A 3-Chip, Progressive-Scan Camera for Film-Look Video and More

If you’re going to use video but want a film look, the GY-HD100U may
very well be the most affordable and best-suited piece of equipment for
that task available today. JVC introduced this camera at last year’s
NAB in Las Vegas. At the time, the company promised features and
pricing that would make it a hit. When JVC started delivering units
early last fall, the numbers soon proved that the company did, in fact,
have a real winner on its hands.
The Skinny
The HD100U is a 3-chip, progressive-scan camera that shoots both HD
(720/30p and 480/60p) as well as conventional DV (60i). It has a
switchable aspect ratio CCD block (native 16:9) that can also shoot in
24 fps, with the bonus of a built-in 2:3:3:2 pull-down for outputting
60i video from the output connectors. The unit has component and
IEEE-1394 outputs built right in for playback and confidence checking,
and can also output HD-SDI with an optional module.
The camera has a "Motion Smoothing" setting available from a menu that
makes 24 and 30p recordings smoother for video playback, and it works
fairly well. The recorder section accepts common compact DV cassettes
that work for both DV and the HDV recordings, providing up to 63-minute
recording times. The cool feature, however, which I was unable to
review at the time I had the camera, is that the unit will also record
directly to hard disk with the optional DR-HD100 drive module, which is
specifically manufactured for this camcorder by Focus Enhancements.
The HDV recordings, which the IEEE-1394 terminal will output directly
to the disk drive or whatever else it is connected to, are in the
MPEG-2 Main Profile @ HL-14. The terminal will also output the lower
quality DV 4:1:1 signal.
The HD100U is the only camera in its class that
currently is offering an actual servo-zoom lens. Both Canon and JVC
offer interchangeable lens options, but the flexibility from JVC, in my
opinion, is superior. The Fujinon 16x zoom lens is standard equipment
and unlike the Canon lens that comes with the Canon XL2 camcorder, it
has an actual servo motor for extremely smooth zoom starts and stops,
as well as variable speed. (Read more about Canon’s new lens options in
our Canon XL H1 review in the April issue.) The lens has an actual iris
ring, the primary feature missing on the XL2 system. I did notice that
the new XL H1 camcorder still has an iris rocker switch on the camera
body. But there’s also a wide-angle HD lens available for the JVC
camera, which has turned out to be wildly popular, despite the fact
that it costs almost twice as much as the camera itself. JVC was
conservative when it first started making the lens and underestimated
its needs when it ordered the glass from Fujinon. The company is now
filling backorders! Fujinon also has a wide-angle adapter for the stock
lens that retails for around $600.
Other nice features available with the HD100U are the large 3.5-inch
flippable, reversible, color LCD display, and the battery mount options
available for Anton Bauer-type batteries, which will let you keep your
camera rolling for five or more hours. The AB battery dynamically
balances the camcorder, making it very comfortable for shoulder mount
shooting as well.
Shooting with the HD100U
When I started shooting with the HD100U, I failed to use my whole
brain. Right after I received the camera, I was still immersed in
writing my feature on tripods
(www.studiomonthly.com/5997.html), so I wasn’t
really focusing on the details of operating the JVC camcorder. Then it
started to rain here in the Seattle area, and continued to do so for
about 26 days. So I didn’t get much time outdoors to play, which is
where I do most of my shooting. But then I got lucky. I got a job in
Montana, on short notice, so I decided to take the camera along on the
shoot. Trouble is, I hadn’t had the time by then to experiment with the
camera’s progressive scan, so I didn’t know how well that footage and
HD would look for the project. So, rather than take a chance, I shot
the whole enchilada in standard definition. That footage looks great.
When I started to really test the camera after I got back from Montana
and saw how great 720p images looked, I cursed myself for not doing the
right thing in big sky country.
What’s important here is that I failed to think about compression when
I was on the shoot. For almost anything you intend to do, if you can
shoot in HDV, you should. Most everything I shoot will ultimately end
up on DVDs. That means that the final product is delivered in 4:2:0
MPEG-2. (Satellite TV also uses this compression generally.) Well, HDV
uses the same compression, so if you keep it native through the edit
process until conversion to SD for distribution, no image, or, more
importantly, chromatic resolution is lost. DV, on the other hand, uses
4:1:1 compression and there is reduced chroma sampling (mostly in
luminance) to create the compressed recording. When it’s converted to
MPEG-2, that little "1" at the end becomes an "0," so your already
compressed image has even more data thrown away. MPEG-2 on a DVD has
the native chrominance resolution of 360 x 240. HDV, kept in its native
format then converted to SD for DVD distribution, will also have a 360
x 240 chrominance resolution. DV, which has a 180 x 480 chrominance
resolution, when converted to MPEG-2 will lose half of that resolution
again and become only 180 x 240. That’s way less video being delivered
to your viewer. So if I had shot my Montana material in HDV, which
would have cost me nothing more since it’s recorded on the same tape
stock, I would be delivering my clients a better product in the end.
