Price: around £680 plus VAT
The new GR-DVL357 miniDV video camera is part of JVC’s new line of consumer cameras, that sport high-band processing to deliver a full 520 lines of horizontal resolution across all five models. The camera looks like a standard-issue compact DV camera – akin to the styling of the Sony TRV range, but with functions tweaked on or off (or with more or less knobs), depending on the model. According to JVC, this allows for any user to pick the camera best suited to them. What’s most attractive is the camera’s combination of a dense range of features and an extremely low price. The relatively small variation in prices for the camera’s extras is negligible. The top-of-the-line GR-DVL357 shares the range’s Digital NightScope technology – a full-colour filming mode that, unlike the infrared system found in many camcorders, does not turn the image green. This is thanks to a sensitive 800,000-pixel CCD and a built-in light that kicks in when filming in extremely dark places. However, using this mode does make the frame rate drop quite dramatically and the camera can be slow to focus. LCD screen The main difference between the 357 and its marginally more expensive older brother the 557 is that the new camera has only a 2.5-inch LCD flip-out screen, whereas the 557’s has a large 3.5-inch LCD. They both have the same features from there on, including a digital-still camera function with 8MB SD memory card and DV in as well as out. The camera packs no surprises in its design, and if you’re familiar with the Sony range, it will only take seconds to get to grips with. One notable difference is that the tape player controls are on top of the camera next to the scroll wheel, still shutter and zoom control – the latter of which doubles as volume for playback. The bulk of the camera’s I/Os are hidden under a rubber flap at the front of the camera except for the IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port, which is covered by the fold-out screen. Small switches are placed above that affect the light setting and DV-versus-still mode. Filming was smooth and straightforward, and the 10x effective zoom sufficient for most jobs. The 300x digital zoom feature proudly printed on the lens barrel is like all of them – best to be avoided. What JVC has got spot on with this camera when compared to much more highly-priced models is the clever and clean collection of fades and various scene transitions. With a bit of practice, a slick segment can be shot in one go without any need for editing. Image quality on video seemed to vary somewhat depending on the subject matter. If the scene was evenly lit and had a full range of colours, the JVC DVL357 delivered footage with decent enough picture quality. The digital-still capabilities, however, are lacking. Even on fine compression, the VGA resolution images were soft and murky with serious noise problems in anything that approached a shadow. For a quick close-up reference shot, it’s acceptable – but even a cheap disposable camera will deliver dramatically better results. The right connections JVC’s choice of bundled software is firmly aimed at a family audience. Presto! Mr Photo and Photo Album crashed repeatedly on our test machine, and are best ignored. For editing, the camera was connected and easily controlled from within editing applications with the built-in FireWire port. A USB driver was needed to access the RAM card, but once installed, it appeared on the desktop like a hard drive. Up to eight cuts can be assembled with the fully featured remote control and a suitable VCR, as well as direct digital dubbing via a FireWire cable. What really defines this JVC series of cameras is not just its comprehensive feature list, but the price point which it’s delivered – easily under half that of a similarly-specced Sony model. Unfortunately, some of the DVL357’s features feel very much like an alpha release, with JVC just offering them to prove they exist. Once some of these issues are dealt with, then the camera is bound to attract the interest of more professional users.