Nearly every electronics manufacturer currently seems to be in a rush to release a flash memory storage HD video camcorder at near pocket money prices. They look near identical too, held vertically in the palm and used for filming like you would your mobile phone handset. The GC-FM2, logically updating the FM1, is JVC’s newest attempt to make a dent in this burgeoning market. It challenges the likes of the all-conquering Flip Video with its latest Mino HD incarnation. The price is similar too, at around £160.
The first impression is that, from the front at least, the GC-FM2 predictably resembles its big-selling rival. It records 5-megapixel stills or Full HD movie clips to removable SD, SDHC, SDXC or wireless Eye-Fi card. As you’d expect, no card is included in the box, nor is there an internal hard drive either, just a 128MB internal cache given over to pre-installed manual and software, with just a quick start printed guide in the box. Just as well the device is very intuitive then, and with a few inquisitive presses and prods, you can quickly be recording your gritty fly-on-the-wall documentary. Or simply the dog and the kids playing together.
The JVC’s F/2.8 bright fixed focus lens with modest 4x digital zoom capability is located at the top of a blocky rectangle of a body, equally modest housing being distinctly plastic-y and toy-like to the touch. It further appropriates the Flip’s concept of easy connectivity to your PC for downloading/uploading to YouTube plus battery re-charging via integral USB arm. This slides out from the base of the device - or “HD Memory Camera” as christened by JVC - and comes with an additional, but unhelpfully short, “extension” cable included in the box. Operation then is plug and share.
The GC-FM2 differs from its FM1 forebear in that physical controls have been replaced by virtual ones, its backplate given over to a 3-inch widescreen aspect ratio touch-panel LCD, that near stretches from top to bottom. While, disappointingly, only a narrow top section of this display is given over to the scene before the lens when recording - the two-thirds below featuring virtual blobs for recording and pause buttons/controls - turn the camera horizontally when in playback mode, and the whole screen can be utilised for viewing 1920 x 1080-pixel clips recorded in widely compatible Motion JPEG format at 25 frames per second.
Image quality and sound for playback is actually pretty good, being bright and clear despite the modest 230k-dot resolution screen, so this is where the JVC’s wow factor lies. The device is broader in depth than the average handset when held in the palm, but at least this provides a bit more to hang onto, in the absence of any dedicated grip.
At one side is a thin plastic flap that flips open like the cover for a TV tuning panel, exposing as it does so separate ports for HDMI and standard AV output, along with a vacant slot for that all-important memory card. The other side of the device features the recognisable power button, plus cover protecting the hidden USB arm, a sliding catch for the release of which is located at the CG-FM2’s base, alongside a screw thread for tripod attachment. Additional stabilisation is handy, particularly when shooting 5-megapixel stills in lower light interiors, when the effects of inevitable camera shake and resulting blur is quite pronounced. There’s no built-in flash, and anti shake is software based rather than mechanical, being of the digital image stabilisation variety. Most of the time then it is a case of point and pray.
There are limitations also to the video capture. If utilising the digital zoom, detail begins to noticeably deteriorate and footage takes on a fuzzy, painterly aspect. The built-in microphone is also very sensitive to wind noise, making the slightest breeze at the time sound like a hurricane when downloaded to your desktop and replayed. In fairness wind is a problem for most budget cameras recording video with audio, especially if lacking the Wind Cut video modes of the latest Panasonic Lumix cameras, such as the FX70.
So while the GC-FM2 can neither compare with the results from a dedicated digital stills camera nor a HD video camera costing several hundred pounds more, with an optical zoom and top mounted stereo microphone, it’s the case here that you get what you pay for. Want a device slightly better in quality than the results from your camera phone, but don’t want the expense or bells and whistles of a dedicated tool, and this “good enough” little JVC might fit the bill. Alternatively with its user friendliness and general approachability it might make an ideal Christmas gift for a “tweenager”.
The impression given by the JVC GC-FM2 is that this is a product that has been engineered to hit a certain budget price point, and look a certain way, rather than innovate in its own right. But so what? It’s fun despite its limitations of noisy video and blurry stills, and will be a hit with kids as well as adults. Incidentally, for extreme sports fans, a waterproofed version in the GC-WP10 is currently available at a suggested retail price of £229.99.