In this column I have reviewed a couple of pocket camcorders from Kodak, both of which provided decent HD video capability. However, those camcorders were intended for those looking for portability at the expense of video quality. Recently, I had the chance to try out the JVC Everio GZ-HM860 HD camcorder that was loaned to me by the company. This full HD camcorder caters to those who are looking to take high-quality video and who don’t mind paying for it.
The Everio GZ-HM860 is surprisingly compact, measuring 2.2 × 2.5 × 4.7 inches (width × height × depth) and weighing under 13 ounces. Its height and width are on par with those of many smart phones, while obviously its depth is greater. The camera comes with everything you need to get started, including a lithium-ion battery. In addition, the Everio ships with an AC adapter, a remote control, and USB, A/V and mini-HDMI cables.
After inserting and charging the battery, I was ready to go. To power up the camera, you flip open the LCD screen on the left side of the camcorder. Within just a few seconds, the camera was on and ready. You make the most of your adjustments using the 3.5-inch, 920-pixel LCD touch screen. The screen itself delivers great images, even in high-light conditions. To work your way through the various menus, you tap on the icons and arrows. Some of the on-screen icons take a little getting used to but, overall, I found the menus to be relatively intuitive.
The inside panel on the left side, which is exposed when you flip open the LCD screen, is where you will find the i.Auto/manual shooting, power/info, movie/still and user buttons. This is also where the speaker, USB and min-HDMI outs reside.
On the front of the camera is the 10x optical zoom and auto lens cover. The cover automatically opens and closes when you power the camera on and off. On the front is also an LED light for low-light conditions, but I found that this light actually did more harm than good, so I disabled it and allowed the illuminated CMOS chip on the camera’s backside to work its magic.
On the back of the GZ-HM860 is where you will find the lithium-ion battery, which is flush with the camera body, along with the start/stop recording button for video operation.
There is a tripod mount and SDHC/SDXC card slot on the bottom of the camera. Unlike some cameras I have reviewed, which require an SD card before you can start taking pictures, the Everio GZ-HM860 has 16G of onboard flash memory, enough for 80 minutes of video or 2,200 top-resolution still photos. Furthermore, the Everio allows you to specify where you want your content saved—either to the onboard memory or to a memory card.
Velcro straps for holding the camera are located on the right side of the camcorder (sorry, lefties). The camera’s size allows it to fit nicely and comfortably into the palm of your hand. It is also light enough that fatigue doesn’t come into play, even after extended use. Also on the right side of the camera body, you will find compartments for DC in port and the A/V and component out ports.
Lastly, on top of the camcorder are the zoom toggle switch, the shutter button for taking still photos, and the AF button for accessing the Auto Focus and Auto Exposure options.
I found the GZ-HM860 to be very easy to use, so I was able to start taking videos and stills almost immediately. The video quality, in a word, was excellent. This is definitely a camcorder for those who are serious about taking high-quality video. The zoom feature works smoothly and quickly, giving you magnificent landscape views as well as allowing you to zoom in on large groups when indoors. At first, it was easy to over-zoom, but as I learned the sensitivity of the toggle switch, it became much easier. The colors are natural, and there is little digital noise when taking video in well-lit conditions. Even in low-light conditions, the GZ-HM860 does well. Again, however, I suggest disabling the LED light, as it casts an eerie glow.
Still photographs are a different story, as is typically the case with camcorders offering still shots. However, I did find the stills I took with the GZ-HM860 to be among the best I have taken with a camcorder. As with the video, still photographs look the best in well-lit conditions. Remember that this is an HD camcorder that also allows you to take still pictures. If you are looking for quality point-and-shoot stills, save a lot of money and buy a digital camera.
When the outside of the box suggests a backup battery, I know not to expect a great deal of battery life. I got about 45 minutes of usage out of the GZ-HM860 before I needed to plug it in and recharge. I have seen other reviews quoting between 40 and 60 minutes of battery life. The only way to charge the battery is by plugging in the camcorder; there is no external battery charger. That means you either need to get backup batteries, especially if you are shooting outside, or you need to be prepared to stay tethered to a power cord.
The JVC Everio GZ-HM860 HD camcorder is intended for those looking to take high-quality videos. It accomplishes its mission very well. At $650, it is also not for the casual videographer. While added features such as 11-megapixel stills are nice touches, I would only recommend this camcorder for those willing to pay for HD video.
JVC Everio GZ-HM860 HD Camcorder
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.