Announcing the X900 at PMA seems like a clear signal that JVC is positioning the camcorder as a true video/still hybrid—camcorders traditionally take the back seat to still cameras at PMA. With 9-megapixel stills, fifteen scene modes reserved exclusively for still photography, and a number of manual adjustments available, the X900 is shaping up to be just that. We had a chance to spend a few hours with the new camcorder in hand and our interest is definitely piqued. A lot of JVC design elements are carried over to the X900, including the Laser Touch controls, but there are a lot of new things to see as well: a juicy mode dial, some unique LCD cavity buttons, and conspicuously absent hand strap.
The X900, in fact, seems like it will be in direct competition with the new Samsung HMX-R10 announced just a month and a half ago at CES. Until we get the final models in our labs, we're not sure which one will take the cake. But JVC can consider us intrigued...
While the lens on the JVC GZ-X900 might be nothing special, the high resolution sensor is one of the highlights of the camcorder. The large size is ideal for letting in plenty of light in dark shooting conditions, while the packed-in pixels are geared towards producing high resolution still photos. You can't add any kind of filter or telephoto lens, but that's part of the simple, compact design. The lens is protected by an automatic lens enclosure.
Aside from the 5x optical zoom lens, the front includes a flash and the hidden remote control sensor.
The right side of the JVC GZ-X900 looks like some kind of high-tech Kevlar. It's probably a love-it-or-leave-it aesthetic. We think it looks pretty darn cool. In theory, the textured surface might add some extra grip, but it doesn't have much impact in practice. Instead, you'll just have to adjust your grip and get used to life without a hand strap. It's the same concept as the Samsung HMX-R10, but the design was a little more comfortable on the Samsung model.
The back of the JVC GZ-X900 is a busy place, with the new mode dial taking center stage. The dial works well and lets you choose between the camcorder's video and still modes, including the three high speed recording modes. Below the mode dial is a playback speaker and a tether for the included wrist strap. Above the dial the Info button and Flash button, as well as the DC power input and USB port. To the right of the mode dial is the SD/SDHC memory card slot.
The left side of the JVC GZ-X900 is dominated by the flip-out LCD panel and a matte black surface. The panel itself is also the unique location of the camcorder's two-channel microphone.
Opening the LCD panel reveals the 2.8-inch LCD and JVC's LaserTouch controls. The cavity itself is home to some surprising new additions, including a unique collection of membrane buttons: buttons that lie beneath a single plastic surface. On the X900, these buttons control Playback/Record mode, one-touch upload and one-touch export, and display/power. This is also home to the battery cavity and HDMI output.
The top of the JVC GZ-X900 is a little less surprising than other sides of the camcorder. The zoom slider and still photo shutter button are standard features on most consumer camcorders. Wrapping onto the top from the LCD panel is the unique two-channel microphone.
The bottom of the JVC GZ-X900 is unsurprising. There's the battery release and tripod mount (unfortunately made of plastic), plus the Everio dock connection.
There are virtually no audio features on the JVC GZ-X900—no manual audio controls, no headphone output, no microphone input, and no accessory shoe. The camcorder doesn't even have a simple wind cut feature. What the camcorder does have is a built-in, two-channel, Dolby Digital microphone, curiously mounted on the top of the flip-out LCD panel. This is an unusual location for the built-in microphone: you won't want to shoot any video with the LCD facing out in the closed position, but it's in a great location to keep clear of wandering hands.
The JVC GZ-X900 records 1080/60i video in the AVCHD codec, which is the most common format for high definition consumer camcorders. Without bringing the X900 into our labs, we can't really judge the video quality, but last year's camcorders seem to suggest that AVCHD is as good as any other format available today.
There are four quality settings to choose from on the X900, each of which corresponds to a maximum bitrate (see table below). Interestingly, JVC has chosen to keep the frame size the same for all four quality settings—an admirable move towards simplifying camcorder operation.
We would be remiss if we didn't also mention one of the X900's major highlights: the three discrete high speed recording modes. For most serious videographers, this is a toy more than a legitimate recording option. But it's definitely a fun toy. (See Other Features.)
All video and still are recorded to a removable SD/SDHC memory card. The cover for the card slot is one of the more robust port covers on the X900.
