VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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COMPACT COMEBACK?

 

INTRO

JVC keep the faith with yet another batch of well specified S/VHS-C machines for the 97/98 season; weíve been looking at one of the first to arrive, the new GR-AX770 low-band family mid-ranger

 

COPY

Even the most optimistic and enthusiastic VHS-C fan would have to concede the format has been soundly beaten by 8mm, but machines like the JVC GR-AX770 should ensure its survival, for a good while yet. At first glance you might wonder why. Itís quite chunky, there are plenty of smaller and lighter 8mm camcorders on the market. Itís not especially cheap either, there are some very well specified camcorders in the £700 price bracket right now, and itís not going to win any beauty contests. Clearly you need to delve a little deeper, to reveal this modelís special talents.

 

The AX770 doesnít boast any radical technologies or new features, but those it has are well targeted at a family audience. The zoom lens and video light are what most people notice first. The 18x optical zoom can be  electronically extended up to 36x, which is about as far as low-band analogue video should go, (even then the image is quite grainy). Next to the lens is the built-in manual/auto video light; itís powerful enough to lighten dark corners, and brighten up interior and group shots, that would otherwise look terrible using available light. In fact, producing a watchable image in poor light is something this machines is quite good at, with a minimum sensitivity of just 0.4 lux in the gain-up mode.   

 

JVC have stuck with the same basic layout and control conventions used on previous generations of AX camcorders. The multi-function selector dial is new, however. In the middle thereís a four-way joypad, used to control manual focus, exposure override and menu functions. Around the edge of the dial are the program AE options: itís quite an interesting assortment, starting with auto lock and release. Running clockwise the other modes are:

 

* fog -- electronically-generated mist

* ND -- neutral density filter effect, for shooting in bright conditions

* sepia -- tinted monochrome, for ye olde Victorian home movies

* twilight -- low-light mode for difficult conditions

* sports -- automatic high-speed shutter, for capturing fast action

* 1/1000 and 1/2000th sec shutter speeds -- faster speeds for faster action

 

Next to the AE selector dial is an informative LCD display panel, plus a set of controls for the AX770ís digital effects and menu system. Once again JVC havenít come up with anything particularly new, but the selection is a little unusual. From top to bottom on the display the choices are:

 

* fade/wipe -- to or from: black, slide-wipe, shutter wipe and mosaic

* wide -- black bars superimposed at the top and bottom of the picture

* title -- 8 pre-set and one user-programmed title

* display -- selects on-screen display information

* manual white balance -- 4-modes (sunlight, cloudy day, artificial light, auto)

 

The image stabiliser is an electronic type; itís reasonably effective but there is a small change in image size, and an increase in noise when itís in use. The on-screen menu covers all of the machineís secondary functions, with the exception of the video light (a small switch next to the viewfinder selects manual or auto operation). The menu includes fairly mundane things, like tele-macro mode, tally light and characters generator, plus two rather interesting timer functions. The first one makes a five-second recording spaced at 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute or 5 minute intervals, for making slick-looking time-lapse movies. However, our nomination for feature of the month, goes to the recording time selector. This will make recordings lasting 0.24, 0.5, 1 and 5-seconds. A quarter of a second is equivalent to around half a dozen frames, which is brief enough for some quite respectable stop-motion animation. True, itís a bit jerky, but with a little patience, and imagination itís possible to create really good looking sequences, using models, toys, or even people.

 

The AX770 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Thereís a built-in edit controller with an 8-scene memory. Itís the same random assemble edit (RAE) system theyíve been using for the past few years. However, unlike some earlier versions this machine comes with a multi-brand remote controller as standard, so thereís nothing more to buy. Just hook it up, select the brand code for the record deck VCR, and away you go. Accuracy is fair -- plus or minus half a second or so -- and itís also extremely easy to drive. Used in conjunction with the machineís audio dub and insert edit facilities it is possible to put together neat-looking, video movies, without having to invest in lots of extra kit.

