JVC recently showed (in Italy) a spiffy little camcorder, the GR-DA20, but hasn’t announced any US release dates or prices that I could find. This little Mini DV wonder sports what appears to be a 2.5″ LCD on the back that slides up or down to assist viewing from above or below the camcorder. Quite an innovation for a camcorder since the “sliding” screens have heretofore been pretty much been limited to cell phones (and the video cameras in cell phones, well, suck.)
Clearly a consumer camcorder- with just a few buttons and a joystick to control your navigation through what I am sure are a myriad of menus on this MiniDV maestro, this means that you won’t be adjusting focus and iris on the fly while leaving your audio with manual gain and on-screen metering. Ha. Don’t even think about it.
But the 36x optical lens, and the sheer design of this camcorder actually does take a few design cues from professional “box” camcorders. There’s no screen that swings out to the side. No, it all maintains a singular, purposeful design. There’s no wondering how one opens the screen. You point it at the subject and there’s your screen looking at you.
So what makes this almost a webcast camcorder?
Well, first of all, there’s no real relation here to JVC GY-DV300REM which was discontinued in 2005, after what has to have been a completely unsuccessful and lackluster run. I saw it at a vendor show and was impressed with a few features- namely the first compact camcorder with remote control of iris. Sure, everyone has remote zoom, and some have remote focus, over Lanc. But this little camera also let you remotely control iris, a first for a compact MiniDV camcorder.
Secondly, there was an adapter you could connect to the bottom of the camcorder that would compress the video and audio to MPEG-4, in real time, so you could stream the video elsewhere without a separate encoding station.
You could even use the same adapter to record straight to flash media. Ooooooooh, big deal you’re saying. But this was nearly a decade ago. Kind of funny People only think of Panasonic’s P2 as a pro flash media recorder when this JVC could do it long before we were even talking HD camcorders that fit in your hand.
Well, JVC never really marketed the camcorder real hard, or to the right people that needed the specific features it offered. At the same time, its overall performance as a camcorder was mediocre. So those few unique features were not good enough to distinguish it from the pack- back when it came out. But now… now that streaming media and webcasts have grown dramatically in importance. Now that there’s more productions looking for smaller camcorders that can be utilized in a myriad of ways, a little camcorder like this might actually have a shot- if it were HD.
I recently wrote about my dream HDV camcorder in EventDV and one of the key features I mentioned is putting the LCD on the back of the camcorder. This makes operating the camcorder for multi-camera events, like stage productions, or corporate multi-camera webcasts, quick and easy to set up. I have never really liked slinging a 5″ tube monitor to the top of a professional camcorder because: A) it throws off the balance and renders the entire rig very top heavy and, B) breaks the operator’s neck after a little while.
For comparison, put a 7″ LCD on the back of the camcorder, or on an arm where you can swing it to where it is comfortable to use, then you have made the operator more able to concentrate on the shot in front of them, than on the shots they’ll need later to kill the pain.
The nice long optical zoom in the GR-DA20 is also very nice. I have been called in to tech so many multi-camera live webcasts recently that I’ve cofirmed what a big business this really is. At the same time, producers are using whatever camcorders they have on hand to facilitate these productions and that’s just wrong. A 10x or 12x optical zoom almost never gets you to the shot you really need for a webcast- a good close up from far across the room. A 16x or 20x is far, far better. This is why I’ve been dealing with Canon XL series camcorders (XL1, XL1s and XL2’s) on some of these shoots… because they offer long lenses. But those camcorders are a pain to pack and they are notoriously front heavy. So they require heavier duty tripods, with adjustable balance plates and built-in counterbalancing… all of which makes things more expensive and heavier to ship. This is why that GR-DA20 we started with is such an attractive camcorder.
The GR-DA20 is very compact, offers a 4:3 screen (I have had zero call for 16:9 in webcasting yet), a very long optical lens (but given that both the lens and chip are so small, it probably needs a ton of light to produce a decent image) and it also records MiniDV as a backup to the webcast so that the producers can cut a shot in that they didn’t see till later, or maybe they made a mistake punching the show. They can fix it with taped footage. Nice.
The other camcorder that’s perfect for this kind of production is Panasonic’s DVC30. I’ve shown it here next to the considerably bigger DVX-100. Many people are familiar with the DVX-100 series and you can see that the DVC30 is downright diminutive compared to its bigger brother. The handle on the DVC30 can be replaced with a hookup that allows for full balanced XLR inputs. Or that handle can be removed entirely, which would be perfect for portable productions.
The DVC30 is a beautiful little camera to hold and use. The screen is nice and large. The big gathering glass and 3 1/4″ chips make some very pretty pictures. The lens is 16x and you can get to 20x with a little digital zoom help that is invisible to the trained eye. It offers one lens ring, but you can set it to control whatever you want, focus, iris, etc. Very nice. Lastly, and best of all, the DVC30 offers a remote zoom control that is on par with professional lenses and makes the zoom in the DVX-100 and 100a feel like a clunky piece of consumer junk. It’s that good. You can ease in to a slow zoom imperceptibly, and the fast speed is wicked fast. There’s no stepping like on most prosumer or consumer lenses. Alas, it doesn’t have remote iris control like the JVC DV300, which is why you see that camcorder perched on a remote head.
But JVC’s new GR-DA20 is a surprise to see and makes me wonder if JVC doesn’t have something new up their sleeve for the prosumer market too. There’s certainly demand for a quality, compact, but easy to use SD camcorder- even one that can’t do 16:9. I know this for a fact because the 19 cases we shipped from city to city to facilitate one webcast just made my point, 50 pounds at a time. Now, if only the camcorder manufacturers can hone in on this need and build the right product, for the right price, and make sure the right people know about it. Then they’d have something!
Till JVC or someone gets it right, give me four DVC30’s, to go.
Little camcorder- big on spunk.