VIDEO CAMERA 1998

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STANDFIRST

After so many cute little pocket-sized slivery digi-cams itís a bit of a shock to come across a chunky VHS-C machine, but the JVC GR-AX670 shows thereís still some life left in the old dog yet...

 

COPY

Thereís no getting away from the fact that the GR-AX670 is a bit of a lump, even by the standards of older VHS-C machines. Whereas Panasonic -- the only other company still making C-cassette camcorders -- have worked hard to reduce the bulk of their machines, JVC seem content to stick with more, shall we say Ďroundedí designs? Indeed, the curvy cosmetics only serve to emphasise the shape. Letís be generous and say that itís not fat, or heavy, just big-boned, something to get hold of...

 

Itís no lightweight when it come to the features either. The zoom lens has an X18 magnification, digitally doubled to X36, thereís an electronic image stabiliser and a useful range of creative functions. They include a selection of program AE modes optimised for twilight and fast action. It has some digital effects as well, with sepia, multi-mode fades and wipes, a title generator and cinema option, with black stripes at the top and bottom of the screen. Low-light sensitivity is just 0.4 lux and it has several timer modes, used for creating time-lapse, stop-motion, and self-timer  recordings. Thereís a sprinkling of manual exposure controls too, with iris override and white balance pre-sets. Audio is confined, in all senses of the word, to a standard VHS mono linear soundtrack, a socket for an external microphone is provided.

 

JVC camcorders have never been what you might call edit-friendly but the AX670, in common with most current models, can be used with an optional remote handset that has a built-in 8-scene controller. The RM-V704, which costs a further £60, will control the record-pause function on most popular brands of VCR. Incidentally the handset is a standard feature on the step-up model, the AX770, which also has a built-in video light, it sells for just under £700.

 

Control layout is generally good with a large multi-function dial on the left side. The outer ring is used to select auto and program AE recording modes and the 4-way joypad in the centre handles menu selection, exposure adjustment and manual focus. Replay and various secondary functions are controlled from a bank of buttons under a hinged flap, on the right side of the body.

 

The viewfinder is a conventional monochrome type, it is mounted on a sliding bracket, and hinges upwards for low-level shots. Other handy bits and bobs include an anti-ground shooting mode, that switches the machine to standby if itís left pointing at the ground whilst in record mode. The mono linear soundtrack can be dubbed, it has an insert editing facility and thereís a JLIP (joint level interface protocol) interface. This allows the machine to be hooked up to a PC -- via an optional adaptor --for downloading  still images.

       

In spite of its size it is reasonably light and easy to handle, it feels quite well balanced and all of the main shooting controls are readily accessible. The menu display system can be a little awkward to navigate at first, but itís something you quickly get used to. The only minor grumble concerns the displays on the viewfinder, thereís rather a lot of them, and with the program AE engaged it can look a bit cluttered, making it hard to see whatís going on.

 

PERFORMANCE

Low band 8mm and VHS-C might not be up to the standard of high-band analogue and digital recording systems but the 240 plus lines of resolution achieved by the AX670, is still perfectly adequate for most family users. Second generation copies and edits made using this machine still look quite clean, and theyíre helped by the low levels of picture noise, and better than average colour fidelity, even in poor light. In fact low light sensitivity is remarkably good, the extra amplification applied to the video signal does mean an increase in grain and noise, but it is quite possible to make a watchable recording under normal room lighting.

 

We get a bit disparaging about the performance of the mono VHS soundtrack but if all youíre interested in is speech and incidental sounds itís fine, a bit hissy maybe, but its limitations only become apparent when recording music. The microphone has good forward sensitivity and it is well insulated against motor whine and handling noises.

 

THE VERDICT

VHS-C still has plenty going for it, not least the fact that you can replay tapes on any VHS deck, using the adaptor cassette provided. Running times are no longer an issue since the launch of 60-minute C-cassettes, and picture quality is at least as good as any of its 8mm rivals. The AX670 is basically a good machine but we feel JVC could have tried just a little harder. The problem is, it does little or nothing to further the cause, and with so many good 8mm machines in the same price band, it needs a killer feature or two, that shoutís Ďbuy meí! As it is we suspect it will be overshadowed by shelf-fulls of smaller, flashier and neater machines, that donít necessarily work any better, but look a whole more interesting and exciting to use.

 

THE RIVALS

With £600, or thereabouts, to spend, and a predilection to VHS-C the Panasonic NV-RX70 would almost certainly catch your eye, though the NV-SX30 is an even better deal, with its S-VHS-C recording system, and stereo hi-fi sound. If youíre unconcerned about formats, then the list must include the excellent Canon UC850, and Sony CCD-TR60.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-AX70

Recording format               VHS-C

Guide price                                £600

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 3.8 - 68.4mm

Zoom                            18X optical, 36X digital 

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       4-lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes (optional)

Edit terminal                        yes (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                  

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (3-mode)  

Fader                                        yes (3-mode)              

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                                 no        

Battery refresh               yes                                      

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, interval-timer,  high-speed shutter (3-speed up to 1/2000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, auto head cleaner, built-in lens cover, Easy Edit with optional remote, JLIP terminal, 16:9 recording mode

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono), ext mic an JLIP (minijack)

Dimensions                               150 x 42 x 68mm                      

Weight                          600g (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            no        

cassette adaptor yes                  

RF Converter             no        

SCART adaptor            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 240-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   fair

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      8

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 0812

 

 

 


 

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