 

Now for the odds and ends. Thereís an auto-pause facility, that switches the machine to pause mode if itís left pointing at the ground for more than a second or two. The lens is protected by a sliding cover and thereís a 5-second quick-record mode. Itís a two speed deck with an LP recording mode, for up to 2-hours recording time on a 60-minute VHS-C tapes. The manual exposure control is actually more of an auto-iris override, with six steps either side of the auto setting, still, itís better than nothing. Finally, thereís a JLIP (Joint Level Interface Protocol) terminal on the front. JLIP is JVCís answer to Control L/LANC, eventually enabling machines to hook up with suitably equipped VCRs, edit controllers and PCs, though at the moment compatible hardware is a little thin on the ground.

 

With so many useful video facilities on tap it seems almost churlish to introduce a note of caution, but you may have noticed we havenít said much about the AX770ís audio system. Thatís because thereís not a lot to say. It has a bog-standard mono linear soundtrack, audio dubbing is a plus point, but you wonít need reminding that the standard VHS soundtrack is not noted for hi-fi performance. In fact, compared with VHS and 8mm hi-fi stereo soundtracks, itís pretty dire. If all youíre interested in are incidental sounds and speech you can get away with it;  you can always dub on some high quality music if you edit to a stereo hi-fi deck, but itís still a bit of a let-down, on what is otherwise a very well-equipped machine.

 

PERFORMANCE

The VHS format might be getting on a bit, but it can still deliver the goods, when it comes to picture quality. Our sample managed to resolve a very respectable 250-plus lines, which is better than some similarly-priced 8mm camcorders. Picture noise levels are low, especially when using high grades tapes. Colour fidelity is generally faithful, though our sample tended to slightly over-emphasise saturated reds.

 

Thereís really not a lot to add about the sound system. The microphone is reasonably directional, and well insulated against motor whine and handling noises, (providing you keep your fingers out of the way when holding the machine with two hands). We noticed a rattling noise coming from the side of the body, whenever it was moved up or down. At first we thought it was something loose inside the case, but it turned out to be a mechanical tilt switch, used to engage the auto-pause function. In very quiet surroundings this can sometimes be heard on the soundtrack.

 

VERDICT

These days just about every camcorder costing £700  or less is dubbed a Ďfamilyí model, but this is one machine that deserves that description. Thereís something for everyone here; enthusiasts will appreciate the range of exposure controls and editing functions, dabblers will enjoy the effects and tricks, and anyone can expect to make watchable recordings, thanks to features like the video light and simple to use controls. Mono sound is a little disappointing but itís not critical, and simple enough to disguise with some creative post-production. That only leaves the price. Taking into account the specification and performance £700 is not unreasonable, but we reckon anyone with that sort of budget may be tempted to overlook low-band equipment and opt for one of the growing number of attractively-priced high-band machines. That would be a shame, for those content with VHS-C picture quality the AX770 has much to offer.  

 

THE RIVALS

If youíve got £700 to spend on a camcorder youíre spoilt for choice, and it also marks the dividing line between low-band and high-band recording systems. If youíre a VHS-C devotee then the Panasonic NV-RX5 and NV-R33 are both in your price range; the R33 benefits from stereo sound, though neither can match the AX770ís range of effects and gadgets. Thereís some good 8mm machines to choose from too, including the Canon UC900 and Sony TR510 and TRV11. However, for the same money you could also get some well-equipped high-band camcorders, like the Samsung VP-H66 and H68, and if you donít mind last yearís models there are some amazing Hi8 and S-VHS-C bargains to be had.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-AX770

Recording format               VHS-C

Guide price                                £700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 3.8-68.4mm

Zoom                            18x optical, 36x electronic

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3 in CCD

Min illum                       0.4 lux            (gain up mode)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120mins (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      

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 yes      

Battery refresh               yes                                      

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, manual exposure override, high speed shutter (2 speeds, 1/1000 & 1/2000th sec), Random Assemble Edit, 5-second record, retake, tally lamp, auto head cleaner, animation effect, built-in lens cover, digital fade and wipe, auto pause, head cleaner, JLIP terminal, retake, auto pause

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes      

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                   

Dimensions                               230 x 110 x 110mm                      

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                                 250-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            *****

Ease of use                   ******          

Performance                  *******

Features                       *******

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 0303

 

 

 


 

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