JVC Everio GZ-HM400 review
With the current trend for full-specification 1920 x 1080 camcorders that record to built-in flash memory and high-capacity SD cards as opposed to tapes, DVDs or even hard disk drives, JVC has now joined Panasonic and Canon in introducing an impressive new AVCHD model that offers a choice of recording to internal flash memory or to an SDHC memory card. It also features an external microphone input, dedicated headphone output and even a high-speed (time-lapse) recording option.
Designed to compete with Panasonic's limited-edition HDC-TM350 and Canon's Legria HF-S11 full-HD camcorders, the HM400's comparatively large 1/2.33in progressive Cmos image sensor produces impressive images at up to 10.3 megapixels (movies and Jpeg stills), while writing Mpeg-4 AVC/H.264-format video sequences to flash memory in one of four recording modes.
When recording and playing back at the highest UXP quality setting, the HM400 makes use of the maximum 24Mbits/sec data rate possible under the current AVCHD specification and provides almost three hours' worth of recording and playback on the camcorder's 32GB internal memory. Although this is still only half that of Panasonic's TM350 flagship camcorder, it still means that a total of 64GB is available when a 32GB SDHC memory card is also inserted.
Recording and playback quality at UXP and XP settings is very good. In full auto mode, the HM400 copes with exposure, contrast ratio and x.v.colour processing well. As with many prosumer camcorders at the sub-£1000 price point, however, the HM400 does suffer from white peaking on highlights, although this can be cured by switching to manual mode and pulling back exposure by one or even two stops. In such instances, the pictures looked superb when played back on a 42in LCD HDTV via HDMI. When recording at the UXP (24Mbits/sec) setting, there's little evidence of the rolling shutter (a horizontal drag effect when panning and tilting) that's much in evidence on Cmos-based camcorders. Even at the secondary XP (17Mbits/sec) quality setting, the movie images are very good.
Common to all current JVC Everio camcorders is the LaserTouch navigation system, which facilitates menu navigation and function selection using a touch-sensitive light-bar set in to the LCD monitor panel. With this, it's possible to scroll through menus and make selections with the left thumb. In practice, however, it responds too quickly and leads to errors, especially when used to change such values as focus, exposure and so on. A touchscreen LCD panel might have been better. However, the manual focus/exposure knob to the left of the lens barrel is a welcome option.
The camera would have benefited from a zoom lens whose ratio was higher than the 10x optical zoom provided, too. It's not uncommon for comparable models to be given 12x or even 14x zooms and in general use we found the HM400's lens to be a bit restrictive. Picture quality of clips recorded in good light were excellent, although those shot in lower light did display evidence of very fine picture noise, especially during movement. However, its built-in stereo microphone responded much better than expected, with minimal wind noise being present during scenes shot with moderate wind.
The bundled software is designed to assist in the import, editing and export of HD and standard-definition movie clips, but it's for PC users only. However, Intel Mac users will have no problems importing the HM400's full-HD clips using the latest iMovie or Final Cut Pro, as our tests proved. It's also possible to copy directly to disc via USB using JVC's optional DVD burner. It's easy to forget that it was JVC who led the migration from tape-based camcorders to those that used hard disks and, subsequently, solid-state memory. The HM400 is a worthy flagship for its Everio HD range of camcorders. While it lacks some of the features and functionality of its immediate competitors, remember that it's a lot cheaper, too. Weighing in at 485g and coming with a full complement of features, it's not aimed at the beginner. However, the quality-conscious enthusiast seeking good manual control, excellent connectivity and comprehensive functionality might find it hard to beat.