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JVC has often positioned itself as the maverick in the camcorder business. Where Canon, Sony and Panasonic usually offer products for every sector of the market, JVC tends not to focus on the high-end video enthusiast, and didn’t release a model aimed at this type of user for most of 2009. However, at long last the Everio GZ-HM400 has arrived, packing features to put JVC right back in the frame against the best its main competitors have to offer.
The HM400 is built around the same sensor specification as the Everio GZ-X900 launched in the first half of 2009. This is a huge 1/2.33in CMOS with a whopping gross 10.3-megapixels, one of the largest, highest resolution sensors in any camcorder currently available. The main recipient of the high resolution is digital photography, with still images available up to 3,456 x 2,592 without interpolation. Storage comes in the form of 32GB of internal flash memory and this can be boosted by up to 32GB again by adding an SD/SDHC card.
Where JVC has really made improvements for the HM400, however, is in manual control. Instead of relying almost entirely on JVC’s incredibly fiddly Laser Touch Operation to access the majority of settings, the HM400 offers a host of discrete buttons and a control knob adjacent to the lens. There is no lens ring – Panasonic remains the only company to offer this in its highest-end consumer camcorders – but the knob is the next best thing, and Canon also adopted the same approach for its LEGRIA HF S10.
To activate the knob, the camcorder must be switched to manual mode using the button on the LCD edge. A nearby switch then alternates its operation between manual focusing and exposure. The knob doesn’t make effects like focus pulling quite as easy as a lens ring, but it does make manual adjustment of focus much more fluid than menu buttons or JVC’s Laser Touch Operation. Focus and exposure aren’t its only functions, either. Three buttons along the top rear of the body further extend the knob’s usefulness, so let's take a closer look at them.