The JVC GY-DV500
Camcorder – A Review
A few years ago there was a universe of difference
between broadcast equipment and that intended for keen amateurs and
so called industrial video. The innovation that changed everything
was consumer digital video. In fact it was so good that Sony and
Panasonic immediately made variations of it as their next
professional video formats. Panasonic went straight for Sony’s
throat and attacked the broadcast ENG market with DVCPRO. Sony
decided to aim more for the so-called Business and Industrial market
with their DVCAM variant.
The bottom end of the pro market has since been
dominated with kit designed for consumers, mostly by Sony. Their
VX-1000 DV camcorder has probably been one of the most successful
professional cameras ever sold, with broadcasters buying them by the
Into this market JVC has decided to import a fully
professional camcorder, the GY-DV500, with a deck to follow very
shortly. They call the system Professional DV, but unlike the other
two companies they have stuck much closer to the consumer DV
standard. Most important they have priced the camcorder much closer
to the consumer based VX-1000 and the Canon XL-1 than to the DVCAM
and DVCPRO equivalents.
There will be many VX-1000 owners in particular
who will want to consider the JVC as the next step up, and we are
going to look at the DV500 from their point of view.
There will also be many users of broadcast
camcorders like older BetacamSPs, who will see the features of the
JVC as apparently fully matching these old warriors. We will also
look at the DV500 from this side of the fence.
The VX-1000 perspective.
The DV500 looks like a professional camcorder; it
sits on your shoulder or on a tripod and definitely looks the
business. This is not always a good thing, especially if you are
trying to remain inconspicuous, but for most of the DV500 customers
it will look everything they need to impress their own clients with
their professional status. It is quite heavy, about 5kG all up, but
feels very balanced and handy. It is not quite the holding at arm’s
length and taking a picture of yourself handiness of the VX-1000,
but it’s no monster.
For those that have never used anything except a
VX-1000, the DV500 will appear rather intimidating. There are a lot
more switches and knobs, although all are clearly labelled.
Fortunately in a prominent place is a large button marked ‘Full
Auto’ that will get you started and indeed for many folk provide
them with all they may ever need. In fact there are very few more
functions than those in the VX-1000, they are just given more
dedicated controls and are therefore rather quicker to access.
There is a large bright viewfinder, but shock
horror; it is in black and white! The reason is soon clear since it
is much easier to find focus, which is as well because the
auto-focus has disappeared. This is now the world of the big boys so
you also have to keep the camera still; no Steadyshot in the lens.
The lens is a fully pro detachable type and we had a Fuji 17x which
was a beauty. It had internal focus (so the front element did not
rotate) and the zoom was very smooth and progressive.
Our camera was fitted with an NP-1 type battery
holder, and had Lithium-Ion packs made by IDX. They lasted an
amazing 2 hours per charge.
The transport section takes only the MiniDV sized
tapes, like the VX-1000, which allow up to 1 hour of continuous
recording. The tapes drop straight into a top slot protected by a
flap; there is no loading draw to close. There is a short delay of a
second or so between pressing the record button and actually
starting the recording, which I found rather disconcerting, but I
guess you would get used to allowing for this.
The pictures are a revelation, sharp and colourful
yet without any trace of edginess that often mars cheaper cameras.
There is a very warm bias to the colours, especially compared to the
VX-1000, which is renowned for looking rather cold. The sensitivity
is amazing, with an almost see in the dark capacity. This is
especially true when looking in the viewfinder since it tends to
mask the noise which is more obvious when looking at the colour
output. Even so there will be very few situations where a picture
will fail through lack of light.
The Betacam perspective.
If you are a Betacam user you will immediately
feel at home with the GY-DV500. All the main controls are in the
same place, and accessing any switch flags an immediate tally in the
viewfinder to tell you what you have just changed. The camera is
considerably lighter and handily more compact than a Betacam but is
still substantial enough to feel reassuredly solid on the shoulder.
An old BBC colleague found it sat naturally a little off level but
maybe he has squarer shoulders than mine! The camera is constructed
with magnesium alloy covers that feel very strong and able to take
the inevitable knocks.
