JVC GZ-GX1 Camcorder Review
Manual focus is one of the few "manual" controls found on most consumer camcorders (except for cheap pocket-cams), so it is no surprise to see the feature on the GX1. Unfortunately, the method for setting focus on the camcorder isn't great. You're required to use the touchscreen interface to tap or hold buttons to set focus. It isn't as precise as using a dial or lens ring, and it isn't that easy to achieve your desired focus setting. Strangely, it appears JVC has abandoned its focus assist peaking options, which were a staple on Everio camcorders of the past. Truthfully, though, we doubt most users will miss them. Without a lens ring or an adjustment dial, setting focus manually is a feat most people will avoid on the GX1.
There are numerous ways to set exposure manually on the GZ-GX1. There's your simple exposure adjustment option that lets you brighten or darken your video image on a -2 to +2 scale (in 1/3 EV increments). This is the easiest function to understand, and adjusting the exposure in this manner won't effect the quality of your image in many ways other than changing the brightness.
Setting the shutter speed or aperture on the GX1 will also change the brightness, but each of these controls will alter the look of your video in some manner as well. The GX1 is equipped with 34 different shutter speeds (that's a lot!) including a whipping 12 shutter speeds that are slower than 1/30 of a second. These slow shutter speeds capture motion in a choppy, blurred fashion that can look cool in the right situation, but looks awful if you're trying to catch smooth moving images.
Aperture and shutter speed cannot be adjusted independently from one another on the GX1, which means both modes are technically "priority" modes. This means you're setting something (like shutter speed) and the camcorder will pick a corresponding aperture automatically (or vice versa). To assist you with setting exposure, the GX1 does have a zebra patterns setting that will highlight the overexposed portions of the screen with black and white strips. You can set the zebra patterns to appear when exposure levels are 70-80% blown-out or over 100% overexposed. It's a cool feature, but it is only one that pros or serious users will appreciate, so it's kind of strange to see it on the GZ-GX1.
The GZ-GX1 does not have full-fledged gain or ISO control, but it does have a simple gain menu that lets you turn gain off completely (for a noise-free image), or turn gain on (where it will function automatically). A third option in this menu will activate the auto slow shutter feature, which lets the camcorder use a 1/30 of a second shutter speed to obtain a boost in brightness when shooting in a low light environment.
In addition to the focus and exposure controls, the GX1 has a manual white balance mode along with three white balance presets: Fine, Cloud, and Halogen. There are also two Marine white balance presets that are meant to be used when shooting underwater with the GX1 (using the optional marine case).
The manual white balance system produces good results, but it has a horrible, unintuitive interface. To set white balance manually, you must press and hold the manual WB button for a few seconds while pointing the camcorder at a white card or screen. JVC has had this system on its Everio models for a few years now, and we're consistently dismayed by the fact that there is little explanation as to how the manual WB is to be set. You can tap the manual button and think you've set the white balance (the camcorder will beep), but you've actually done nothing. Why doesn't a message appear on the screen saying you've done something wrong? Why can't JVC just improve this system a tiny bit?
Supposedly, this feature will help capture details on your subject that is lit from behind by a strong light (like a window). In practice, we found it barely made a difference, however, as the camcorder struggles with auto exposure whenever a strong light source is detected in a portion of the frame.
For taking close-up shots, you can use the Tele Macro function on the camcorder to make focusing on close subjects easier. Tele Macro only makes a difference if you're using zoom, as the GX1 can always focus on subjects as little as 5cm from the lens with no zoom engaged.
To help you frame your video, JVC includes a grid overlay on the GZ-GX1. The lines that show up on the LCD when this feature is turned on won't appear in your recorded video—they're just there to help with framing.
Allows the GZ-GX1 to record video using the expanded xvYCC color gamut. You'll only notice a difference when the videos are viewed on an xvYCC-compatible television, though.
When you're in auto mode, you'll soon discover that JVC equipped the GZ-GX1 with some splendid automatic controls. The camcorder handled autofocus very well, with quick adjustments between different focus planes. Auto exposure was also smooth and reliable in auto mode. The camcorder also has four different kinds of auto exposure/focus tracking features: face, pet, color, and area. The area feature is actually more of a "spot" focus/exposure control that allows you to touch the portion of the screen you want to bring into focus and expose properly. It's a simple-to-use auto mode that gives the user a bit of manual control—and it works very well with the touchscreen interface (one of the camcorder's few controls that does).
The tracking modes are also effective, although they aren't perfect. You'll likely lose "track" of the subject your tracking if they move to quickly or if you move the camcorder too much. But the tracking feature can still be fun for the most part, just don't expect it to lock onto your target with 100% accuracy.
The GX1 has more audio controls than you may expect to see on a camcorder of its size and price range. The built-in mic records stereo audio, has a wind cut feature, and even has a zoom mic option for focusing the audio recording on a specific subject (that you're zoomed into). In addition, there's a mic level display on the LCD so you can monitor your levels during or prior to recording, and you can set the audio levels in the menu system. The camcorder doesn't have a huge range—you can only set things from -2 to +2 in full increments—but it's a valuable feature nonetheless.
Keep in mind the GX1 also has a 3.5mm mic jack and its AV-out port can double as a headphone jack (with adjustable headphone volume). The camcorder also is equipped with K2 technology, which activates a filter during playback in order to enhance the quality of the recorded audio.