JVC was the first company to offer an HDV camcorder, the GY-HD1, which the company introduced in early 2003. It was revolutionary by some standards because it was the first camera to deliver HD shooting for under $4,000, but its single-chip configuration and poor low-light performance at 30 lux minimum illumination made it ill-suited for professional work. Using a progressive chip, it shot 720p30 HDV. The HDV field remained fairly stagnant for the next 18 months, until late 2004 when Sony jumped in the game with its consumer FX1 and pro Z1 3-CCD HDV camcorders, two nearly identical models (despite their "consumer" and "pro" designations) that both shot 1080i60. In 2005, Canon released its first HDV model, the 3-CCD, 1080i60 XL H1 camcorder, and JVC introduced the GY-HD100, its long-awaited follow-up to the HD1. The HD100 was a 3-CCD, shoulder-mount camcorder that shot HDV in 720p30 and 720p24. This was true 24 frames per second progressive video, not the fudged 24-frame film look produced (with markedly different levels of success) using the interlaced chips in the Sony and Canon camcorders. The tape actually moved slower, and there was no pull-down as with other 24p offerings, such as Panasonic's AG-DVX100, that shot in 30p and would do the pull-down to 24p only when capturing to an NLE.
In 2006 JVC updated the HD100 to the HD110, adding a handful of new features and fixing a few issues in a camera that was still very similar in terms of functionality and price. JVC also introduced two additional models, the HD200 and HD250. These cameras added a standard Anton Bauer battery mount; and another shooting mode, 720p60 (more on this later), using a higher-quality and super-fast MPEG encoder. The HD250 also added studio connections, Genlock, and HD-SDI out.
Because the HD250's extra features and price wouldn't interest most event videographers, the HD200 (MSRP $8,995 with 16X Fujinon lens) with Anton Bauer battery mount most merits our attention, and may well be worth the extra bucks over the HD110 (MSRP $6,550 with lens). While the Anton Bauer battery mount is an option on the HD110, most shooters—especially those using Anton Bauer batteries already—would opt to be able to use their old batteries on a new camera. My Dionic 90 helps balance an otherwise front-heavy camera.
The 720p60 frame rate is the more important of the features added in the HD200. Many videographers are not yet comfortable with the look of 30p (progressive) video, finding that motion looks jerky compared with interlaced video. To soften the blow, JVC came up with 720p60, essentially doubling the frame rate for better-looking motion. Amazingly, JVC manages this without speeding up the tape, so you still get more than 60 minutes on a MiniDV tape.
On opening the shipping case, I discovered a number of things. The camcorder with the battery was only a couple pounds less than my full-size, standard definition Panasonic AG-DVC200, and even though the camera was heavier than I expected, the shoulder pad proved very comfortable. Turning it on and getting it up and running was fairly simple. It was set to 720p60 HDV as the default format. For a little practice, I shot some presentations given at my chamber of commerce networking meetings. There I discovered two important things.
First, I found a small metal hump screwed into the accessory shoe. I would imagine that JVC put it there to help keep some lights from sliding out. Conversely, the added thickness wouldn't let my Cool-Lux "Tri-Light" slide in at all. I've used the light on several cameras and never had that issue. Luckily, the single small Phillips-head screw is easily removed, allowing the small piece of metal to come out, and the light to go in.
I had the opportunity to use the GY-HD200 on two shoots. One was a lecture by a noted terrorism expert. It was in a large auditorium; I was positioned near the back. Because focus is so critical, I was a bit worried shooting at this distance. Fortunately, JVC's Focus Assist system works really well once you get used to it. It works by putting a colored outline around object edges when they are in focus. The Fujinon 16:1 HD lens worked just the way you'd expect a pro lens to work. Unfortunately, JVC is the only HDV camera manufacturer to currently offer pro lenses that you have direct control of, instead of servos sensing the turning of a ring.
The controls are laid out in a logical way. The only two buttons that fouled me up (besides the switch for the audio on the right side) were the white balance and alternate record buttons. I'm used to having an AWB switch, not a button, and it was placed where my cameras normally had their second record button.
Both the viewfinder (LCD) and the pop-out 3.5" LCD screens were surprisingly crisp. The side audio level controls were placed such that you didn't need to reach your arm around the back of your head to make adjustments while shooting on your shoulder. That was a breath of fresh air. The camera mounts to tripods using industry-standard Sony Betacam tripod plates. Because of the shape of the HD200, the process takes a little more effort to make everything "click."
