Weeks with JVC GY-DV500"
"All of the things that are frustrating
about the XL-1 are "fixed" on the JVC" says Tim Eaton... - more
that is fairly ongoing, includes Fujinon 14x lens free, making
the package (camera, viewfinder, tripod plate and a battery holder - $4,995
list in the US. Standard retail on that package is $5,995.
The Bug, The Head Clog bug.
"Head Clogged" error message comes
out after several hours of using the cameras manufactured before February
2000. It is an easy-to-fix problem - the "firmware" control
chip need to be replaced or re-programmed, but for now, only JVC can do
it. Once again, cameras manufactured in February 2000 or later, are
If you have this bug, read on.
The good news is that recording will be fine
even with the warning. Clean the head with the included head cleaning
tape, and the warning may never come up again (but then maybe it will).
Ultimately, you will need to send this camera
to JVC to fix the problem, where they will replace or flash the firmware
The fix for the head sensor takes 2-3
business days. Customer pays freight there, JVC sends it back on their
To get the fastest service we MUST contact
Charlie McGee at 714 229-8043 and make an appointment. If you don't do
that and call JVC standard service line, it may take up to 5 weeks.
Remember, you heard this on DV
Where To Buy
Los Angeles, CA
Weeks with the JVC GY-DV500
or How I
learned to Love this Small But Very Professional Camcorder...
The title says it all. After three
weeks of six day weeks with long, hard setups, multiple locations per day and
multiple scenes per location, all with a very small crew (4 primary and three
secondary), I truly appreciate the effort JVC made to produce this camera with
everything I needed to "get the shot".
I was hired to DP and shoot a
full-length digital feature movie (Title: Secret Messages) using the DV
format. Our cameras were the JVC GY-DV500, the Panasonic EZ1, two Canon XL1's,
and the Sony PD100 DVCAM.
The script was full length with a
tremendous range of location shots. Grip and lighting included a Berkey
Colortran kit, a Lowell Pro kit, a 4 light Arri kit and two Lowell Rifa
lights. The audio consisted of a Sennheiser shotgun, Audio Technica 815
shotgun, a Telex 400 wireless, Sony UHF wireless and an Electrosonics
wireless. Further, we had a Sony ECM77 wired lav and a Tram wired lav. We used
a Shure FP42 battery powered mixer for its mixing and limiting capability and
had a Sony Minidisk recording all audio as a backup. For grip equipment, I
brought along my trusty, ancient Miller wood sticks. In addition, we had a
dolly with track and a tripod mounted jib. Two Manfretto tripods were for
second camera and backup use.
I'm not going to get into the
specs of the camera, you can read those anywhere, rather I'll give you my
opinions of each of its parts... and then how they all came together to
produce a camcorder that works very well in a variety of shooting situations.
At the very front is the lens. Now
the lens we had is the inexpensive Fujinon that is included with the
"deal" if you buy it now.... It's a basic lens. Fast enough
for low light use, very smooth and quiet in operation at various temperatures
but not very wide, not very long and no 2X extender for those "Gee, I
wish I could get that" shots. Comfortable to work either off of
sticks or handheld. On the down side, the lens had a tendency to get a tad
soft around the edges at full zoom. Considering it's a "free" lens,
the quality was acceptable, though there is a big difference between it and
the broadcast Fuji I own.
viewfinder is nice. Full functioned
with a variable zebra, different Zone markings for framing (I like number 2),
two channels of audio metering, filter settings, etc. You can turn on/off the
front tally (back stays on all the time - nice), and the brightness and
contrast controls are large and well marked. And this is my only complaint
with the viewfinder. The brightness and contrast controls are almost too big!
It's very easy to accidentally move them. For example, while rotating the
viewfinder eyepiece out of the way for carrying. I like to setup my B&W
viewfinder image so I can truly see the lighting and contrasts as I shoot.
Once I've set it up properly, its a cinch to manually set the iris on various
shots as I've learned to "trust" the viewfinder with my Ikegami.
With the JVC, if the brightness and contrast knobs got moved, which they did
many times, I would be lost for a moment till I realized what had happened.
