You have to feel for poor old JVC. Despite admirable efforts last year to move camcorder technology forward with its Everio range, the company announced a fall in sales of nearly 10 per cent, with cam sales recognised as being particularly disappointing. Ironically, it wasn't so long ago that JVC was leading the way with its entry-level models. Its fall from grace will be short lived, however, if this stunning cam has anything to do with it.

Design and handling

Why is it that other manufacturers don't put the same care and thought into their design as JVC's technicians clearly have done here? If they did, cams would be far more exciting to look at and handle than the homogenised fare currently on offer. This is a cam that cries out with stunningly classy good looks and handles pretty smoothly as well. The cassette bay provides a perfect resting place for the right hand, leaving the left to provide additional support or operate the controls behind the LCD screen. Ordinarily at this point we would burst into a fit of rage about the positioning of controls here, as they force the user to have the screen open and so drain the battery. However, the clever folk at JVC have recognised this potential stumbling block and provided a way of turning the screen off to save power. Nice.

Talking of battery power, this brings us rather neatly to a second cunning innovation. The Data Battery system allows the user to find out exactly how much shooting time is left at the press of a button using either the LCD or the viewfinder, even if the cam is turned off. It might seem like an obvious feature to include, but as far as we're aware, JVC is the only manufacturer to have recognised this.

Sadly, it's not all good news. The controls located behind the screen, notably the wheel of dials that's used for making manual adjustments, are a touch too small and may prove to be fiddly for those with larger digits.

Features

Not content with the new features that we've already mentioned, JVC has thrown in a few extras as well - but first, the basics. For the beginner or lazy user, there's a fully automatic mode that provides simple point-andshoot operation. Those who want to get a bit more involved will be heartened to note that manual overrides include focus, white balance and exposure as well as an iris lock and spot exposure that makes adjustments to a specific area of the image.

Still shots can be captured to the supplied 8MB memory card at a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768.

There's 16:9 widescreen shooting, tele macro for close-ups, and wind cut to keep unwelcome breezes that cross the microphone from ruining the audio track.

Now to more innovations: 5S shooting and Biphonic audio. The 5S mode captures footage either a frame at a time (ideal for stop-motion animation) or in five second bursts, which offers a variety of ways to reduce a time-consuming process (like a flower opening) into a more watchable chunk.

More impressively, the Biphonic audio mode is JVC's way of creating surround sound. Of a sort. Basically, the user places JVC's unique mic, which looks more like a pair of headphones, into their ears and then plugs the other end into the mic output of the cam. When shooting, audio is captured from both the front-mounted microphone and these innovative little mics, the idea being that a triangle of sound can be captured to tape and then replicated in playback. Sounds good, but will it work?

Performance

Sadly, Biphonic isn't quite the raging success that JVC had hoped for, although it's certainly more dynamic sonically than regular stereo audio. The pseudo-surround effect that it creates has more in common with the 3D Phonic audio mode often found on some of JVC's older TVs, than the sort of surround experience you'll get from Dolby 5.1. To get the best results you need a large screen, capable of stereo sound, preferably with a considerable gap between the two speakers.

One problem that is clear with both Biphonic and regular audio is that mechanism noise can be heard in quiet moments during playback. While this isn't a huge problem, thanks to the separate mic input, it is a factor that should be considered.

Pleasingly, footage is much more impressive. Shooting inside in darker, more challenging situations, the DF470 provides impressive results. Although there is the drop-off in quality we'd expect, detail remains high and generally free from grain. While the auto focus system admittedly slows up a touch, this is one of the better performances in such conditions at this price point.

Stepping outside, the DF470 really flexes its muscles. The subtlety of hue and the impressive range of tones on show is stunning, the contrast range impressive and the lack of smearing over motion pleasing. The white balance and exposure combine to provide footage that looks natural and free from interference, while the lens proves adept at capturing fine detail, particularly when in tele macro mode.

Conclusion

JVC deserves a lot of credit for trying to push the envelope by introducing a stunning design and some innovative features. OK, so this isn't a cam that comes close to challenging the image quality of a 3CCD rival, but within the budget sector that it's positioned, it is one of the top runners.