Progressive-Scan Shooting
The HDV recordings of the 100U are shot in progressive scan, so, this
may not have suited my Montana shots (which were mostly of railroad and
fast-moving train subjects). Frank Kergil, of Belleview, Washington’s
Media Tools, generously provided me with HD monitors to review my
recordings. He says, "If you’re used to shooting in film, users will
love a progressive scan camera. But if video is your regular medium,
then you may be out of sorts using one." All I can say is, in my case,
he’s absolutely right. When I was younger, I did a fair bit of film
shooting, so I’m not lost in the medium, and progressive-scan video is
definitely a medium unto the video world. I am, however, much more
comfortable in the 60i world. I know what kind of shots I can pull off
in 60i and when I tried some of those types of shots in 30p with the
GY-HD100U, I got below-par results.
For instance, I was shooting a sailing regatta in an inland sea near my
home. Both wide shots and telephoto tracking shots of the sailboats
were amazing. The crews working on the boats were clearly visible at
their tasks on the decks of the racing vessels, and the background
bluffs, miles across the sound, were detailed, yet nicely blurred in
the moving shots. What stunk were the "locked-off" telephoto shots
where the sailboats clipped across the screen, in a jittery,
frame-by-frame fashion. I also found that locked-off shots of
fast-moving objects like cars or trucks or trains passing by, which I
also shot along the shore, were not well captured. But when I shot some
great footage of an Aikido martial arts demonstration, the fast-paced
action shots seemed to be enhanced by the 30p and, to some degree, the
24p shots I recorded.
How It Handles
I’m used to larger broadcast-style camcorders and dockables, and I
found the HD100U to be an easy camera to use. The switches are
thoughtfully placed. Many necessary functions are on the switches or
can be assigned to one of several, user-definable ones. That’s a great
thing in a world of cameras with menu-driven electronics. Buttons and
switches are so much more useful to a professional shooter on
fast-paced, demanding job like newsgathering.
I also thought the unit performed well in very extreme conditions,
considering I did a lot of recording in 0 to 10-degree (Fahrenheit)
weather and snow in Montana. (For more about shooting with the HD100U
in extreme heat and moisture, see
www.studiomonthly.com/5887.html.) Recordings
were perfect, although the batteries sure didn’t last. The Anton Bauer
kit, which would have extended the battery life considerably, wasn’t
installed on my test camera.
The lens works very well when you consider that it comes with the
camcorder. It’s a little narrow in the wide angle but has a decent
reach in telephoto. I found that, under certain conditions, it was a
little soft around the edges of the frame. I’d also like to point out
that this camera has a noticeable F-stop "sweet spot." You might think
it would be sharpest at the usual higher f-stops, but it’s got the
sharpest focus around F4 through F5.6. I found that I needed to use the
Neutral Density filters (installed on a handy switch) when shooting in
daylight to keep the F-stop closer to the sweet spot.
One final feature that is indeed pretty cool and worth bragging about
is the "Focus Assist" button on the top of the camera handle. This
handy tool changes the image in the viewfinder or LCD screen to black
and white, and highlights edges in the image with either a blue, red or
green outline. When the outline appears, the edges are in focus on your
subject. This worked great, and is a nice piece of built-in insurance,
since shooting in HD makes any poorly focused shots really stand out.
For the money- around six grand in its basic configuration- the JVC
GY-HD100U is, in my mind, the true bargain in the current camera
market. Its only real shortcomings are a slight tendency for vertical
smear on extremely bright lights in the frame (but only when lighting
is low, like dawn or dusk), and its less than rugged camera casing. I
had to do a lot of shooting with a mismatched rain-slicker because I
was worried about the weather and dirt or dust. A padded case that left
controls accessible- I’m picturing a custom-made, protective camera
case or glove, like those made by PortaBrace or Kata- would be a
perfect addition to a full field kit. The only other issue I was aware
of was an engineering setting that was slightly off in my test unit,
causing the screen to have a sort of split-screen look, where the left
half of the screen was barely discolored from the right. According to
JVC, this apparently is a known issue with some of the early models and
can be tweaked out of existence by an engineer. I only saw it on
opaque, bright backgrounds like shooting the sky or clouds. Apparently,
it’s no longer an issue.
In a nutshell, if you’re shooting film-style work, or like
progressive-scan cameras, you would be spending your money wisely on
this camera. There are a lot of accessories available for the HD100U
and I’ve been told that many more will be shown this year at NAB,
including some more lens options. I’d say that’s pretty sweet!