VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

SEE ME, SEE YOU JIMMY...

 

INTRO

First Sharp, then Sony, now JVC have jumped on the colour-screen bandwagon with the GR-SV3 Infocam

 

COPY

Weíve had them on the back, the side, the top and now the front. We are of course referring to LCD screens on camcorders. Weíre keeping a close eye on Canon, Hitachi and Panasonic, the last remaining Japanese companies not to have jumped on the ViewCam bandwagon, to see whoíll be first with a screen on the bottom....

 

The screen is on the front of the JVC GR-SV3 Infocam, launched just a few weeks ago. Thatís a rather odd place when you think about it, but with characteristic ingenuity not only have they got away with it, theyíve even managed to make it look like quite a good idea. JVC have got high hopes for Infocam, and theyíve obviously learned a lot from the likes of Sharp, Sanyo and Sony and pitched their machine at the lower end of the market, where it wonít unduly alarm their target market, the 90% of people who donít yet have a camcorder. Infocam, like the Sharp ViewCam and Sony Vision before it, is a concerted attempt to de-mystify video movie-making. Itís no coincidence then that Infocam looks a bit like a chunky still camera, and itís just as easy to use.

 

JVC clearly had a problem when they decided to go down the ViewCam route, and although putting the screen or ĎSwing Monitorí as they call it, on the front avoids too many obvious comparisons, it makes it tricky to justify. Their solution was to invent some new facilities to take advantage of this position. The first one uses the screen to display whatever the camera is recording, in other words the subject can see themselves as theyíre being recorded. This gets a number of reactions, from feigned shyness to overt vanity, but certainly not the kind of wearied indifference you get from a conventional machine. It can, of course, be switched off, but whereís the fun in that?

 

Infocam also has a clever self-record facility, JVC say itís useful for leaving video messages. Set the machine to Ďmessage modeí flip out the little wire stand at the bottom, look at the camera and press the Ďrecordí button on the side of the screen, say your piece, press it again to end the message. The machine then goes into standby mode, with the green tally lamp winking to show a message has been left; all the recipient has to do is press the play button, and the message is rewound and replayed. Lastly, the screen acts as a viewfinder (Infocam has an optical viewfinder for normal use), the screen is mounted on a hinge that allows it to swing up , so itís visible from behind the machine, at the same time the image inverts so it is the right way up. The screen can be used for playback in either position, and it has a small built-in speaker, so you can hear, as well as see the recording. By the bye, the screen on this machine is made by Sharp, just thought youí like to know.

 

Apart from a simple 3x zoom lens it has no creative facilities as such, but one feature which we instantly took to, and would like to see a lot more of, is a 5-second record mode. When activated the machine will record for 5 second bursts every time the record button is pressed;  if you want to record longer just keep your finger on the button. Normal stop/start operation is also available if you want it. The effect of 5-second record is dramatic, video movies moves along at a much brisker pace, no more over-long shots where nothing seems to be happening, the audience doesnít get a change to bet bored. This simple little feature does more to improve the look of a video movie than a carrier-bag full of fancy digital effects and image stabilisers, more please.

 

Not suprisingly thereís not much in the way of accessories for the SV3, it seems unlikely there will ever be any add-on lenses, we canít even see a way of fitting a lens cap, which seems like a mistake. The lens is easily damaged and could result in some costly repairs.

 

There will be a clip-on tuner module available fairly soon. The TU-V20 will cost around £130, and attaches to the side of the machine. Sadly thereís no off-air record facility or timer function but itís just the job for those who want to watch a bit of TV on holiday, and being VHS-C itís also possible to take some recordings with you, made on a full-size VCR, using the supplied cassette adapter. You can get up to 90 minutes on a 45 minute tape, and a 60-minute tape is due out soon that will last up to 2 hours in the LP recording mode.

 

LAYOUT AND OPERATION

Thereís only a handful of controls to worry about. The power/mode selector knob is on the top. Next to that, under a little flap, are the tape transport, various secondary controls and a small LCD info panel. On the back panel thereís the main stop start button, it doesnít have a safety catch but it is recessed so there shouldnít be too many accidents. On the front thereís a pair of buttons for the zoom just below the lens. The message record and play keys are on the screen housing, along with a display on/off button. The tape loading hatch is on the back, behind that thereís another set of buttons for selecting recording speed, setting the clock and adjusting the tracking.