For example. Its very easy to see if the exposure is to hot on a person's skin
during a scene as you tend to lose detail on their forehead or nose. This is
easily seen with the viewfinder properly set up, and not if its too bright or
to contrasty. Minor issue I know, but it took a while for me to get used to
not trusting the viewfinder without checking it for every scene. Moreover,
since I always run manual iris, usually a half to a full stop down from auto,
it was bothersome till I got used to it. And yes, you can set the zebra to
show skin detail and exposure, but not being familiar with its accuracy, I
left that off and set zebra for 95%.
The camera came with the JVC
battery mount on the back. I requested and got the Anton Bauer mount. A very
inexpensive addition which took about 10 minutes to install. Our only problem
was the 2-wire connector for the viewfinder battery indicator was hidden
behind the right hand camera panel and tied there, for safekeeping no doubt.
Once that was released and routed through the back panel, installation was a
snap. I went with the Anton Bauer back for four reasons.
I wanted long run times with
fast, on location, charging capability.
I wanted the viewfinder power
indicator, which is adjustable in-camera for various voltages.
I wanted a slight rear heavy
bias for the camera on the tripod, dolly and jib.
I already own Anton
"bricks" and have come to truly rely on them when on location.
Run times with the Logic Series
bricks averaged 3-4 hours. I never used AC and I never used more than 3
batteries in one day. How did I do this? Glad you asked! Since we were
shooting a full length digital feature movie, we were going to have a lot of
time during lighting and blocking that we weren't shooting but I needed the
camera on to visually check my progress. The camera has a standby/save switch
that came in very handy. In "save" mode, the deck shuts down and
leaves the camera on with an E to E picture and full operation of any camera
functions. This enabled me to setup the picture to match scene by scene, or
create a new scene with a film look or just about any look the director or I
wanted. So the camera would be turned on at the start of the day and would
only get turned off if we had a long wait at a location. Otherwise, I left it
on. This saved battery power but allowed me to see the shot at any time during
menu settings for the camera
section were very easy to navigate and understand. I could change virtually
any feature in a matter of seconds, or completely setup the camera for a
different look in less than 5 minutes. Detail and gamma were two of my
favorite choices for image manipulation. Both horizontal and vertical detail
can be adjusted over a very wide range as well as the detail frequency and the
balance between them. Gamma changes were equally versatile. Black stretch and
compress is located on a switch on the side of the camera and produces a very
"film like" grey scale under a wide range of lighting contrasts.
I never used the full
"auto" function the camera provides, as I needed to match scenes and
didn't have enough hours on the camera to trust it. But the manual says in
full auto mode, all you have to do is point it and focus. Everything else;
auto-tracking white balance, auto exposure, auto gain and auto shutter, is
controlled by the on-board processing circuits. I have no reason to doubt it.
As it was, the only time I got into trouble was when I screwed up. Isn't that
the way it should be?
The camera white balanced under
almost every condition. The only time I had a "no good" from the
white balance circuit was in an overlight situation. Closing the iris solved
that problem. Hint: Put the lens in "auto" just before white
balancing and you will minimize this issue (which is what you should do
anyway!). The filter wheel has three positions: indoor (3200K)/outdoor (5600K)
and outdoor with ND filter. The white balance switch also has the normal
"preset" function which works well when in a run and gun situation
as long as your lighting situation is close to the proper color temperature
for indoor/outdoor. Don't use it under fluorescence or at sunrise/sunsets.
Mixing different lighting was another non-issue. I've learned a lot of tricks
shooting with the Ikegami and applied many of them during this shoot. One of
the most important is tricking the camera into a proper white balance when you
have a variety of different color temperature lighting at a location. With a
small crew and limited time and budget, we couldn't turn off, flag off or
color gell every window, bad light or the sun. So we'd do the best we could,
then angle the white card to favor the color temp we wanted. Bingo! Instant
proper white balance regardless of filter setting or light level. OK,
sometimes there was a slightly small "weird looking" corner of a
wall in the background, but overall, the scene looked real and the actors skin
tones were right on target.
