The JVC GC-FM1 HD pocket camcorder shoots some of the best bright-light video we’ve seen, but it’s hampered by its plastic build, its finicky controls, and the execution of its marquee features.
Update (10/28/09): An earlier version of this review noted that the JVC CG-FM1 doesn’t have video-resolution adjustment options. In fact, you can toggle between the 1080p, 720p, VGA, and QVGA resolutions by tapping the left navigation button twice while the camcorder is in recording mode. The review text has been updated accordingly.
But pocket-camcorder championships aren’t won on paper.
Like the Zi8, the GC-FM1 shoots 1080p video and offers digital image stabilization, two positive distinguishing factors in the now-crowded HD pocket camcorder market (the GC-FM1 also shoots 720p HD video, as well as standard-definition footage at 640-by-480 and 320-by-240 pixel resolutions). And just as the Zi8 does, this JVC pocket camcorder has a landscape/macro toggle, the ability to shoot still photos (8 megapixels, versus the Zi8’s 5-megapixel sensor), an HDMI-out port for viewing footage on an HDTV (no HDMI cable is included, however), and an SDHC card slot for storing videos and still images.
However, the GC-FM1’s feature set is much better in theory than it is in practice. Since this device has no flip-out USB connector, you have to offload clips and images to your PC via an included USB cable. It also falls short of its pint-size competitors in usability, durability, audio quality, and controls–and that’s frustrating, because JVC’s first pocket camcorder shoots some of the best-quality bright-light video we’ve seen to date.
In head-to-head video tests with competing pocket camcorders, the JVC GC-FM1 turned in above-average footage in well-lit situations. It showed better highlight definition than the Kodak Zi8 and the Flip Video MinoHD–two of the best pocket camcorders we’ve tested in terms of video quality–and its video looked a bit sharper than clips shot with the second-generation MinoHD.
Colors looked more muted and less vibrant than in footage from the Zi8 and MinoHD, and the MinoHD seemed to capture video with smoother motion. All in all, the JVC GC-FM1 earned a video-quality score of Very Good in comparison with the pocket-camcorder competition.
The JVC GC-FM1 shoots .mov files at about 88GB per minute of footage. Here are the sample videos of our bright-light tests. (Click the ‘HD’ button at the lower right of each video player to see each camcorder’s best-quality footage.)
Video-Quality Test: JVC GC-FM1
Video-Quality Test: Kodak Zi8
Video-Quality Test: Flip Video MinoHD (Second Generation)
Unfortunately, footage shot in low light with the JVC GC-FM1 is another story entirely. The GC-FM1 received a low-light score of Fair, clearly outmatched by the low-light footage that the second-generation Flip Video MinoHD produced.
Low-Light Test: JVC GC-FM1
Low-Light Test: Flip Video MinoHD
Even if you’re willing to sacrifice low-light video quality for the sake of the GC-FM1’s much-better bright-light footage, this pocket camcorder has a handful of disappointing drawbacks. A big one is the audio quality: The on-board microphone picked up a lot of hiss in our test footage, making the audio tracks for clips sound as if they were being played back on a cassette deck.
I also didn’t have much luck with the GC-FM1’s digital image stabilization feature. If it worked at all, it did so only with the slightest of movements; still photos taken while I slowly moved the camcorder from side to side came out blurry.
And when you use the GC-FM1 in still-photo mode, it offers no “click” noise or any visual indication that you’ve captured a photo. The screen simply blinks a bit, and you don’t see a preview of the image you’ve just shot unless you dive into the playback menus and scroll down to find it.
Perhaps the main drawback is the build quality of the device itself. The JVC GC-FM1’s flashy, reflective faceplate, ribbed silver edges, and colorful back panel are all made of very lightweight plastic, and the entire device feels too light and fragile to be durable. The buttons on the back are all plastic, as well, and they’re too small for anything but the smallest hands to use effectively. You get a power button, a playback button, a delete button, a still/video toggle, a menu button, and a four-way navigation pad/record button that also controls the GC-FM1’s 4X digital zoom.
The power button is not very responsive; I had to hold it down for a few seconds or press it more than once to turn on the device. The menu button isn’t entirely useful, either: It works only when you hold down the delete button while pressing it.
On top of that, the menu options are surprisingly limited. You can adjust the time display, toggle between the PAL and NTSC formats for video-out, check your firmware version, or format your SDHC card–and that’s it. You can adjust the video resolution by tapping the left navigation button twice, but it’s hard to figure that out on your own; such controls would be more intuitive if they were available as a menu option.
On a bright note, the 4X digital zoom worked smoothly, and full-zoom footage looked notably better than what we’ve seen from the half-baked digital zooms on nearly all other pocket camcorders. The landscape/macro toggle on the left side of the camcorder also worked fairly well, and the macro mode worked at a slightly closer distance from the subject than did the macro mode on the Zi8.
All in all, the JVC GC-FM1 costs too much to recommend, considering its shortcomings compared with the $180 Kodak Zi8. Its video quality in good lighting is among the best we’ve seen, and its highlight definition is a strong suit. However, the build quality, buttons, audio quality, and controls all detract from the device’s usability.