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Review: JVC GY-HM600U ProHD Camera

JVC's new GY-HM600U ProHD camera incorporates very high-quality components, has a range of useful features, and in my tests captured very sharp video. If you're in the market for a sub $5,000 camcorder, the HM600U should be on your shortlist.

Moving on to other recording-related options, the 600U comes with dual SDHC/SDXC card slots, which you can record to serially for longer or continuous (with swapped cards) shooting or simultaneously for instant backup or to hand the client a copy at the end of the shoot. A Pre Rec mode can capture a rolling 15 seconds of video before you press record to make sure that you don't miss a shot.

The interval recording feature lets you capture very slow motion scenes, and extends from a frame capture every second to one frame per hour. You can also capture at frame rates different than your recording format, which is useful for high quality slow or fast motion effects, and is commonly called under or over cranking. Specifically, when in 720p 35Mbps MPEG-2 capture mode, you can record at frame rates ranging from 2-60 fps. While in 1080p 35Mbps MPEG-2 capture mode, you can only under crank and capture at frame rates ranging from 2-30 fps.

System Operation

You can drive the menu system via controls on the camera body or on the LCD panel itself.

Like most camcorders in its class, the 600U offers peaking for focus correction and zebra stripes for setting exposure. One feature I haven't seen before is the ability to set both upper and lower limits on the zebra stripes, so if you were setting exposure on a face, you could limit zebra stripes to between 70-80 IRE. On most other camcorders I've worked with, if you set zebras to 70 IRE, they appear at 70 IRE and all higher values, so you know when you're under-exposed, but not over-exposed.

The HM600U offers fully automatic recording mode, which is useful for unattended operation. When driving the camera manually, you have the three-wheel operation on the front (aperture/zoom/focus) which should make most shooters feel right at home. In addition to a push-for-autofocus feature, there's also a push-for-autoiris feature, another nice feature I've not seen before.

Quality Testing

Features are nice, but image quality is king. How did the HM600 fare? In lab testing, the HM600U proved the sharpest camcorder that I've tested to date, easily outclassing the HM700U and the Canon XH A1 camcorder that I've used with great success for many years. Remarkably, the HM600U captured better detail than the Canon 7D DSLR, which has a massively bigger image sensor (Figure 3, below). To see a larger, more detailed version of this chart, click on the image and zoom in on the linked page.

Figure 3. Comparative shots using DSC Laboratories' ChromaDuMonde test chart. For a larger, more detailed version of this chart, click the image and zoom in on the linked page.

If you study the horizontal and vertical test details, you'll notice that the HM600U did a better job preserving the separate lines along both axes, which should (and did) translate to increased detail in your video.

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