how well the image projected.

On the tripod is where the HC550 is most happy—or, at least, where its operators and their wrists will be most happy when shooting with this camera. As I noted earlier, the GY-HC550 is big, especially for a camera in the “handheld” category. Handholding this camera for more than a few minutes without a wrist brace may damage your wrist. Even with a brace, it is difficult. A monopod, if the head can take the weight, will work, but I was pushing my Manfrotto to its limit at the graduation shoots described earlier. On my Manfrotto tripod, the camera was much easier to use. JVC adopted Sony’s LANC protocol, so you can plug any Sony or other LANC control device with the 2.5" connector into its 2.5 mm jack. I used it for my Libec zoom/record pause controller and it worked great.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, there is as much to like in the JVC GY-HC550 as there is in the GY-HM550. It has pretty much all of the connectors one could ask for on a camera. This truly is a “connected cam.” The batteries are on the large side, but can keep the camera powered up for a long time, with the standard battery going about 2.5 hours and the larger optional ones going around 3.5 hours. But keep in mind that the frame rate you choose, as well as HD or 4k, and/or if you’re livestreaming, can effect the run time. Either way, you will probably find yourself spending another few hundred to a $2000 on additional batteries Chargers, and media.

I was very happy with the picture and sound quality I on the footage I captured. The 1" CMOS image sensor is very good in low light, but not great. You can boost the gain to about 12dB comfortably, but if you go past 15dB the image gets too grainy. With the Canon XF705, you can boost the gain up to 30dB without grain. Again, the Canon costs over $2,000 more, and yet lacks several key features the HC550 has, such as the ability to stream and record at the same time, graphic overlay capability, internal SSD support, built-in wireless LAN.

The 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. For run-and-gun video production, this camera is too large to handhold for more than a couple minutes, and the wrong form factor to put on your shoulder. With the camera's size, there is no reason JVC couldn't tweak the design a bit to make it usable from the shoulder.

I can easily recommend this camera for large and small studios, as well as anyone who needs to stream from on-location. The JVC GY-HC550 is well-worth considering for studio and field production.

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