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Hardware Review of:
Digital video camcorder



Clarke Bird

From the October, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

I’ve got to be one of the greatest salesmen in the world to convince my wife, Marilyn, that we needed a digital movie camera. This is the woman who, years ago, actually would break out in a rash each time I would get out my old Super 8mm movie camera (before sound) and tell her to stand in a scene and point to something interesting. She finally would just turn her back to the camera whenever I would point it in her direction.

I went through the phase of “editing” my home 8mm movies with one of those old real-to-real film splicers with the little screen — boy, talk about a mess with film strips hanging everywhere.

Now that our kids are grown, my strategy was to appeal to Marilyn’s grandmother’s love for our grandchildren. Our son-in-law has hundreds of video cassettes of our grandchildren in a cabinet — but the key is, none are edited. Believe me, after watching many of them, they do need editing. 

Edited. That’s the real reason I wanted a digital video camera. I want to be the next Martin Scorsece, editing away with quick cuts, slow dissolves, interesting scene changes, voice-overs. But first, I would need digital video. Ergo, a digital movie camera.

Urgency entered the scene as we were to leave for a family reunion on Hilton Head island in four days, which helped me pressure Marilyn to OK the deal.

Price quickly became my main decision point. If I could find a digital video camera with most of the features I thought I had to have (you really never know what features you need until after you use the device, right?) for under $500, I was prepared to close the sale with Marilyn. 

I wanted a light, easy to use camcorder with the capability to take digital still pictures, the ability to take video with minimal light (semi-dark rooms) and a Firewire connection to a PC.

I researched the features I wanted on the Web and quickly — remember my main decision point - price? — focused on the JVC GR-DVL520. I actually handled a display model at Costco but the price was higher that prices quoted by other sites on the Web. I settled on one of the on-line stores and dialed their toll-free number.

The guy on the other end was helpful and efficient. I told him which model I wanted. He asked me if I wanted the larger rechargeable lithium ion battery and pointed out the battery that is packaged with the camera has only a 30 minute battery life. I had no idea of how expensive lithium ion batteries were but found out when I opted to get the 1.5 hour battery. We were to leave for our reunion in three days so elected to pay for express shipping. The camera arrived the very next day.

I spent some time unpacking everything to see that I got all the pieces. What the hey, no mini-cassettes. How can I shoot video without mini-cassettes? I called the on-line store and asked what happened to my mini-cassettes. Although I couldn’t see the guys face, I know he was smiling when he told me that video cameras never ship with cassettes. You buy them separately. He wanted to know if he could ship me some. I explained we were leaving the next day and there was no time to ship anything to me. He pointed me to the nearest Costco in San Antonio and said they stock the mini-cassettes I would need. I got a six-pack the day before we left.

I was at the airport reading my JVC instruction manual while awaiting our flight. I looked up and there sat KENS-5 Chief Meteorologist Albert Flores and his wife Yolanda. Albert is a long-time Alamo PC member although he has not been active for the past few years. I introduced myself to Albert and asked if I could take a photo with my new video camera. 

During the flight I read the entire 88 page instruction manual. Nowhere did it mention transferring video to my PC! It discussed dubbing to a VCR and dubbing to a second video camera. I looked carefully at the cables that came with the camera and there was no Fireware cable. There was a USB cable for transferring still digital photos to my PC —  but that was it.

The family reunion was great, Hilton Head was great and my golf was not so great. I took about an hours worth of video. All the way home, I stewed about how I was going to get this digital video into my PC.

It was Lee Besing, who writes a column for the PC Alamode, that figured out a way. I had previously bought the less expense version of Dazzle but I had not had any success in transferring convention VCR video into my PC. Lee has the version that allows you to go back to VCR tape once you’ve edited your movie. He used the JVC cable, intended to attach to a VCR player to view digital movies on a TV, to plug into the Dazzle connection which has a USB plug on the other end. I was in business.

The JVC GR-DVL520 mini camcorder uses 680,000 pixel CCD imaging technology. In addition to recording sharp video, it takes still digital photos at 640X480 and 1024X760 resolution. The few photos I’ve taken were a little dark but I lightened each one using Corel Photo-Paint. The stills are stored on a 8MB multimedia card to be downloaded to a PC using the USB cable. No, you can’t use the USB cable to transfer video to your PC, only digital photos.  It took me a bit to get used to using the swing out LCD panel. To conserve power, I could choose to use the B&W viewfinder at the rear of the of the unit.

I was able to get some excellent close-up video shots thanks to the optical zoom capabilities. The camera features a 10x optical “Hyper” zoom and a 700x “Super Digital Zoom” with spline interpolation — but with digital zoom you loose a small degree of clarity. A built-in light is fairly bright for most conditions. Sound quality in the recording was very good as it picked up conversations from those sitting across the patio of the house we rented.

There are several digital effect bells and whistles to select when using the camera but I think I’ll save adding special effects when I do the digital editing on my PC. Should I not want to use the automatic settings on the camera, it does allow me to adjust the exposure and focus manually. Packaged with the camera was Digital Photo Navigator, Presto Mr. Photo and Presto PhotoAlbum software. I haven’t looked at these programs yet so I can’t comment on them.

I’m very happy with my digital movie camera after using it a few times. Now if I can talk Albert Flores into doing a Robert DeNero imitation, Martin Scorsece had just better watch his back.

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