The JVC GZ-X900 will likely ship with the Digital Photo Navigator 1.5 and Everio Media Browser SD—two programs that help you organize your videos and do some basic post-production editing. What might be of more interest to beginners are the one-touch Upload and Export controls. These functions allow you to easily upload your videos onto internet video sharing websites or export your video to a portable media player.
Unfortunately, as was true with previous JVC models, the X900, these features are much less exciting and not quite as truly 'one-touch' as they could be. First of all, you have to install the JVC software in order to use the functions. Second of all, you have to activate the feature before recording the video. So, if you record something and then decide to upload it later, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way (i.e. import it onto your computer and use your own editing software or the YouTube interface to upload it). JVC should really make these features easier to use if they want to appeal to the YouTube demographic that's currently pouring so much money into ultra-compact camcorders like the Pure Digital Flip Mino.
The mode dial on the back of the X900 allows you to cycle between the auto and manual modes of both video and still recording. JVC seems to expect auto mode to be the primary recording choice for users: the camcorder and camera icons on the mode dial are for the auto settings, while the capital letter M represents the camcorder's manual modes.
There are a couple of additional tools that give the user more control over the automatic adjustments. Unlike on the JVC GZ-MG670, they have put backlight compensation in the manual settings submenu and moved face detection out into the main display. (Presumably, they expect face detection to be a more popular feature on this video-still hybrid.) There is also JVC's standard photometry area adjustment, which you can use to change the area metered for automatic exposure adjustments.
As for the performance of the easy mode itself, JVC typically fares well in exposure and focus, but struggles on making automatic white balance adjustments. We were working with a preproduction model, so we'll have to save the final judgment until we get the camcorder into our labs.
JVC's Program AE modes—called 'Scene Modes' on most camcorders—are conspicuously absent from the video mode on the JVC GZ-X900. There's a huge laundry list of available scene modes for still photography, but when capturing video, you'll have to rely on the camcorder's full auto mode or make manual adjustments yourself.
Zoom is operated via a sliding switch, rather than the traditional zoom toggle featured on the rest of JVC's lineup this year. The sliding switches tend to give less fine control than the toggle design; we found this switch to be no exception. If you don't like the action of the slider, you can try the secondary zoom controls on the Laser Touch slider of the LCD panel.
With such a large sensor, the JVC GZ-X900 has an understandably modest optical zoom ratio of just 5x. The digital zoom goes up to 35x, though we recommend you stick to optical if you want to avoid image degradation.
The manual focus tool is the same unwieldy control that you'll find in JVC's entire Everio lineup this year. You use the Laser Touch slider on the left side of the LCD panel to adjust focus, which is represented by a tiny, ambiguous scale (that ranges from 'man' to 'mountain'). It's better than a touch screen, which forces you to block the image with your finger while focusing, but it's still an imprecise method of tweaking focus. Rather than allowing a smooth adjustment, the manual focus tool is broken down into 33 discrete increments. You're much better off letting the auto focus do its thing.
Unique to the GZ-X900 is a Focus Assist tool, which temporarily converts your image to black and white and highlights edges in a bright, almost psychedelic blue. The tool is a little unintuitive, but it can be helpful if you're crazy enough to make a manual adjustment with these Laser Touch controls.
The GZ-X900 has the same exposure tool as the rest of JVC's lineup: a 'brightness' tool in the Manual Settings submenu. There are thirteen increments that you should have no problem selecting via the Laser Touch controls.
The JVC GZ-X900 includes an Aperture Priority mode that enables you to modify the iris settings. There aren't a lot of apertures to choose from, but you have at least a little flexibility independent from shutter speed and 'brightness.'
You can choose from thirteen different shutter speed options, available in the Manual Settings submenu.
White balance options are the same as what you'll find on other consumer camcorders from JVC. There aren't a lot of options, especially for indoor lighting. More importantly, the manual white balance is an awkward process, requiring you to hold down on the Laser Touch OK button—something you never do for any other reason on the X900. Unfortunately, the automatic white balance on other JVC camcorders tends to be quite inadequate, so you'll want to master this unintuitive process if you want proper color balance in your videos.
