JVC appears to have veered away from the ‘Laser Touch Operation’ it was touting with some previous models. This was funky, but in our experience a slightly frustrating control system. Instead, the GZ-HM650BEK offers a new touch screen interface which controls virtually every aspect of the camcorder's settings. The only discrete buttons are for toggling i.AUTO mode, switching between camcorder and stills camera, calling up camcorder information, and a User button. This can be configured to provide direct access to Nightalive mode, AE/AF, manual focusing, backlight compensation, white balance or the cycling through the image stabilisation modes.
There’s a little S in the top left-hand corner that provides rapid access to a few face detection-related settings, including Smile Shot, which triggers the shutter when a smile is detected. You can also add animation effects, which are considerably more elaborate than just adding a filter, such as floating hearts or musical notes streaming across the screen. There's a Face Sub-Window option as well, which enables you to choose a detected face for a picture-in-picture onscreen close-up. As with most camcorders using a touchscreen, JVC also offers a Touch AE and AF functionality, whereby exposure and focus are set according to an onscreen reference point. This can be a detected face, a tracked colour area, or a fixed spot within the frame.
JVC follows the trend by offering an i.AUTO system, which detects shooting conditions and attempts to enable the appropriate scene mode, although we found its options even more limited than those of recent Canon camcorders. Strangely, the GZ-HM650BEK doesn't offer the usual array of scene modes, either. Instead, there's just Night and Spotlight to call upon. So you can't invoke a Sports mode to provide a faster shutter speed and clearer stills when shooting moving objects. There is still a manual mode, which enables things like manual focusing and a brightness setting. Focusing is fiddly and hard to control via the touchscreen, and there are no individual controls for shutter or iris.
With its reasonably sized, back-side illuminated sensor, the GZ-HM650BEK promises decent image quality. Given a sunny environment, it picks up vibrant colour and a sharp image. But the most impressive performance is in low light. Under these conditions, the GZ-HM650BEK can take a while to get the white balance right, although once it does the picture is reasonably accurate. Colour isn’t as vibrant in low light as, for example, Canon’s LEGRIA HF R18, and there’s a slight shift in white balance, but on the other hand there’s no obvious video noise. Overall, footage shot in poor illumination on the GZ-HM650BEK is amongst the best we’ve seen from a camcorder at this price.
Although the JVC Everio GZ-HM650BEK lacks some manual controls, at this price the performance in automatic mode is one of the key priorities, and here the camcorder does well. You will almost certainly need to budget for extra removable memory, despite the 8GB on board, but overall this is a keenly priced entry-level HD camcorder capable of shooting decent-quality footage in a variety of conditions, making it well worth considering as a budget buy.