audio side of the camera worked
very well. Two XLR connectors at the rear of the camera and one in the front
gave me all the versatility I needed for field recording in a two-channel
system. The XLR's in the rear are adjustable from mike level to line and have
switchable +48volts for phantom power separately available. On the side panel
there are two sets of switches for auto/manual gain and your choice of
assigning the front XLR or the rear XLR's to either or both channels. There is
the dual channel meter as well along with two master gain controls. We were
using a Shure mixer for almost all our setups so my audio set up was very
basic. Audio sent me 1K tone at 0 db and I set my audio levels to -10db on my
meters, line level, using the rear XLR's. I set the levels at the camera for
-10db as the metering seems to be very "Peaky", IE, very sensitive
to peak readings and telling me the audio is "over" when we were
only hitting -30db at the Shure with the limiter on and under normal two
person dialogue situations. With this setting, the only time I heard digital
distortion was twice, the first time 50 feet from a Citation II private jet as
it taxied by and the second time when the boom person was too close to an
actor who came out of a room screaming at the top of his lungs. In addition to
the controls and functions I've mentioned there is also a warning tone level
adjustment for the earphone jack and the built in speaker as well as the
actual volume control for monitoring both tracks. By the way, the earphone
jack is a mini jack at the rear of the unit. I felt its placement was perfect.
The cable never got in the way for my headphones. My only complaint here is
that the jack is a mono jack. You can listen to left channel, right channel or
mixed, but only out of one ear. I don't understand why the camera operator
can't be given a choice for a stereo feed of both channels to both ears or a
mono feed of either or both channels to one or both ears. With the ear bud
earphones getting better everyday, using both ears for monitoring is becoming
a norm rather than an exception.
The record deck half of the
camcorder performed almost perfectly. The tape transport is very responsive to
all operations but two. When loading a new tape, it was sometimes necessary to
turn the camera off then back on and eject the new tape then reload it to get
the time code to reset back to zero. On the other side of the same coin, there
were times when, after being off for a time, the deck wouldn't find it's
position (normally backspaced) or time code, so I'd have to hit the review
button on the lens. Then the transport would backup 5 or so seconds and roll
to the end of the last scene and re-cue itself with the proper time code. This
to me was another minor issue, as I'd rather have to do this than find myself
recording over the ending of the previous scene. Hint: always run 5 seconds of
bars at the end of any really good take. Two reasons: 1: So you won't record
over a scene and 2: Makes it easy to see the great takes while fast forwarding
during a logging session!
The deck section of the camera has
its own menu settings. My advice, don't go there. The only setting you might
want to change is the time code setting. Since most DV gear is set for Drop
frame (DF), you may want to check and see what your deck is set for. Ours came
from the dealer set for NDF. Don't know why, but since the camera came in an
opened box, I must assume the dealer people were playing around...So word to
the wise, check all menu settings for the default settings before you use the
camera for the first time. I checked all menu settings each day when I took
the camera out of the case and always before a scene where I might have been
away from the camera for a length of time.
Drop out and head clogs have been
a major player in the DV forums for months now. We were prepared for our first
head clog indication when it happened 4 tape head hours into the shoot. The
warning indicators in the viewfinder, headphones and LCD panel all told me the
problem was there. It took more time to open the new head-cleaning cassette
than it did to clean the heads for 5 seconds, which solved the problem. JVC
has acknowledged a sensor problem that is being corrected. But I feel its more
of a new head problem. New heads should be "burnished" or
"broken in" prior to use, and I didn't put any time on the deck to
speak of... less than one tape the weekend before use to check the camera
out. Since our first encounter with the head clog, we haven't seen it
since, and we have 22 one-hour tapes run through this camera for the movie.
You can guess how many actual head and drum hours we've put on to accommodate
22 one hour long tapes. Hint: Think about how many takes there are in an
average scene...and the waiting for makeup just before the roll, or waiting
for boom, just before the roll...in other words, lots of time with the tape on
I was concerned about the size of
the camera, being so small compared to my Betacam. I was pleasantly surprised
to find it fill well and balanced the way I like it, slightly back heavy, with
an Anton Bauer brick on the back. I like the back heavy balance as it's far
easier to pull down on the camera using just the weight of my arm than push up
all day long, which uses muscle power. Try it and see if you don't agree.
