JVC certainly knows how to make decent budget camcorders. However, the Everio GZ-HM30 makes some compromises to achieve its sub-£200 price. The Everio GZ-HM445, on the other hand, takes a more mainstream approach, although it’s very similar in many respects as well. We had the red REK version to play with, but the HM445 is also available in black, blue and silver, suffixed BEK, AEK and SEK respectively.
Where the HM30 opts for AVCHD Lite, so its maximum resolution is 720p, the HM445 records regular, full-fat AVCHD with a 1080p top resolution. However, the sensor is a similarly specified 1/5.8in CMOS with just 1.5Mpixels, which isn’t enough for Full HD, as this requires at least 2.07Mpixels. So the higher shooting resolution isn’t as impressive as it might first appear, since some of the pixels will be interpolated. Unlike the HM30, the HM445 can capture still images at up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, although this again uses interpolation, and standard definition video modes are also available.
The small CMOS sensor means the HM445 can offer a fairly sizeable 40x optical zoom. In standard definition mode, the extra pixels are harnessed to provide an even greater 70x zoom. This doesn’t magnify the signal from the sensor, but instead crops into it, preserving much more detail. The zoom factors are both identical to the HM30’s. Another function utilising CMOS pixels is the Advanced Image Stabiliser (AIS), which is more powerful than the standard option. However, it crops into the frame slightly to achieve its results, slightly reducing detail, and the vibration frequency it is tuned to, makes the AIS most effective for smoothing shooting when walking, rather than handheld operation at maximum zoom.
Video is recorded to SD cards, and here the HM445 diverges from the HM30 slightly again, offering two slots rather than one. Both support SDXC, so provide a maximum capacity of 128GB when populated with the largest available media. At the top UXP quality setting, a 64GB card will be enough for five hours 50 minutes of footage, so there’s potential for lots of video storage with both slots populated, although you will have to pay considerably to achieve this capacity.
Most significantly, where the HM30 keeps the costs down by relying on a few fiddly buttons on the side of the camcorder to operate its menu, the HM445 sports a touch-screen LCD. This comes with a host of more advanced features. The extra rapid-access S menu is available, with its special functions. This provides a small library of animated overlay effects, and the face sub window system, which is supposed to detect a face and superimpose it within the frame as a picture-in-picture, although it didn't work exactly as advertised.
There’s also a more extensive menu, which varies in options depending on whether the camcorder is in iA Intelligent Auto or Manual modes. Set to iA, the touch-screen can be harnessed for various finger-operated focus and exposure options. You can specify a face to track, or select a region of colour. Alternatively, it’s possible to choose a fixed point in the frame to use as a reference, irrespective of how the contents of the frame changes. The HM30, with its non-touch-screen display, offers none of these options.