One area where budgets have been clearly snipped is in the control system. Many recent JVC models now use a touchscreen LCD, but the HM30 relies on a set of buttons. These are situated on the side of the device under the fold-out display panel. The buttons are all the same size and shape, and not easy to see when you’re looking at the screen. So this isn’t the easiest set of controls to use.
A button on the top of the camcorder switches between Intelligent Auto and Manual. In intelligent AUTO mode, there’s a face detection option available, which sets focus and exposure according to any faces detected. But otherwise the camcorder attempts to detect conditions and select an appropriate setting. The Gain Up option also lets you choose to increase gain or reduce shutter speed in low light conditions. You can enable a time lapse mode, which will grab a fame every one, two or five seconds.
Although the manual mode does increase the range of options, this doesn’t release a full complement of settings. There are scene modes available, but only two – Nightalive, which increases gain and enables a slower shutter speed, and Spotlight, which reduces the effects of overly bright lighting. You can focus manually, which is particularly fiddly with the HM30’s control system. There’s also a brightness setting with 13 steps from -6 to 6, but no option to alter iris or shutter independently. The White Balance control does give you the option to select fully manual, plus sunny, cloudy and halogen presets, but nothing for fluorescents.
However, we wish the backlight compensation and tele macro settings weren’t buried in the menu. Although face detection can step in when shooting human subjects against a bright sky, if they’re looking at the camera, it’s always useful to be able to boost exposure where your subjects are being kept in the shadows by an overly luminous background.
Naturally, there are few provisions for the videomaking enthusiast. No accessory shoe is available, and no connections for attaching an external microphone or headphones. There is a mini HDMI port, which as we mentioned earlier will upscale the video to 1080/50p, if your TV supports it. However, the AV port only outputs composite analogue video, plus stereo RCA audio, not S-video or component HD.
In optimal conditions, the HM30 manages a good picture. It’s lacking resolution compared to Full HD alternatives, but colour is still relatively faithful. Contrast is dealt with well, too. Most surprising is the decent performance in low light, with a picture that managed to remain reasonably colourful in our 100W ceiling light test. The white balance system does have some trouble getting colours entirely accurate in mixed lighting conditions, but the image is at least bright and mostly devoid of grain. Overall, picture quality is a cut above pocket Internet camcorders.
JVC’s Everio GZ-HM30SEK is available for under £200, and considerably less than that from some vendors. It’s not a particularly exciting camcorder, but it does offer better image quality than 720p pocket Internet models, and a few more features. So if you’re after a little bit more than a Flip (may it rest in peace…) or its pretenders can offer, the GZ-HM30SEK is a decent-value alternative worth considering.