Review: JVC Everio GZ-HM860

Along with being a slick little HD camcorder with a wonderful, intuitive feel, the JVC Everio GZ-HM860 is designed to be a low-light killer, with a bright f/1.2, 10x optical lens that boasts wide-angle coverage equivalent to 29.5mm in a 35mm camera.

Like the Sony HDR-CX700V, this dual memory camcorder (16GB internal; one SDXC memory card slot) uses a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that holds its circuitry on the rear of the chip so it won’t block incoming light. These chips are turning up with increasing frequency — Apple’s iPhone 4 uses them — because of their better results in low-light situations.

First up was our candlelight test— a child blowing out the fire on his birthday cake. The JVC’s footage had acceptably low levels of noise in the dark areas, but it just couldn’t match the sharpness and depth of our favorite from this three-camera test, the Canon Vixia HF G10. The reds, especially, came out too warm, which made the candles look slightly more ominous than celebratory. Though it should be noted, JVC is about half the price of the Canon.

The vaunted f/1.2 lens struggled finding initial focus in our birthday cake scene. The footage was wonderfully sharp once it locked in, but we were disappointed with the digital artifacting and distortion in the background as we panned. Fairly uneven in that setting.

The camera did much better outdoors, with superior focus tracking that was able to keep up with the fast-break action of the nighttime basketball game we shot. The image stabilizer helped us capture sharp footage even during chaotic sequences around the basket, though we did find ourselves repeatedly overzooming until we got used to the camera’s sensitive zoom control.

Overall, though, we love the smart design of this little camcorder. It settles nicely in your hand and boasts an intuitive touchscreen menu and controls. And the instant-on feature when you open the wide 3.5-inch LCD is great for capturing video with little warming.

All of which makes it hard for us to give the GZ-HM860 just a lukewarm recommendation. We wish the GZ-HM860 delivered better low-light results and had a slightly faster focus system. But considering the price, and especially given the great outdoor capabilities, the JVC still gets the thumbs up.

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