VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

INTRO

JVC's latest VHS-C palmcorders range features an interesting mixture of new and old ideas, we have been taking a close look at the 700 GR-AX70

 

COPY

The VHS-C format has had a pretty rough time of it lately but last year JVC almost single-handedly kept the system afloat and in contention with a range of highly innovative machines. Can they sustain the revival of interest in 1994? We're about to find out with the first of their new season palmcorders, due to reach the shops over the next few months. 

 

It's the GR-AX60, which will be joined by the AX40 and AX70, we'll look at them in more detail later on. The AX60 is derived from the AX75, another very well-equipped mono palmcorder with 12X two-speed zoom, 6-mode program AE system, video light, animation/interval/self timers and built-in random assemble edit system.

 

So far it all sounds rather familiar, until you get to the price, which is just 700, that's 150 less than the AX75! So what's missing? The AX60 dispenses with its predecessor's digital zoom and electronic image stabiliser, but in their place are a bundle of useful new features which includes a power-saving auto-pause facility, dual-mode title generator, Canon-inspired pop-up video light, twin battery chearger, plus a major re-vamp of the controls and layout.

 

We're pleased to see the AX60 comes with an RM-V704 remote control handset. This was one of the star features on the AX75, and it marked the end of a long-running disputre we had with JVC which revolved around them selling remote handsets as optional extras. It wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for the fact that the remote was the only way access half a dozen or so important features, including the likes of audio dub and  insert edit. Mind you, they're not completely cured and it's still an option on the AX30.

 

The remote handset contains the brains for the AX60's random assemble edit feature. It's basically the same system as the one on the AX55/75, the handset connects to the camcorder controlling the replay of up to eight selected scenes at a time. Edit in and out points are shown on the machine's on-screen display and video output. The handset also controls the record/pause function on the destination VCR, it contains an infra-red command library covering around twenty different brands of video recorder. The system is very simple to use, reasonably accurate and a big incentive for newcomers to progress beyond basic video movie making.

 

JVC have come up with a couple of new ideas on the AX60's controls. They've combined the functions of power on/off, record/play mode select and record-stop/start into a single switch. It's not as cumbersome as it sounds, and once you've got used to it, is actually very easy to use. The position of the zoom rocker is adjustable, to suit different sized hands; we're not so sure about this one, it makes the switch feel a little rickety, and one big-handed tester complained that none of the three positions felt particularly comfortable. The transport controls all live under a flap built into the handset. Bad idea! It makes them awkward to get at when the machine is in the shooting/review position; it doesn't help having tiny black, close-set buttons on a black panel either.

 

There's worse to come. JVC have revived an old trick whereby manual focus is controlled from the zoom rocker. It doesn't take a genius to work out that you can't focus and zoom at the same time. Moreover, you have to keep the manual focus button pressed when setting the focus, it's stiff and induces camera shake, so don't try it when recording. There's no external microphone socket, which limits the usefulness of the audio dub facility.

 

It's not all bad news, built-in lens covers are always welcome, the selector for the AE system is large and easy to use, and the AX60 has two titling systems. There's eight preset titles (congratulations, happy birthday etc), plus you can add an second line from a character set displayed in the viewfinder screen. Auto pause is another new feature, for JVC at least; the machine goes into record-pause mode if its left recording and pointing at the ground for more than a couple of seconds. And yes, before you ask, it can be switched off. The change to a pop-up video light makes the machine look a lot less bulbous, and unlike most other built-in lights its automatic and will come on when the light falls below a pre-set level. Don't expect too much, the output is fairly low, good enough for close-up shots or dingy corners, though.

 

PERFORMANCE

We didn't expect to find much difference between the AX60 and the earlier AX machines as they're fairly similar inside. However, our sample, admittedly an early one, was very average. Resolution was below 240 lines, though noise levels and colour accuracy were both very good. The AF system didn't inspire a great deal of confidence, it clearly  preferred well-lit scenes; indoors, even in quite good light it hunted around, which was all the more irritating given the difficulty in focusing manually.

 

The on-board microphone was an improvement though, the handling and motor noises that were evident on the AX75 were nowhere to be heard. Although the AX60 only has a mono soundtrack it's reasonably free of hiss.

 

Random assemble editing is as good as ever, accuracy is in the order of +/-15 to 20 frames, or half a second or so, though it depends to a large extent on the characteristics of the record VCR. Unfortunately there's no way of correcting edit points or VCR timing errorss but with practice they can be compensated for.

 

THE VERDICT

On balance we like the AX60. The good points are undoubtedly the price, editing system and feature list, and they outweigh the bad ones which include the rather hit-and-miss controls and indifferent performance; that's something we'll be addressing as soon as we can get our hands on another test sample. Cautiously reccommended.

 

SIDEBAR 1

AX60 ALTERNATIVES

Joining the AX60 this Summer will be the AX40 and AX70. The principle differences between the AX 40 and 60 are the lack of a video light, and the remote control handset is an optional extra, this is reflected in the price which is 50 below the AX60. The AX70, on the other hand, costs 50 more than the AX60, and for thatyou get a LCD colour viewfinder. JVC make no special claims for it, other than to say in their publicity blurb that: 'To many people the colour image will simply look better and more familiar to their eyes'. We'll leave it to you to decide if that's worth an extra fifty quid...

 

THE RIVALS

The sub 700 sector of the market has been looking fairly dull lately, so perhaps the AX60 will liven things up a bit. The best of the rest has to be the Samsung E405, a well equipped 8mm stereo palmcorder for 650, and the Panasonic NV-R10, which also costs 700. It's a good all-rounder, a good deal smaller than the AX60,  and it has an editing terminal, which may interest more advanced users.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-AX60

Recording format                           VHS-C

Guide price                                700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5.5-66mm

Zoom                            x12

Filter diameter            43mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)            2

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                 yes                  

Max. rec. time                 90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control       yes

Edit terminal                            yes (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               yes      

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (6-mode)  

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital Superimposer            no        

Image stabiliser             no                    

Video light                                 yes      

Battery refresh               yes                               

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, self-timer,  time-lapse, high-speed shutter (1-speed 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, animation effect, audio dub, random-assemble edit controller, cinema mode, 'instant' titles, adjustable zoom rocker, built-in lens cover, twin battery charger, auto-pause

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, AE mode, dew

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             no        

Audio dub                          yes                          

Wind noise filter     no                    

Mic socket                        no                

Headphone socket         no 

Microphone                    unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           audio and video out (phono), edit and remote (minijack)

Size (mm)                        115 x 118 x 182

Weight                             kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead             yes      

video light?                    yes (built-in)            

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            yes                  

RF Converter?             no        

SCART adaptor?            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                      >230 -lines

Colour fidelity                good 

Picture stability              very good 

Colour bleed                   none 

White balance                 very good  

Exposure                        average

Autofocus                       fair

Audio performance        good

Insert edit                      very good

Playback thru adaptor   very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money           8

Ease of use                    8

Performance                  8

Features                        9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 1904

 

 

 

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