With the HM445, virtually all functions are performed with the LCD, except switching to manual, calling up onscreen information, and toggling between camera and camcorder modes, although there is one button for a single user-configurable function. This can be set to enable the Nightalive mode; turn on touch AF/AE; call up manual focusing, backlight compensation, or white balance; or cycle through digital image stabilisation settings. However, you can’t assign the tele-macro or video light functions to this button.
Switching to Manual, there are some scene modes available, but only two of them - the Nightalive low light option and Spotlight setting. You can focus manually, although as this uses virtual touch-screen buttons it’s a little fiddly to operate. There’s a brightness control with 13 steps from -6 to 6, but no separate settings for shutter, aperture and video gain. White balance options include the usual automatic and manual modes, plus presets for sunny, cloudy and halogen-lit indoor conditions. But there are also two underwater options, depending on whether the water lends a bluish or greenish hue.
So, apart from the touch AF/AE and S menu options, the HM445 doesn’t have noticeably more manual features than the HM30. But they are considerably easier to get to, thanks to the touch-screen, and the extra user button means you can put a frequently used function like back-light compensation within easy reach. There are no enthusiast features like minijacks for an external microphone or headphones, or an accessory shoe for attaching peripherals, but unlike the HM30, the HM445 has a built-in video light.
Although the HM445 records higher-resolution video than the HM30, because it has the same sensor the overall image quality isn’t significantly better. In good lighting, the colour fidelity is similarly decent, and there is a little more detail, although not as much as a premium HD camcorder. Low light performance is also close to the HM30’s with colour maintained at a low level of illumination, and only a small sign of grain, although again there’s slightly more detail. Overall, whilst the HM30 already produces good image quality for a sub-£200 camcorder, the HM445 is slightly better.
The JVC Everio GZ-HM30 is decent value, but it cuts a few too many corners to be a budget classic like the Everio GZ-MG330. The Everio GZ-HM445 has much in common with the HM30, including the small CMOS sensor, but the regular AVCHD format will be more acceptable to some, and the touch-screen interface makes this model a whole lot easier to operate if you want to step beyond mere pointing and shooting. With a price that’s still just below £200, it’s not much more expensive, either, and image quality is slightly better. This makes JVC’s Everio GZ-HM445 one of the best value budget camcorders around.