We were pleased to see JVC return its attention to the high end with the Everio GZ-HM400. Now this model has already been superseded, although the numerical reduction to GZ-HM1 would imply an earlier model. But the memorable number is warranted, as there are some notable improvements here.
One of the best features of the HM400 – the huge 1/2.3in sensor – remains the same, although the resolution has been upgraded from 10.3-megapixels to 10.6-megapixels. But even more significant is the switch to a backlit CMOS sensor. This is a technology which Sony calls Exmor, and is appearing in digital cameras now too. Instead of placing the sensor wiring in front of the pixel array, these are located behind, so more light can get through. Our previous encounters with backlit CMOS sensors have shown them to be very capable, particularly in low light.
The other significant enhancement is in image stabilisation, which is shaping up to be a key area of competition in 2010. JVC has added an Advanced mode to the HM1’s optical image stabilisation system, which allegedly quadruples the area covered. In our testing, the HM1’s Advanced mode was clearly more effective than the standard setting at smoothing out jerky camera work, with no obvious loss of image quality involved.
Apart from these two changes, however, the HM1 has virtually the same features as the HM400. This is no bad thing, as the HM400’s capabilities were already extensive. Leading the charge is a dial next to the lens. This doesn’t provide quite as much ease of use as a full lens ring, but it comes a pretty close second. A nearby switch toggles the function of the dial between manual focusing and exposure. The SET button on the front stores your configuration. Whilst the dial won’t make rack focusing easy, it does facilitate fine adjustment compared to joystick-based systems.
The dial has other functions, too, when used in tandem with the three buttons on the top of camcorder body. Two of these provide immediate access to the aperture and shutter priority modes, with the dial used to alter the respective values – or the HM1’s Laser Touch Operation strip on the left of its LCD. The third button is user configurable, with options including scene modes, white balance, toggling the focus assist system, backlight compensation, and a host of settings related to the HM1’s still image mode.
The touch-sensitive buttons and Laser Touch Operation strip provide direct access to yet more functions. You can cycle through the three different image stabilisation options (including off), and JVC has sensibly included extra controls for toggling record and operating the zoom. This will facilitate two-handed shooting, although the main zoom is large and the record button comfortably placed for the more traditional HandyCam posture.