JVC GY-HM100U: A Little Guy with a Big Punch

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In the world of filmmakers and videographers, there is a prolonged myth that bigger is better. The truth is, it all depends on the specific assignment. However, in capturing candid and real-life events, a clunky shoulder-mounted camera often inhibits the ability for even the best camera operator to obtain unobstructed realism. Packed with all the settings and controls an experienced shooter would require, the JVC GY-HM100U is a deceptively small camcorder that provides the operator with a professional level of image control, as well as the freedom of invisibility. This makes it perfectly suited to many videographers and documentarians.



Image Quality and Control

The GY-HM100U has a Fujinon 10x lens (3.7 - 37mm, f/1.8-2.8) and three 1/4" CCD sensors, and can record 1920 x 1080 at various frame rates, including 1080/60i, 1080/50i, 1080/30p, 1080/24p, and 1080/25p, at up to 35Mbps. The footage itself is shot on inexpensive class 6 SDHC cards (as well as class 10 SDHC cards with a firmware update), which are hot-swappable. This resolution and functionality matches camcorders more than double this little guy's size. It sports an advanced focus assist, gamma manipulation, knee controls, zebra patterns, color adjustment, and much more. Additionally, the shooter assigns three user buttons for common controls, and can save settings to an SD card for later loading and reuse.

The focus assist on this camera makes an excellent preprogrammed user button. This tool turns everything in the image grey, lining what is in focus in red. Of course the GY-HM100U also has an autofocus mode, which is extremely helpful in on-the-go filming. This includes a useful autofocus and autoexposure, so that the cameraman can focus on getting the footage needed.

Unlike a consumer camcorder, the GY-HM100U comes with a removable audio unit with 2 XLR inputs for professional-quality (16-bit, 48 kHz PCM) audio. Whether using a wireless lav mic or a shotgun, this little guy has the same audio capabilities as larger professional camcorders. This feature, coupled with its compact size, makes this camera uniquely different and very efficient for documentary filmmakers, journalists, students, and event videographers.

Here's a quick sample of the video quality that the little guy can put out:

JVC Test Footage from Kelly Video on Vimeo.

The Competition

The Sony NEX VG-10

Recently, HDSLRs have become all the rage for many filmmakers and cinematographers because of their shallow depth of field and amazing low-light capabilities due to their larger sensors. However, these cameras require loads of rigging to provide better functionality and to avoid excessive shakiness. Granted, the GY-HM100U is shakier than a standard shoulder mounted or mid-size camcorder, but its overall body is comfortably shaped for handholding, and the function buttons are easily reachable. 

As mentioned above, the GY-HM100U has all the controls of a typical professional camcorder that allow a shooter to operate it quickly and effectively, which all HDSLRs lack at this point intime .

Sensor size chart borrowed from DV.com

As compared to other camcorders, the GY-HM100U has a couple of advantages over those in its size range. The new Sony NEX-VG10, with its APS-sized sensor, is Sony's camcorder answer to the HDSLR phenomenon. This small prosumer camera is more light sensitive than the GY-HM100U, which only has 1/4" sized sensors. However, the NEX-VG10 does not have XLR inputs for professional audio quality (though the native microphone is still quite good), it has fewer controls, and honestly has a menu system that would drive any professional operator up the wall. Granted, it's not designed for them.

Lead Writer Chris Gampat worked with that and his Canon 7D at one point—his preference leaned towards the 7D since he's already so used to the system.

The Sony HXR-MC50U is another small Sony camera without any XLR inputs, and has a smaller, more awkward shape compared to the GY-HM100U. The Canon XF100/105 is only somewhat bigger than the GY-HM100U, and has a lot of the same functions and a bigger sensor. But it is pricier, at around $4,000, and does not have the easy editing workflow which I will discuss in a moment.

In regards to bigger camcorders, the GY-HM100U has the majority of the same functions and audio inputs. The main difference between the GY-HM100U and his big brothers is sensor size (GY-HM100U's 1/4" sensor size, as compared to the typical 1/3" sensor size of bigger camcorders). This means that bigger camcorders, such as the Sony HXRZ5U, Panasonic AG-HPX370, and Canon XF300/305 are more light sensitive, and many have higher-level functions such as LANC, GPS, SDI/ID out, and genlock, which are typically functions used in high-end sets, studios, and multiple-camera shoots. However, for many independent documentarians and videographers these extra controls are not typically needed.

Fast and Easy Workflow

In addition to its small structure and high image quality, the fast and easy workflow associated with the GY-HM100U makes it the ideal "run and gun" camera. The ease of recording to SDHC cards is complimented by the GY-HM100U's ready-to-edit file formats. An avid Final Cut Pro user myself (pun intended), my absolute favorite feature of the GY-HM100U is its ability to record native .MOV files. This means you can film on site, and drag-and-drop the files right into Final Cut Pro to begin editing immediately.

Without exaggeration, the editing workflow of this camera is amazingly simple. No converting, no time wasted waiting for progressive bars. For those non-Final Cut Pro users, the GY-HM100U also records in .MP4, compatible with various editing software programs. This feature, along with its ability to record professional-quality audio, makes the GY-HM100U a more versatile and functionally friendly camera for shooters requiring quick turn over edits. This function also makes all JVC cameras stand out from the crowd.

Built to Conceal

With a removable top handle and lens hood, the GY-HM100U can imitate a small consumer camcorder in situations where a shooter needs to be inconspicuous. Journalists have removed these elements from the GY-HM100U in order to get past security on their way to Afghanistan, and to obtain footage in extremely dangerous situations. Its compact yet rugged build has served many journalists well in cases in which their lives are dependent on not being noticed. On the other side of the coin, the GY-HM100U is great for capturing candid life moments during events such as weddings and lifestyle-type videography. Its size provides videographers with the ability to be unobtrusive flies on the wall, obtaining open and sincere footage of couples and family.

Limitations

Although the GY-HM100U is well suited for certain kinds of rough and quick shooting and editing styles, there are some limitations that should be addressed. As already discussed, the 1/4" sensor size makes it challenging to shoot in extremely dim situations. The lens is fixed, and only has a 10x zoom. So unlike the Sony NEX-VG10 with its interchangeable lens capability, a shooter must work with the 3.7-37mm provided. Additionally, the operator must zoom with a bit more finesse, because the zoom speed on the GY-HM100U cannot be programmed. Overall, the majority of its functions are on point. Furthermore, considering its size, great image quality, and a price point of only $2,395, these limitations are easy trade offs.

Conclusions

All in all, the GY-HM100U packs a lot of heat into a small package. It has a compact, but very operator-friendly build, with professional audio XLR inputs. Although it has some limitations including poor low-light capabilities, limited zoom functions, and a fixed lens, its benefits far outweigh these constraints. It provides a high-resolution image at various frame rates, the ease of shooting to SDHC cards, an incredibly fast and efficient editing workflow, and it allows the shooter to be hidden in order to obtain candid or difficult footage. With a price point of $2,395, it is an economic steal for many types of shooters, especially those in rough or inconspicuous situations, in need of quick turn over edits. Many documentarians and videographers could benefit from this small and effective camera with the bells and whistles associated with larger camcorders.