The camera controls were well
placed and easy to find by feel alone once I got used to it. The lens was a
bit closer than I'm used to, but this became comfortable as well and made it
easier to brace my shooting elbow into my middle-aged waist! The viewfinder
needs a fore and aft adjustment and a longer side reach for those who wear
larger headphones or use their left eye, but was workable both on the shoulder
and on a tripod. The diopter adjustment didn't seem to have enough range for
me, and my eyesight isn't that far off of 20/20. I have the normal age-related
loss of close up vision but I had to wear my glasses, as there wasn't enough
range for me. I know I'm nitpicking, but in reality, what you're reading in
this subjective review is all I found wrong with this camera.
Overall, the camera was easy to
setup, carry and mount. On the tripod, dolly and jib, I encountered no
problems whatsoever with the camera's size, weight or balance. My second unit
camera operator, Jay Allen, kept grinning everytime he took the camera off the
tripod to move to another shot....it wasn't as heavy as he's used too!
The bottom line. The JVC camera
worked very well....period. Our locations involved exterior night scenes,
bright day scenes under the Arizona sun, interiors from a typical bar to a
home with large windows in two directions making lighting a constant problem
and just about everything in between. Colors were rich and stable, very little
cross-color bleeding or smearing, even under low light. The low light
capability was a pleasant surprise! There were plenty of times I'd finish
lighting a scene and look down at the lens aperture and see it sitting at F4
or a F2.8-F4 split. Nice feeling...
1: We shot with one 300-watt light
barn-doored off and covered with softspun in a very large bar and the
low-light capability was as good as you would expect for 1/2" chips. The
colors of the colored "mood" light around the bar were vivid and
accurate. The skin tone of the extras were right on. I didn't see one streak
or smear in any of our strange lighting situations.
2: We shot an exterior scene in
front of a small store with one fluorescent tube lighting up the store's sign.
We placed a 300-watt Arri across the parking lot (75 feet away - it was
imitating a street light) and shot the scene with 4 actors having an argument.
As our hero ran away waving his gun...it was interesting to be able to see him
run in and out of shadows and still see detail and color on his clothes.
No gain or boost was used on any
of our shots. To give you an idea of what this means, the previously mentioned
bar scene was also shot with the XL1. And even with 12db gain, the picture was
deemed unusable. The JVC was pretty, again with no gain or boost used.
3: Another unusual scene was our
hero running to an exterior phone booth...well, not really a phone booth,
rather one of those cheap little phone stands that couldn't protect you from
one raindrop much less a downpour, but I digress. I set out the battery
powered lighting while the director blocked the shot. He came over to see how
the scene was looking and said..."Looks Great...let's shoot it" The
battery lights weren't even on. I turned them on and off for him....we
laughingly agreed, and left them off and shot the scene. The tiny fluorescent
lights in the phone "booth" were plenty for the gritty look we
wanted. The rest of the parking lot was lit by streetlights.
In daylight situations, I do have
an opinion here for JVC. I think the auto iris settings on some of the newer
cameras are set a bit to hot. Let's face it. The DV format, being digital like
DVCAM and DVCPRO are still new formats and exhibit artifacts from exposure and
other external situations. Now before you starting ranting on me let me
re-phrase that. I don't blame the formats, you can't, it's just a recording
format. But you can look at the cameras and see that many of the under $10K
cameras just don't have the filtering of the higher priced spread. Everyone
has at least 700 lines of resolution and at least 60db signal to noise ratio,
so what separates the under $10K and those pushing $20K and on up? Well for
one thing the filtering in the preamp circuits that eliminate the jaggies, the
smears, keep the colors pure in extreme lighting, lower noise and allow so
much more control over the picture quality. Now back to my point. The JVC at
auto iris in bright sun looks a bit like its being overdriven. This is
probably a simple factory adjustment, but that's the way we received the
camera. For many not technically brought up, they may end up shooting like
that and be disappointed. When I stopped the lens down a tad, the colors
leaped out, the detail came back on the highlights and the picture looked very
nice indeed. In bright sun, 1/2 to 3/4 of a stop was all it took to bring the
JVC back to where I like it. Indoors, I would only use auto iris while I was
setting up the lighting of a scene so I could watch my progress and allow the
director and the boom operator to see what was happening at the same time. And
since the camera's auto exposure is biased to favor the middle and lower
middle of the picture, I would occasionally see loss of detail on highlights
in the upper left/right quadrants of the scene. Since I always shoot with
manual iris, this was a non-issue to me. And yes, there is an adjustment for
the auto Iris to stop it down -3. But I have a tendency to forget those type
of settings and you wouldn't want your iris down -3 in a low light situation!
