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½" 3-CCD DV Camcorder from JVC

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"DV500 vs. BVW-300 and VX-1000", by Perry Mitchell

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Perry Mitchell's Review

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Perry Mitchell's Review:
GY-DV500U vs. Sony's DV and BetaSP camcorders, and more

GY-DV500U, VX1000, BVW-300 images
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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 truckfull!

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 potential.

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 should win!

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.

GY-DV500U, VX1000, BVW-300 images

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.

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Written by Bertel Schmitt and Alexei Gerulaitis
© 2000 DV Central
Updated October 11, 2007

Written mostly by Bertel Schmitt.  Maintained by Alexei Gerulaitis.

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