JVC consumer camcorders do not have discrete gain controls—so far only Panasonic has implemented this in its consumer line. Like most JVC camcorders, however, the X900 does offer users some control over whether to use the unit's built-in auto gain control (AGC). You can choose between AGC off, AGC on, and AGC auto. With previous JVC camcorders that have come through our labs, turning the AGC off resulted in an impossibly dark image in low light. Turning the AGC on allowed for a significantly brighter image. Setting the AGC to auto was slightly brighter still—probably as a result of the slower shutter that kicks in when AGC is set to auto.
There are no special color and image controls on the JVC GZ-X900.
A major draw of the JVC GZ-X900 is its still capabilities, which are more sophisticated than what you find on most camcorders. The company is, in fact, being marketed as a true video-still hybrid. This is, in large part, thanks to the large, high resolution sensor, which allows you to capture 9-megapixel stills. This is the same size and quality being offered on the new Samsung HMX-R10; we are definitely interested in getting these two camcorders into our labs to see how the two compare.
On the X900, there are three discrete shooting modes for still photography, plus the ability to capture still photos while in video mode. There is an auto mode and a manual mode, which gives you access to all the same manual settings that are available when shooting video, plus a fairly wide range of ISO settings. There's also a Scene Mode, which makes more specific auto adjustments based on a specified scene mode. The available scene modes are: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape & Portrait, Twilight, Night & Portrait, Sleeping Face, Snow, Beach, Sports, Food, Fireworks, Document, Close-up, Forest, and Sunset. Yes, you read that right. There is a Sleeping Face mode.
The GZ-X900 has a built-in flash with a number of possible settings, including Red-Eye Reduction and Slow Sync. (Slow Sync engages the flash and lowers shutter speed in order to brighten objects that are beyond the reach of the flash.) The flash has a supposed range of 5m and does not operate when taking still photos during video mode.
The JVC GZ-X900 runs the gamut from easy-to-use features to frustratingly unintuitive. In the category of easy-to-use, there's the great new mode dial, which makes selecting a shooting mode simple and obvious. Manual controls are as accessible on the X900 as they are on other JVC camorders—it's quite simple to make image adjustments from within the Manual Settings submenu.
In the arena of the unintuitive, we're still saddled with the unwieldy manual white balance and the finicky Laser Touch controls. It's just too easy to fly right by the option you want, especially if you prefer to keep system sounds turned off. You also have those same Upload and Export buttons, which are deceptively alluring: you expect an easy, one-touch upload to YouTube, but there's a lot more rigamarole involved than you have on the Pure Digital Flip Mino. Sadly, the JVC has added one more roadblock to ease of use: the new 'membrane' buttons within the LCD cavity are about as unresponsive as buttons can be; you have to push the buttons harder than you expect and it's sometimes hard to tell if you've successfully connected with the button.
The X900 is definitely a unique handling experience for a more or less traditional camcorder body. The most glaring difference is in the lack of a hand strap on the right side. A lot of more experienced videographers may be loathe to try out a camcorder sans hand strap and we can hardly blame them: the X900 is definitely more difficult to grip than its hand-strap-laden bretheren. We find it an interesting coincidence that the other video-still hybrid announced this year (the Samsung HMX-R10) shares with the X900 a unique aesthetic and lack of hand strap. Perhaps video-still hybrid enthusiasts don't need a hand strap?
There are some design elements of the X900 that we really enjoyed. The new mode dial is sturdy, responsive, and intuitive. Relocating the battery into the LCD cavity allowed JVC to slim down the body considerably, making for a very light carrying experience.
One distinctly unpleasant design choice was the conversion of the LCD cavity buttons into 'membrane' buttons, which essentially place the buttons beneath a single piece of plastic. The buttons operate a lot like the volume controls on an airplane seat armrest. And like the volume controls on an airplane seat armrest, they aren't very responsive, require you to press too hard, and feel like they'll break over time. There is one advantage to this design: these subcutaneous buttons are less likely to be affected by the elements.
We will also point out that our first impression of the X900 was that the construction is a bit shoddier than the rest of JVC 2009 lineup. This might be a result of the preproduction model, which doesn't always have the same heft or feel as the final models that ship.
The JVC GZ-X900 is certainly a slim and portable device. It doesn't have the minute size of ultra-compact camcorders like the Pure Digital Flip Mino, but it will fit easily into a small camera bag or purse. When closed, the body also feels like it could withstand bumps and scrapes well. The coarse, matte surface won't attract greasy fingerprints—except on the LCD. Since the camcorder records entirely to SD/SDHC memory cards, your media format is more shock-resistant.