 

The control layout is good, everything is where you would expect to find it. We did run into some problems with the lens and screen, though. Several of our reviewers found their finger strayed into shot if they werenít careful, this isnít visible on the optical viewfinder so you donít find out about it until itís too late. Those with larger hands also found their fingers ended up on the viewfinder screen, the anti-reflective coating smears easily if you so much as look at it, so it ends up looking a mess very quickly; itís just as well it comes with a sun hood/cover and cleaning cloth.

 

The fold-out stand on the bottom is a waste of time; it doesnít tip the machine far enough back to for it to be any use on a table-top, so you still have to crouch down, if you want to make a message recording, and get your head into the shot. The tripod mounting boss is way over on the left side of the machine -- presumably to avoid fouling the deck mechanism inside -- this has the effect of making it unstable on smaller tripods.

 

PERFORMANCE

In spite of the paucity of creative effects and very basic lens picture quality on the SV3 is everything you would expect from JVC. Resolution is just over 240-lines, though only on recordings replayed on a monitor or TV, the LCD screen struggles to resolve much more than a couple of hundred lines. The screen itself isnít very bright and is easily washed out in daylight. Recording colour fidelity is good, and it doesnít disgrace itself under tube lighting, though indoor shooting is not one of this machineís strong points. The 0.25 inch image sensor and tiny lens mean low light performance is indifferent. Noise and grain are evident well before you would see it on most other machines, so if you plan to do a lot of recording inside make sure the scene is very well lit. In good daylight noise levels are very low and the picture looks crisp and bright.

 

The mono linear soundtrack and built-in mike is okay for catching speech from subjects up to three or four metres away, after that everything disappears into a bit of a mush.

 

VERDICT

JVC have cleverly avoided this becoming just another me-too product. Infocam is sufficiently different not to be confused with ViewCam and Vision, though no-one, not even JVC could deny where their inspiration came from. Itís unfair to compare Infocam with mainstream camcorders, itís aimed at an entirely different market, so, for that reason alone Infocam succeeds. Everyone who sees it for the first time wants to pick it up and have a go, and they donít need to be told how to use it. The price is fair and the results are good. Weíre not sure about message recording; our guess is that once the novelty has worn off  itíll quickly fall into disuse, though as JVC point out, anything that keeps a camcorder out of the bottom of a cupboard has to be worthwhile. The only note of caution we would add is that anyone attracted to this type of machine should bear in mind that if they do take to video movie-making Infocam and its ilk are a bit of a dead end, and if youíve a drawer full of instamatic cameras, take heed...

 

THE RIVALS

Both of Infocamís main rivals -- Sharp EC31 and Sony SC5 -- cost £100 more (on paper at least), so from that standpoint it comes out best. If an LCD screen is the critical feature for you then take a look at the new Sony CCD-FX730 (reviewed last month), though we would also suggest you look at the Sanyo EX33 as well, as this costs about the same but has several more useful facilities, including a manual focus option. Finally, it would be remiss of us not to point out that for £800 you could also buy a splendid high-band camcorder like the Panasonic NV-S70, which also has stereo sound and a host of creative facilities; believe it or not itís just as easy to use as Infocam in the full auto mode.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-SV3

Recording format              VHS-C

Guide price                              £800

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/2.8

Zoom                           x3

Filter diameter            n/a  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                     8 lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        no

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               fixed                                       

Manual focus               no       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, message recording, self-timer, auto indexing, 5-second record mode

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       optical and 2.5in colour LCD

Viewfinder info                none

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      no       

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                   

Headphone socket              no       

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV in/out (phono), remote (minijack

Dimensions                              172 x 120 x 82mm                      

Weight                         1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, sun hood, cleaning cloth

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            no       

cassette adapter            yes                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adapter               yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                               -lines

Colour fidelity                          

Picture stability                        

Colour bleed                             

White balance                           

Exposure                                  

Auto focus                                 

Audio performance                  

Insert edit                                 

Playback thru adaptor           

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         

Ease of use                 

Performance               

Features                     

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 0610

 

 

 


 

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