JVC’s range of Everio camcorders has proved mighty successful over the last few years and the latest addition to its HD stable looks certain to continue the trend. The first consumer camcorder to provide Full HD recording – that’s a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080i pixels – via three 16:9 progressive scan CCDs, the

GZ-HD7 is a seriously well-equipped camcorder for the grown up videomaker. Hence the rather frightening original price tag of £1,700. Luckily, you can now pick this camera up for around £1,200. When JVC released this camera back in June, it bizarrely provided a cheaper alternative that came bundled with a DVD burner. The only decision, then, was to pay £100 less for the HD7 with the DVD burner or £100 more for the one without!

Design and layout

As befits a cam aimed at the serious user, the colour scheme of the HD7 is piano black and, though not overloaded with gimmicks, there’s plenty of genuinely useful features for the enthusiast to get excited about. Starting at the front, the inclusion of a lens hood provides an immediate indication of the professional nature of the HD7.

The lens itself is another first in the consumer camcorder world; a Fujinon option that’s ordinarily reserved for significantly more expensive broadcast models. It consists of three aspherical elements to provide a superior optical performance across the entire zoom range. Around the lens is a manual focus ring, which is smooth, resitant and easy to use.

The 2.8in 16:9 LCD screen flips out from the body of the cam much like any other and is central to the HD7’s operation. On the screen surround is a joystick that’s used for navigating the onscreen menu system, selecting features and making the vast majority of manual adjustments. Also found here is the Battery Remaining button which, as the name suggests, tells you how much juice you have left, how long you can shoot for and how much hard drive space is left.

The viewfinder, like the lens, is given a professional touch thanks to the inclusion of an eyecup. However, at just 0.57in, we can’t help feeling that it could be a little bigger. The viewfinder pulls out from the body of the cam, but can’t be angled up towards the user for low sweeps, which is also a shame.

Underneath the viewfinder is the other way to make manual adjustments – a thumbwheel. This is used for altering shutter speed and aperture and can be scrolled up or down and then pressed in to make the selection.

The stereo microphone is located on the top of the cam, near the lens hood, and there’s a 3.5mm input for an additional mic should you require it. Also positioned on the top of the cam is an accessory shoe for attaching a light, flash or microphone. Next to this is the zoom slider, which is both smooth and controlled.

Dotted around the HD7 beneath a variety of pull-off flaps and trap doors is an impressive selection of sockets including the all-important HDMI (for connection to an HD-Ready LCD or plasma screen), S-video, composite and component video outputs, USB and FireWire and an SD card slot. We should point out that there is no SD card included and, certainly more annoying, you’ll have to invest in your own HDMI cable as this isn’t bundled either.

Finally, although it’s a moot point, we feel duty bound to mention the lens cover that can be activated at the switch of a button. Though this might not seem a deal-breaker when it comes to features, it’s a useful addition that protects the high-end lens when not in use.

Features

Footage can be saved in three modes: Full HD, Standard Play and 1440 Constant Bit Rate. The Full HD mode is obviously the best, and you can expect to store up to five hours with 1,920 x 1,080i resolution at a variable bitrate to the hard drive. The SP mode is for those that want to shoot for longer (up to seven hours), at a reduced 1,440 x 1,080i resolution. And the 1440 CBR mode is for copying pre-recorded video from another cam via the FireWire connection.

The aspherical Fujinon lens has a 10x optical range and 200x digital, which can be turned off or limited to a reasonable 40x. Like all camcorders, the HD7 provides the option of fully automatic operation, but it’s the manual overrides that the real enthusiast demands, and there’s plenty to choose from. These include: focus (via the lens ring), white balance (with Fine, Cloud and Halogen presets), exposure, aperture (ƒ1.8, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6 and 8.0) and shutter speed (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/25, 1/50, 1/80, 1/120, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000 and 1/4000). There’s a choice of five Program AE modes, a Tele Macro mode for ultra close-ups, a Gain-up mode, Backlight Compensation and more professional features like Colour Bars and Zebra Patterning.

Performance

One of the most commonly overlooked features of how a cam performs relates to how it handles. It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the HD7 is better than most. Sharing similar dimensions to Panasonic and Sony’s HD offerings, it is lighter than its peers, managing to get the balance between being light enough to handle, yet heavy enough to keep stability just right.

Operation is intuitive with the major shooting controls falling quickly to hand, while the onscreen menu can be navigated with ease. What’s more, this is a camcorder that has clearly been designed with practical application in mind instead of aesthetics. 

The Focus and Focus Assist buttons are actually next to the lens (instead of the fiddly slider found behind the LCD screen on so many rivals), there are separate buttons for selecting aperture, shutter speed and brightness and the inclusion of a thumbwheel for these controls is inspired. The only real let down is the fiddly zoom control.

More important, however, is how pictures look and, viewing them on a 42in LCD screen, it quickly becomes clear that this is a cam that’s setting the standard for others to follow. The combination of the Fujinon lens and the three 1/5in progressive scan CCDs provide some of the most stunning pictures we’ve ever seen from a consumer camcorder. 

Colours, whether they be subtle, natural tones, or garish primaries are reproduced with stunning accuracy. Blacks look darker than they really should, while peak whites are as pure as anything we’ve seen before. But it’s the levels of detail that really set the HD7 apart from its rivals. 

Though other HD cams are a step up from plain old DV, the HD7 seems to lift the quality bar even higher. Suddenly layers of dust on surfaces, scratches on glass and cobwebs on plants that are all but invisible to the naked eye are brought into stunning relief. To say we’ve never seen anything like it is no exaggeration.

Unfortunately, there is a slight fly in the ointment as the autofocus is a touch sluggish and only really performs when the HD7 is on a tripod. Similarly, the auto white balance setting, when shooting inside, leaves whites looking a touch blue. However, both of these frailties are quickly overcome using the manual controls, so it’s really rather churlish to complain too much.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the HD7 comes with a hefty price tag, but when you consider all the work that’s gone into it – namely that fantastic lens and CCD combination – and the quite glorious results that it’s capable of, it’s difficult to think of a better way to spend your money.