And while this doesn't exactly fall into the category of portability, we think the X900 is a good-looking camcorder—one that we'd be happy to tote around.
The BN-VF908U included battery is curiously enclosed within the LCD cavity. This is a unique design that we haven't really encountered before, though, in practice, it's the same as any other enclosed battery compartment. The downside, of course, is that you can't upgrade to a larger size battery pack.
We haven't been able to test battery performance in our labs, but JVC expects the battery to last 1 hour, 15 minutes in the highest quality.
There is no viewfinder on the JVC GZ-X900, so users will rely entirely upon the 2.8-inch LCD. (Resolution is 207,000 pixels.) The panel flips out and rotates 270 degrees, as is common on most consumer camcorders these days. If you're having trouble with glare or want to decrease power consumption, you can manually adjust the monitor brightness to one of eleven different increments or set the monitor backlight to auto, brighter, or standard. As always, we recommend sticking with the standard display, since adjusting brightness can give you a false impression of how your final image will look.
Menus are the same as what you'll find on the rest of the JVC line. Options are thankfully nestled into a single, easy-to-navigate menu. The only confusion you'll find here is that there are so many modes on the X900 and each one has its own menu. (So, options in Still Scene Mode are different from options in Video Manual Mode.)
As long as you don't mind flipping through the menus with JVC's finicky Laser Touch controls, you'll easily find everything you need without much guessing or confusion.
There is a discrete Playback Mode, accessed via a button within the LCD cavity. The button is a little strange, since the top half is reserved for toggling between Record and Playback and the bottom half toggles between Video and Still. The latter isn't for choosing your recording mode, however—it only selects between video and still when you're in playback mode. It's a little counterintuitive, but doesn't really stop you from doing what you need to do.
Playback itself is done with the traditional thumbnail view. You can select a clip using the Laser Touch slider and you can press the zoom toggle to switch between a 6-thumbnail and 12-thumbnail view. During playback, you can pause the video and zoom in on the image—however, this feature is strangely available only using the remote control. That's an unfortunate design choice, especially during still playback, as most dedicated still cameras allow you to easily zoom in on the image captured.
There are a couple of additional options during playback, including event registration, which allows you to essentially categorize your clips by event, and digest playback mode, which plays just a few seconds of each clip in succession.
The JVC GZ-X900 puts the essential ports on the camcorder body itself: an HDMI output, DC power input, and USB port. These same jacks are also available on the Everio dock, which ships with the X900. Two additional ports (component and composite outputs) are available only on the dock.
Port location and availability leaves us with no complaints, but the port covers are some of the worst we've seen. The HDMI terminal is exposed to the elements inside the LCD cavity—sure, the closed panel will protect it, but what happens when the panel is open and there's nothing to cover one of your most valuable ports? The DC power input and USB port are each covered by a hard plastic cover tethered to the camcorder by a miserable rubber connector. These are truly flimsy connections that are sure to tear right out over time. Our fingers are crossed that the final models will have more robust links.
High Speed Recording
One of the most tauted features of the JVC GZ-X900 is the 600fps recording speed. There are, in fact, three different high speed recording modes:
Each high speed recording mode also decreases the size and quality of the video recorded. We didn't have much time to experiment with the high speed recording, but what we saw was very intriguing. Camcorders with similar functions don't typically include as many options as you have here on the X900. The 600fps H3 mode might only capture 2.4 seconds of action, but it produced a very cool, smooth 20 second clip.
JVC offers a nice capacity and battery meter, accessed by pressing the Info button on the back of the GZ-X900. When initially pressed, a screen containing a pie graph appears, accompanied by a list of the remaining recordable times per each recording quality level. Pressing the Info button again cues a screen containing a vertical battery life meter and remaining digital minute display.
Meet the testers
Vice President, Editorial Management@WhyKaitlyn
Vice President of Editorial Management, Kaitlyn oversees the editorial departments of Reviewed.com’s various sites. She has been writing about technology since the turn of the century. Outside of her Reviewed.com home, Kaitlyn is also a theatre director and avid gamer.See all of Kaitlyn Chantry's reviews
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email