So, I ran the camera in its most basic state.
The camera body seems very durable
and took 3 weeks of constantly being mounted on the jib, the two dolly's, the
tripod, on sandbags, high and low, in cold or hot without one complaint. My
only concern is for the two video out connectors on the side. After 3 weeks of
very hard use and being jerked and pulled when someone steps on a cable while
camera is moving to get a reversal (first time on the set!), the rear output
jack "seemed" to be coming loose. I say "seemed", because
I don't remember it being loose or tight at the beginning of our shoot. Now in
all fairness, the connector wasn't shorting out or breaking up the
picture...it just "felt" like it was beginning to get loose. I did
enjoy having the two BNC video outputs as well as an S-Video out so I could
feed multiple monitors when needed (like on the dolly or jib).
the Down side:
I've already mentioned a few minor
problems I ran across with the JVC GY-DV500. Let me add a few more. The camera
does not allow progressive mode shooting. If that were available, I would have
shot the movie completely in progressive mode for a more film like look.
Another issue was the lack of 16:9 mode, but this didn't bother me. For one
thing, without true 16:9 pixels, this feature is a waste of time and money.
Sorry, but that's my feeling. Too much is lost in the conversion to make a
worthwhile picture suitable in the HD future. Secondly, shooting a movie in
16:9 would also be problematic at best. It's far easier to convert upwards
from 4:3 than try and down convert back to 4:3 for foreign markets and normal
TV viewing. The 60 minute recording time may be an issue for event
videographers, but for me...nope, nada, and no! In fact 60 minutes was about
what we averaged per day of shooting....and that was a lot for a film!
"I didn't Try Department":
I never used the scene files, the
smooth transition feature, the full auto shooting mode and the super scene
finder. The only one I wanted to try was the smooth transition feature. This
is a nice idea, allowing you to change white balance or video level without a
major jump in picture quality during the change. A real time smoothing
circuit, if you will, but never got the chance. The camera also has a genlock
input, Ieee1394, an RS232 port for computer control (all I didn't use) and a
standard 1/2" lens mount for a variety of lenses, even broadcast lenses.
This camera produces a picture
more in line with camera's twice its price and then some. It falls perfectly
in the class JVC no doubt wanted it to... between the Canon XL1 at almost the
same price and the Sony DSR300 at considerably more money. Its operation,
picture quality, versatility and feature set are a major leap for a
manufacturer with its $5995 price point. Add to this, the camera's ability to
mask bad pixels, the incredible setup choices, the ease of use and its light
weight, even after a hard long day, you've got a killer combination. If JVC
adds longer recording time to a new version of this camera (Digital-S?), watch
out! Here comes market share!
I'm spoiled after three weeks of
lightly lugging this camera around. It worked first time, every time from
sunrise to long after sunset without a complaint. And that is just what I
expect from a professional camera....nothing less. And that's what I got from
the JVC GY-DV500.
Would I buy one? In a New York
minute... yes. Just one problem... I already own an Ikegami
Betacam and the Panasonic EZ1 DV camera. I doubt very much my loving
wife will accept another camera into the family. "Look honey... this
camera followed me home from the movie... can I keep it?"
I don't think so.... but for three
weeks I was a very happy camera... uhh... camper!
For what its worth,
David Jon Devoucoux
For over 33 years....