VIDEO CAMERA 1999

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DINKY JOY?

 

STANDFIRST

Worlds smallest, lightest, blah blah blah… you know the story, but the real question is how has JVC managed to turn what could have been the definitive pocket digicam into an ergonomic nightmare?

 

COPY

On the face of it the JVC GR-DVX4 has a lot going for it. This tiny DV pocket cam looks great, it is very well specified and the price, at around £1100 appears to be a very good deal, so what more is there to say? Well, there is a teensy-weensy problem… We reckon whoever designed the outer casing of the DVX4 must have short double-jointed fingers, deformed hands or both because it must rank as one of the most un-ergonomic camcorders we've ever tried.

 

That's not the prejudiced rant of someone with big hands and fat fingers. Almost everyone who tried the machine, from a 9-year old upwards, found it difficult to hold and operate or prevent their fingers from straying in front of the lens or touching the microphone grille on the top. That's a real shame because on paper the DVX4 should blow away the opposition.

 

It is tiny, to give you an idea just how small it is take two 8mm cassette cases, put them side by side and you're not far off! JVC has blessed it with an 800k pixel CCD, which means still video performance is comparable with many digital still cameras, it even has a built-in auto flash, with red-eye reduction. Then there's the range of exposure options and special effects.  They're at least as good as those on rival pocket digicam and there's the added bonus that five of the in-camera effects and digital zoom can be applied during replay. The wipe fade and dissolve effects are very good indeed and can add a real touch of class to any recording.

 

It has a colour viewfinder and the obligatory fold out LCD viewing screen. This one is rather good and produces a bright sharp image that's good enough to use for manual focus and judge moderate colour errors.  In common with most other JVC camcorders it has its own built-in assemble editing system (R.A. Edit) that can replay up to 8 scenes and control the record-pause on a VCR. It has a JLIP interface, for PC control and a serial output connection for transferring still images to a PC. It has a FireWire (sorry iLink or IEEE 1394) output socket on the front (no info on FireWire in, but we suspect it is not possible on this model…). It is powered by a flat-pack lithium ion battery that gives around 30 to 40 minutes shooting time under normal conditions.

 

OPERATION

The snap shot functions are easy to use, once the machine is in the recording mode if you feel like taking a still picture just press the shutter button, if its dark the flashgun on the front will fire. The outfit includes a PC serial connecting lead and CD-ROM with a suite of image editing and control software it couldn't be easier. Normal AV connections are very straightforward too, the DVX4 has an AV out socket, or it can be clipped to its docking station, which has a full set of connectors. By the way, the camcorder doesn't have a microphone socket but there is a mike connection on the docking module.  

 

Now for those handling problems. They're mostly centred on the fact that it is such a boxy shape, and so small, which makes it really awkward to hold comfortably. The strangely positioned wrist strap doesn't help at all, in fact we wouldn't mind betting it was a bit of a afterthought, it looks as though it has been tacked on. However, the biggest concern is straying fingers, they've simply nowhere to go and inevitably will end up in front of the lens or touching the top-mounted microphone grille. The stop/start button and zoom control can be quite difficult to get to depending on the size of your thumb and the main function wheel is a fiendish design that defies one handed operation.  

 

PERFORMANCE

The handling problems are made all the more regrettable as the on-screen performance is so good. Resolution tops 480-lines, with below average levels of picture noise and crisp, true to life colours. The image is rock-steady, as are replay tricks, like zoom and slomo. Still photo capture is the best we've seen on a camcorder and compares well with most mid-market VGA-standard digital still cameras. If you've got a PC and a decent colour printer you can get some really excellent looking results. The DVX4 has the format standard dual 12/16-bit stereo soundtracks, there almost certainly is a difference between the two recording systems but we couldn't spot any on sounds recorded through the built-in stereo microphone. Siting them on the top of the unit is not a good idea, they pick up far too many user and machine noises and not enough of what's going on in front of the machine. The stereo image is probably quite good for subjects floating overhead but in front of the machine the soundfield lacks focus.

 

VERDICT

There is so much to admire about the DVX4 that it feels churlish to witter on about the handling but this really is the machine's Achilles Heel, and it's a serious one, that makes it awkward and uncomfortable to use. The only positive thing we can say is that like a nagging toothache you can probably learn to live with it, but it's always going to be there. If you can put up with it's ergonomic shortcomings -- please don't just take our word for it, try it for yourself -- then you will be impressed with what ends up on the screen.  

 

SPECIFICATIONS

JVC GR-DVX4, miniDV, £1100

 

OPTICS/VIDEO DECK

Lens                                         f/1.8, 3.6 - 36mm

Zoom                                        10X optical, 100X digital

Filter diameter               27mm  

Pick-up device               0.25 in CCD

Min illum                                   10 lux  

Long play (LP)                           yes                  

Max rec time                             90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                                      yes

Edit terminal                              yes (JLIP)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Manual exposure                       yes

Programmed AE                          yes      

Fader                                        yes                  

Backlight compensation            yes                              

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 yes (still flash)

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, self-timer, 5-second record mode, fade/wipe/dissolve effects, AE special effects (shutter, twilight, sepia, B/W, classic film, strobe, slow shutter) high-speed shutter (4-speed up to 1/500th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, auto head cleaner, animation effect, built-in lens cover, snapshot with multi-screen mode, playback zoom & special effects RA editing

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.55 in colour LCD, 2.5-in colour LCD viewing screen

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes (see text)                     

Headphone socket              yes

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out, headphones (minijack), DV out (DV jack),

AV/Power (proprietary multi-pin). Docking station: AV out (phono), S-Video out

(mini DIN), microphone, JLIP, PC, edit control (minijack)

Dimensions                               48 x 119 x 89 mm                      

Weight                          505g (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium ion), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     480-lines

Colour bleed               none    

White balance            very good         

Exposure                     good    

Auto focus                   average            

Audio performance    good    

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            *********

Ease of use                   *******

Performance                  *********

Features                       ********

 

RIVALS

Canon DM-MV20 £1000, Canon DM-MV100 £1200, Sony DCR-PC1 £1400

 

---end---

R Maybury 1999 1604

 

 

 


 

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