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Two JVC camcorders are hanging from my hands. In my right is my trusty D-9 SD DY-90W, bought in 2001. Costing $30,000 with lens, weighing 17 pounds (all weights given are without batteries) and shooting NTSC SD with 2/3-inch 16:9 CCDs to ½-inch video cassettes, it served me well but is now totally obsolete. In my left is the new GY-HM790U that I review here, selling for $10,995 (including a Canon ƒ/1.6, 14x lens), weighing 7.5 pounds and shooting full HD on 1?3-inch CCDs to inexpensive SDHC (Class 6); it’s probably the best choice studio/field camcorder for today’s market.

How does one compare the 790U to other cameras, when the market is no longer a simple choice between similar specifications and a variable price point? The 790U can’t be compared to a Panasonic AG-HPX370 P2 camcorder or a Sony PMW-EX3 any better than to a Canon HD DSLR.

Each is unique and designed for a specific niche market.

JVC, an engineering innovator, bets big time with each of its innovations. Perhaps the main market for the 790U is the Final Cut Studio user and field video shooter. The choice to design a camera around Apple’s proprietary MOV format was a good one.

“We introduced the GY-HM100 at Macworld in 2009 before NAB, and the Apple world was very enthusiastic,” says David Walton, JVC Communications Marketing Manager. “The next year, we debuted the 700 series and the response was unbelievable.”

The JVC GY-HM790U shoots full HD on 1?3-inch CCDs to inexpensive SDHC cards.

Form Factor

The 790U is a shoulder-mount, field-friendly camcorder that swings AC-DC. Equipped with both remote truck features and studio attachments, it has attracted both studio engineers and execs. Stripped of studio gear and powered with an Anton/Bauer InterActive 2000 battery clipped to the rear, it balances comfortably on a pixie’s shoulder. Add a beefier battery and a cine lens adapter, and it still balances righteously and can run all day without a recharge. Choose either the .45-inch LCOS color eyepiece, the foldout four-inch, 16:9 color-view screen, or the VF-HP790 LCD studio viewfinder for studio work, and you’re ready to roll. You also may appreciate the built-in timecode in/out jacks, genlock and pool feed inputs (switchable to SD) and 4:2:2 HD-SDI connectors. The eyepiece’s wide diopter adjustment allows most myopic people to avoid using eyeglasses, which is very considerate. If you’re planning to load the 790U for the studio, you’ll also want the KA-M790 Multicore Module, which when snapped on the back, offers intercom features, a 26-pin connector and prompter out-jack.

For years, I’ve been suggesting that camcorder manufacturers split the cost of a top-rated interface designer to organize the ever-growing list of user functions. While most digital user menus in the 790U are well-organized and presented, this camera offers extensive options for customization of the image look, including sinusoidal gamma curves that emulate those in cine film. Serious cinematographers no doubt will spend hours tweaking and colorizing to get a specific setting. Such settings can be saved, exported and even shared on a variety of online forums. Of course, with a simple menu choice, the camera can be reset quickly to its factory default, suitable for everyday ENG work, as is the full Auto setting.