JVC Everio GZ-HD6

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JVC Everio GZ-HD6
  • JVC Everio GZ-HD6
  • JVC Everio GZ-HD6
  • JVC Everio GZ-HD6

Pros

  • Solid video performance in optimum lighting, records in 'full' 1080p HD, 120GB hard drive, large range of manual controls, excellent optical image stabiliser

Cons

  • Results were below average in dim lighting, lacks many of the features found on its chief rival

Bottom Line

The Everio GZ-HD6 is a solid HDD camcorder that can match most high-def cameras when it comes to picture quality. Unfortunately, it lacks many of the features found on Sony's 120GB offering, which happens to retail for exactly the same price.

Would you buy this?

The GZ-HD6 replaces the Everio GZ-HD3 as JVC's flagship high-definition camcorder. When we reviewed the HD3 back in December last year, we lamented the loss of many valuable features found on its high-end predecessor (the Everio GZ-HD7), including an optical image stabiliser, manual focus ring and professional Fujinon HD lens. For this latest addition to the Everio family, JVC has reinstated some — but not all — of the HD7's finer selling points. The result is a curious combination of both of the models that came before it.

With its huge 120GB hard drive and 'full HD' video resolution (1080p), the HD6 competes with Sony's HDR-SR12 E — a similarly specified handycam with an identical price tag. This is a bold move on JVC's part, with the company directly taking on its market-leading rival. Unfortunately, there can be no doubt over which is the superior product. Sony's model simply offers more features and better performance for the same asking price.

Like all HDD-based camcorders, the GZ-HD6 stores recorded footage on its built-in hard drive, eliminating the need for additional discs or tapes. With its massive 120GB capacity, the HD6 allows you to capture up to 24 hours of high-def video before you need to transfer your footage (or 10 hours at the highest quality). While this may sound impressive, it's worth noting that JVC has stuck to the MPEG-2 TS video format, as opposed to the AVCHD codec offered by its rivals.

AVCHD is considered superior to MPEG-2 because of its greater compression efficiency. This means the HD6 is less suitable for non-linear editing and also nets you fewer recording minutes per gigabyte. (For example, the Sony HDR-SR12 offers up to 48 hours of recording time, despite having the same hard drive capacity as the HD6.) With all that being said, 24 hours should be more than enough to see you through several weeks of intensive shooting.

Being a hybrid camcorder, the GZ-HD6 can also record video to MicroSD memory cards. MicroSD is an offshoot of the SD/SDHC format and is usually found in the mobile phone market. The main difference between SD and MicroSD is physical size, with the latter being around three-quarters smaller. If you're the type of person who frequently loses things, this format is less than ideal.

So how does the HD6 fare in terms of video quality? With its trio of 1/5in, 0.57-megapixel CCDs, the HD6 is almost identically equipped to the discontinued GZ-HD7. However, we noticed a marked improvement in overall picture quality — particularly when it came to vibrancy. Our subjects, ranging from coloured graphs to distant buildings, remained razor-sharp when shot in optimum conditions, though we did notice occasional artefacts marring certain images. Moving objects exhibited almost no trailing or ghosting, a problem we have encountered with JVC's previous high-def models. As such, the HD6 can be classed as the most accomplished Everio yet.

The HD6 can capture video at a maximum resolution of 1080p, but this data is then converted to an inferior interlaced signal before being dumped onto the hard drive. To appreciate the 'full' HD effect, you'll need to access the Progressive playback mode via the included HDMI cable.

One area where JVC camcorders have struggled in the past is in low lighting. The GZ-HD6 was unable to buck this trend; a fact confirmed by the excessive noise levels we encountered in our test shots. Sadly, the included night mode is rudimentary at best, merely auto-adjusting the shutter speed to decidedly blurry effect. Shooting moving subjects is therefore out of the question, unless you're making a strobe-heavy music video. This means that the GZ-HD6 is ill-suited to nocturnal shooting.

We've recently been very impressed with the build quality of JVC's camcorders, and the GZ-HD6 is no exception. With its overall dimensions of 79x73x138mm, the HD6 is smaller than its HD3 predecessor, though it's still fairly bulky for a HDD unit. This is because of its hefty 120GB hard drive, which has been smartly incorporated into the hand grip. When it came to handling, the HD6 did not disappoint us, with the body's sleek curvature fitting comfortably in the hand. Its extra weight aided in the capture of smooth footage, which was further assisted by JVC's excellent optical image stabiliser.

With camera buttons kept to a minimum, the HD6 relies on its directional stick and menu screen for most manual functions. All the usual suspects are present and accounted for, including manual focus and white balance, aperture priority, adjustable shutter, exposure and gain, focal assist/zebra controls, and program AE modes. Somewhat confusingly, nudging the joystick will also trigger certain functions, such as night mode — even if you aren't navigating the menu. This may baffle first-time users and can prove annoying if you accidentally bump the stick during operation. On the plus side, it offers quick, fuss-free access to certain features that would otherwise be buried within the menu. We still prefer Sony's touch-screen interface though, which is just one of several user-friendly features that the GZ-HD6 lacks.

For instance, the HD6 has no focus-ring equivalent to match the SR12's innovative control dial. Instead, all manual settings are adjusted in-menu via the LCD-mounted joystick. This obviously presents a huge hindrance for manual focus fans, with the stick interface proving to be a very poor substitute. Fortunately, we found the HD6's auto-focus to be quite solid, with the camera even making slight adjustments to the optical zoom to ensure your subjects are in focus. (Nevertheless, it remains a serious omission.)

In another blow to dedicated enthusiasts, the GZ-HD6 lacks an additional viewfinder, which forces you to stick with the 2.7in LCD display. While this won't deter the majority of casual users, it gives the HD6 a 'mid-range' feel at odds with its premium price tag. The SR12, meanwhile, offers an optical viewfinder as well as an enlarged 3.2in LCD.

Finally, the Sony HDR-SR12 comes packed with all the frivolous bells-and-whistles that consumers love, including Smooth Slow Recording, a dedicated 'Easy' button and face-detection technology. While none of these are essential in their own right, they combine to make the SR12 a slightly more attractive purchase.

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