There are a number of reasons to choose the GY-HD200 over its sibling, the GY-HD110. It has a two-year parts and one-year labor warranty, whereas the warranty on the 110 is one and one. Functionally, there is the higher-quality super MPEG encoder, the standard Anton Bauer mount (no battery, charger, or power included), and—most importantly—the 60p setting.
While many people are happy with the 30p in the HD100/110, 30p can look a bit coarse to people who are used to interlaced video (whether videographers or their clients), especially where there is a lot of action. JVC remedied this by doubling the frame rate to 60 progressive frames per second. It is a bit weird at first watching the timecode frames go into the 50s; however, after looking at your 60p footage, you may never want to go back to 30p.
I, for one, never liked the way sports or fast dancing looked in 30p. You get the best of both worlds with 60p: the clarity of full-frame progressive scan, and the smoother fluid look of 60 field interlaced video. Everyone who saw my sample footage of cars whizzing by on U.S. Route 101 in 30p and 60p preferred the fluid look of 60p. The 60p footage maintains its filmic look without the "stuttering" motion of 30p. In an effort to focus on the new features of the camera (i.e., those not available in the HD100 or 110), I didn’t spend much time in 24p mode. While I know that a lot of videographers swear by 24p acquisition and insist it’s the only way to get a film-like look in event video, I’m not one of them. You can make any frame rate, standard or high definition (30p, 60p, or 60i), look more like film by maintaining a shallow depth of field as you shoot and by paying attention to details such as contrast, brightness, and saturation in post. There’s no question that JVC’s HDV cameras do 24p well, and however effectively Canon has managed to simulate progressive video in its new A1 and G1 cameras, JVC’s 100 and 200 series remain the only true progressive HDV models on the market. But to me the only reason to use 24p is if you’re going out to film, which is something that event and corporate videographers rarely (if ever) do. For more information on the 24p capabilities of JVC ProHD cameras, see Marc Smiler’s excellent April 2006 review of the GY-HD100U.
Posting HD200 Footage
This brings us to posting the footage from the HD200. This is not a problem if you are shooting 30p HDV, 24p HDV, or DV. 720p60 editing is a problem. In Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 and Sony Vegas 7 I found no settings for the format. In Premiere Pro I was able to create a 720p30 project and load the 60p footage. Premiere Pro recognized the footage as 59.94fps and allowed me to cut it in 30p. But because the project file was only 30fps, all the 60p footage had to be rendered to 30p. That process took about three hours for an 80-minute project that had five transitions, four titles, and no color correction.
I also looked to Apple and Avid, tried Premiere Pro 2.0 with Matrox's RT.X2 accelerator card—you name it, I tried it—and found that there was only one way to edit 720p60 at the time of this writing. I spoke to the tech guru at Cineform (makers of the workflow-enhancing, lossless HDV intermediate codecs Aspect HD for Adobe Premiere Pro and Connect HD for Sony's Vegas—see Ben Balser's "Editing HDV," January, pp. 24–29), who was able to whip up a 720p60 setting for the Premiere Pro plug-in in about 20 minutes. It worked great, except for one thing: Due to some licensing issue with Main Concept, Adobe Premiere Pro cannot export 720p HDV footage from version 1.5 on. At NAB I inquired about Premiere Pro 3.0 (the new version scheduled to be released this summer as part of the CS3 Production Premium suite), and it will have the same issue. If you do happen to have Premiere Pro 1.0 or 1.5, there is a hack to make it work in 2.0 or 3.0. But what options are available to non-hackers? The Sony Media Software team told me that Vegas 7 can do 720 24p, 25p, and 30p but not 60p at this time.
At NAB 2007 JVC showed Apple's new Final Cut Studio and Grass Valley (formerly Canopus) EDIUS Broadcast 4.2 working with the 720p60 footage. JVC announced at the show that it will be bundling EDIUS Broadcast 4.2 (a $999 value) with all 200 series camcorders.
All in All...
All in all, I enjoyed using the GY-HD200. It’s very ergonomic, it produced great-looking images, and it was easy to operate. The added features make it well worth the $2,400 you’ll pay to step up from the HD110. While editing options may not be as numerous right now for 60p, they will be soon, even if you need a hack.
The only thing that could make this camera better would be being able to work with full-size tape, something JVC abandoned two years ago. With Sony announcing a full-size, 1080p HDV camcorder for late this year or early 2008, JVC may want to reconsider. If you need an affordable HDV camcorder with professional-level controls and a pro lens, and want to take advantage of the superior 720p60 recording format, the GY-HD200 is the best choice on the market today.
Marc Franklin has been shooting video since 1982, and has run Franklin Video Productions since 1992.