JVC never quite takes the same strategy as its main competitors. The JVC HD Everio GZ-VX815BEK looks like a modest midrange model, albeit a stylish one, and is externally almost identical to the JVC Everio HD GZ-VX715. But lurking inside is a higher-end core specification than you might expect in a camcorder this size, at this price, although the general features are essentially the same as its lesser stable mate.
The key difference is that the JVC GZ-VX815BEK is based around an impressively specified 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS with a generous 12.8Mpixels, compared to the GZ-VX715's 1/4.1-inch unit with just 3.32Mpixels.
Although the GZ-VX715 offers extremely good image quality, the larger, higher-resolution sensor of the GZ-VX815BEK promises even more quality, and much better still images. JVC doesn't state how many pixels are actually used when shooting video, but there's no doubt it will be more than enough for shooting Full HD, as well as the 4,000 x 3,000-pixel still images on offer as well.
On top of the four AVCHD quality modes, the JVC Everio HD GZ-VX815BEK also offers iFrame shooting at 1,280 x 720 and 960 x 540, for Mac compatibility. The top video quality mode runs at 24Mbits/sec, but AVCHD 2.0 is not supported, so there is no option for 50p shooting. Footage is captured to a single SDXC-compatible memory card slot, and at the top data rate a 32GB card would be enough for just shy of three hours of footage.
Despite the JVC Everio GZ-VX815BEK's small chassis and large sensor, it still manages to offer a reasonable 10x optical zoom. But the large sensor means that there's a 21x Dynamic Zoom available as well, although only when image stabilisation is turned on. This is surprising, considering that it is based on an optical system. However, it also incorporates Advanced Image Stabilisation, which provides two extra enhanced settings that further reduce jerkiness.
The first of these drops the Dynamic Zoom to 17x, and the top option disables it entirely. Each of the image stabilisation modes entail a progressively pronounced zooming of the image, because they use the extra sensor pixels to produce their enhanced effect.
Surprisingly, while the built-in lens cover opens automatically, it has to be closed manually. This makes for a quick restart if you close the LCD to power down temporarily, but it's quite easy to forget the lens is uncovered when you pack up at the end of a shooting session.
Apart from a power button and a control for the image stabilisation, everything else is operated via the 3-inch touch screen LCD. In Intelligent Auto mode, the camcorder detects conditions and sets scene modes accordingly. In this mode, you can still enable a few options within the menu, including toggling between the four Touch Priority AE/AF modes. These include pet as well as face tracking, or you can select an area or colour for the system to use as a reference for focus and exposure.
You also have access to the Special Recording modes. These include High Speed Recording, which captures lower resolution footage at a high frame rate for smooth slow motion, and Stop Motion, which grabs a frame each time you press the shutter. There's time-lapse recording with intervals available from 1 to 80 seconds.
JVC's bizarre animation effects are available, too, and you can also decorate people's faces with graphical glasses, stamp your footage with a graphic, add an animated handwriting effect, or superimpose the date and time.