JVC GR-SX950, an SVHS camcorder
I made a short video about the JVC GR-SX950, a Super VHS camcorder made around the year 2000. I shot the review with a similar camcorder for you to appreciate how far the industry has moved since then.
Actually, the camcorder that I used to shoot this review has a different model number, GR-SX851, but as far as I can tell it is absolutely identical to the GR-SX950. I suppose, the different model number designates different packaging, like a bundled remote control or a different charger.
JVC offered several dozen models using the same body, mechanics and lens. I list some of those models in the description to the video. All of these camcorders have 1/4" CCD sensor paired with a 16x power zoom lens with auto iris and 40.5 mm thread size. Recalculated into 35 mm terms, the lens ranges from about 37.5 mm to 600 mm and is rated F1.6 at its widest setting.
Some of the models build on this platform have buttons on the top, other have buttons on the back. The 950 has buttons on the back. Certain features can be figured out from a model name. For example, models with “AX” prefix are basic VHS machines, models with “SX” prefix can record and play in Super VHS. Letter “M” indicates a flip-out LCD monitor. Other than that, there is no system in the naming, so you need to check the specs to figure out whether the viewfinder is a color LCD or a monochrome CRT; whether the particular model has a time-base corrector, or a built-in speaker, or a built-in light, whether it can shoot in film-like mode or whether it comes with a remote control.
This particular model is a Super VHS, or SVHS, machine. Moreover, it can record in SVHS mode onto standard non-SVHS tape, something that earlier SVHS machines could not do. JVC started to offer this capability in 1998, calling it SVHS-ET, “Expansion Technology”. Image quality in this mode is higher than standard VHS but not as good as SVHS recorded on proper SVHS tape. Just so you know, I shot the review in SVHS mode recording onto an SVHS tape to get the maximum performance from this little puppy.
VHS machines made in the late 1990s — early 2000s can be characterized by two trends. One trend was simplification. The format had become ubiquitous, VCRs and camcorders were everyday appliances. Mass-produced machines were designed easy to operate, with fewer buttons and knobs. On another hand, image quality improved by using digital technology. This camcorder has digital image stabilizer, digital fades and wipes — if anyone cares about fades and wipes — digital color noise reduction, as well as time base corrector. This is an analog-digital hybrid.
Sadly, there is no digital output, so to get video off the camcorder you need to use either composite or S-video connector. Also, there is just a single microphone, and audio output is monophonic.
This camcorder has no flip-out LCD screen, so the left side is bare, just a piece of hollow plastic that hides the mechanism that uses Compact VHS cassettes. The mechanism is finicky, when you close the cover you must press onto the “Push” button. I was careless and pushed at the corner of the door. The door warped, jammed and would not open. I tried to pry it open, and ultimately I succeeded, but some of the thin metal links bent in the process. In short, all this mechanical stuff is very delicate, it is not a smartphone.
The drum has five magnetic heads. Two traditional heads for SP mode and two additional heads for SLP mode. A fifth head is a dedicated Flying Erase Head for cleaner noise-free transitions between scenes.
Flying Erase Head allows the camcorder to erase as precisely as it records. Scene transitions are smooth and noise-free, without the usual bands of video interference and “rainbow noise” prominent in recordings made without a Flying Erase Head.
The camcorder may have advanced mechanics, but it is not feature-rich. The camera allows to adjust exposure compensation, but exposure cannot be locked, which is a letdown. The camera allows to manually set and lock focus. White balance can also be adjusted. A filter or a lens converter can be attached using a 40.5 mm thread. There is no shoe on the top, but there is a tripod mount on the bottom. There is no input for external microphone, and microphone level cannot be adjusted.
Without a flip-out screen this camera cannot be used away from your eyes, for example shooting a skating video would be problematic as you cannot see what you are shooting. This form-factor lends itself to a more traditional film-style shooting, by holding it close to your face and looking into the viewfinder.
I think this camera is more valuable as a playback deck, having digital noise reduction and time base corrector. It can play both standard VHS and Super VHS recordings and has S-Video output. On another hand, it cannot play Hi-Fi stereo audio and has monophonic audio output.
To capture video off this camera onto a computer you need an analog-to-digital converter and capturing software.