JVC's GZ-HM550 is a high definition camcorder with built-in Bluetooth, 32GB of internal flash memory, a 10x optical zoom and face detection. It retails for $799.
JVC GZ-HM500 At a Glance
The Good: Good feature set, excellent video, light weight
The Bad: Clumsy manual interface
The JVC GZ-HM500 records 1920 x 1080 video in the AVCHD format via a 10.6-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS image sensor. It features a bit rate of 24Mbps, the highest supported by the AVCHD format. What this all adds up to is very sharp video, even under challenging low-light conditions.
The GZ-HM550 can also snap 9-megapixel still images. I was generally impressed with the snapshots too, although I found many of them a bit under-exposed. The camcorder is quite responsive as far as shot-to-shot times are concerned and you can snap photos whether you're in still or video modes (though video mode shots are lower-resolution).
The JVC GZ-HM500 is the first consumer camcorder to offer Bluetooth connectivity, so it's no surprise that JVC makes it something of a selling point. It can wirelessly connect to a Bluetooth GPS unit for geotagging video, or a smartphone, where a JVC app can turn the phone into a wireless remote for the camcorder. You can also wirelessly transmit still images from the camcorder to a Bluetooth-enabled phone.
Sounds neat enough, but in reality there's not much that Bluetooth offers the HM550 that's really earth-shattering or necessary for the casual camcorder owner. If you really wish to geotag your videos, there’s a better solution available in Sony’s line of camcorders with built-in GPS. The other functions made possible by GPS are also not critical. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that Bluetooth is adding much to the GZ-HM550's price tag, so it's not like you're paying for extraneous technology.
The JVC GZ-HM550 is sharply styled, with a silver-accented black body. At .68lbs with battery, it's light enough to carry around on long excursions. The camcorder's controls are accessible, with buttons that, while on the small side, are responsive to your touch. There are only two minor quibbles with the design. The first is a somewhat flimsy and cumbersome cover over the USB and DC power ports. The second is the hand strap, which is thin and not very sturdy.
Laser Touch Menu
The JVC GZ-HM550 employs JVC's "laser touch" menu system. Rather than a touch screen, the on-screen menu is operated through a series of touch-sensitive controls that frame the perimeter of the 2.7-inch LCD. There's a scroll bar that runs the length of one side of the display and five touch-sensitive buttons along the button. The system works OK. Occasionally I found myself scrolling past the functions I wanted and it takes sometime before you get the hang of it.
A bigger issue with the menu is that once you set a specific function, it dumps you back into shooting mode and not back into the menu, which can get frustrating if you want to change additional settings. On the plus side, there's a help icon that will give you verbal descriptions of the various camcorder settings if you need to know what you're looking at.
The GZ-HM550 has a 10x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It uses a new (as of 2010) system developed by JVC, which the company claims is four times more effective at wide-angles than its previous anti-shake system. In any event, camera shake was minimal.
Strong Feature Set
The Everio GZ-HM550 has several nice features including several slow motion recording modes for capturing the nuances of movement. There's also a time-lapse recording function and auto-record, which will start capturing video whenever a subject enters the frame and ends recording when they leave. There are several scene modes including night eye, night, portrait, sports, snow, and spotlight. There are numerous effects too including strobe, black and white, sepia, and classic film, if you want to get creative with your video shooting.
For more advanced users, the camcorder does offer some manual controls, including over shutter speed and focusing. But getting to these controls is harder than it should be. You'll have to climb through the menu to get into manual mode and to make any changes to your settings manually while you shoot (competitive models will often offer an external control for accessing and changing manual settings).
The GZ-HM550 offers 32GB of internal flash memory, enough to store just under 3 hours of footage at the highest quality setting. You can toss in an SDHC memory card to expand your capacity. The camcorder also features relay recording - a very useful feature that seamlessly switches media formats if one fills up.
The JVC Everio GZ-HM550 is a solid HD camcorder, even if it's widely touted Bluetooth feature isn't central to its value. You'll find a strong array of features but accessing its manual functions takes a bit more work than it should. If those controls matter, you may want to look elsewhere, but otherwise, most consumers should find much to like in the HM550.