I found that with the NP1 type battery pack and a
17x Fuji lens, it was a little front heavy, but with an Anton or PAG
type battery mounted it would be just about spot on. It’s a great
shame that there is no compact and economical wide-angle lens to
match this package, let’s hope the optics manufacturers see the
The area that will be new to old hands is the
amazing amount of control now available in the various menus. The
Digital Signal Processing (DSP) allows the replacement of all those
little screwdriver tweaks inside with clear and reproducible
software adjustments. These can be saved in one of two files, but
there is no way of saving them to a card. The menus are all fairly
obvious and any doubts cleared up by the excellent handbook.
Accessing and changing the menus requires the usual rather obscure
collection of button pushing, but this one is more logical than
some, and once learnt is no problem.
The viewfinder is fairly bright but suffers the
usual problem of brightness and contrast controls that get moved in
transit. It looks fairly sturdy but has limited mechanical
adjustment compared to the Betacam. It has a very nice system of
status displays that keep you informed but don’t get in the way of
the picture. There is an optional zebra pattern with three window
levels but I found it a little too faint.
The camera has all the usual Betacam type controls
in their expected positions; and nicely enacted to boot. The gain
switch has each of the 3 positions selectable in 3dB steps from –3
to +18. The auto white is quick to work with an indicated target in
the viewfinder. The filter wheel has just 3 positions, which can
leave a rather big gap in the daylight ND on and off positions, and
the very good sensitivity could warrant a need for an ND on the
tungsten setting. It’s a shame they still need to use minus blue
filters, since otherwise we could have two ND values with no extra
mechanical complexity. There are plenty of extra goodies as well.
There is a ‘Lolux’ button to give you an extra boost when
conditions are really bad, good for the ENG cameraman in a fix.
There is an ‘Accu-Focus’ switch that temporarily forces the iris
fully open (and compensates the picture to suit) and thus gives
minimum depth of field for focus checking. There is a switch to give
plus/minus one stop on the auto iris. There is a dual mode shutter
system with either action stopping or computer screen shooting
intentions. There is a switch to give some black stretch or
compression. There is the aforementioned FAS switch for a fully auto
operation mode that may well attract even seasoned pros who want an
easy ride. This mode will not give as accurate a colour balance as
the normal mode but will track changing colour temperature in the
scene. Finally there is the S.S.F. system for marking scenes; a sort
of poor man’s version of Sony’s ClipLink; but until this is
supported by software in NLE systems it is of very limited use. At
least it records the markers on tape and doesn’t need the
expensive chip versions of the DV tape.
In summary the camera gives very comprehensive
video control and options that should satisfy the vast majority of
professional shooters. The drama folk might feel let down by a lack
of frame mode and finer control of the transfer functions but with a
camera of this cost there have to be compromises and the majority
Audio is supported with a very standard
arrangement and fully professional connections. The supplied
microphone may have limited performance but can be easily upgraded
if desired. The format strays a little from consumer DV practice by
offering locked 48kHz as standard, the same as used by DVCAM and
DVCPRO. Unusually for standard DV the camera also allows the
Timecode to be preset to any desired value.
Finally one disappointment was the tripod plate.
JVC have not used the industry standard Sony plate, and their
substitute is frankly rather poor. It is more difficult to engage
and looks far more prone to wear.
And so to the pictures.
I decided to shoot a simple still life lit by tungsten, and then
compare with those from the VX-1000 and my Betacam, a 10 year old
BVW-300. I set both the DV cameras to their ‘default’ factory
values, whilst the Betacam is set to my preference of a rather soft
‘film look’. The results can be seen in the montage and I think
speak for themselves. I have shown this image to a fair cross
section of video users (on the Internet) and there is a very divided
response to preference, with many liking the JVC picture just as it
is. For those that find it rather too ‘in your face’, there is
no doubt that the extensive picture controls should make a less
sharp and contrasty version a cinch to obtain. There is left the
distinct rosy hues and strong colour, which many people prefer
anyway and which don’t appear to have adjustment resources.
In conclusion the JVC GY-DV500 is a very
impressive beast. It offers truly professional shooting resources on
a format that allows use of extensive post production equipment
based upon very affordable kit. Exactly what is available and
whether the results can be considered broadcast quality is something
we hope to consider on another day.