JVC HM650 First peek…. and it looks good!

I’ve been loaned a JVC HM650 to take a look at. I used it at the weekend to shoot some steam trains on a local heritage railway line. This is always a challenging subject and the bright sunny skies on Sunday made it very tough. Black, smokey trains agains a brilliant bright sky is tough on any camera. Reviewing the rushes today I have to say that the camera does produce a nice picture. It’s not a PMW-200 or F5, but then it isn’t the price of either of those, it’s considerably cheaper. Having spent two weeks shooting with prime lenses on an F5 it was really nice to get back to a video zoom lens. The 23x zoom range of the HM650 gives great flexibility and would be a real boon to anyone shooting sports or event videos. I’ll be posting a much more detail review in due course but so far I am impressed. The build quality is really first class (something JVC have always done well) and the camera feels good and solid. It’s quite large for a 3x 1/3″ camera, but that makes it easy to handle and operate. Image noise, sensitivity and dynamic range are what you would expect for a pro level camcorder with 3rd inch HD sensors. JVC have perhaps been a little too aggressive with the noise reduction algorithms and this does result in a little bit of smear in the images but I have been told that there will be a series of firmware updates for the camera to address small issues such as this. Personally I’d rather see a little more noise in the pictures and have less smear. The problem is that the otherwise very clean and noise free pictures really show up the smear when you pan or move the camera. A slightly nosier picture would to some extent hide any smear. Most modern cameras use noise reduction to help clean up the images, so many cameras suffer from smear, it’s not unusual these days. Out of the box the pictures are also in my opinion a little over sharpened and this also tends to draw your attention the smear as the picture softens as you move the camera. This is not a big deal though as the HM650 has a good range of controls for adjusting the image quality including detail correction, gamma and matrix settings. A few small tweaks to these really helps improve the image quality. If your brave you can even dial in your own custom looks for different shooting applications.
The HM650 uses the same codec as the Sony 35Mb/s XDCAM cameras, only JVC allow you to choose whether to have the video wrapped in a straight forward quicktime .mov file or in a MXF file. The footage is recorded on to SD cards (two slots) which really helps keep life very simple as most modern laptops have SD card slots and SD card readers are two a penny. The HM650 is very similar to the HM600, picture quality is the same for both cameras but the 650 adds some clever tricks and extra wiFi connectivity for streaming etc. More about that in my full write up.
Based on my brief time so far with the HM650 it is a very serious contender in the low to middle end of the pro camcorder market. It’s very easy to pick up flaws in the images of a camera, especially when you’ve been spoilt by the images from a high end large sensor camera like the F5. But I have to put things into perspective. The HM600 and HM650 are cheaper cameras for different applications. I’d be happy to use one as a B camera to a broadcast shoulder mount camera or as a run and gun companion to a large sensor camera. The pictures are overall very pleasing and when you factor in the flexibility of that massive 23x zoom range the HM650 does appear to punch above it’s weight. A more in depth review and write up will follow soon.

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