REVIEW: JVC GY-LS300 4K Ultra-HD Camcorder

REVIEW: JVC GY-LS300 4K Ultra-HD Camcorder

Editor’s Note:
Today we’re thrilled to publish another 4K camera review by DAIMAOU, the original founder of AkihabaraNews! If you’re new to the site, know that respect is due: from the birth of AkihabaraNews more than 13 years ago, up to the present, DAIMAOU has personally published over 24,000 posts in English, French, and Japanese (archive). There are but a handful of people on planet Earth who’ve achieved as much. Also, definitely check out his current project, the 4K Ultra-HD love letter to the city we call home, TokyoStreetView.

JVC GY-LS300: a nice first step toward 4K wonderland.

First, let’s be honest for a minute, unlike 3D, 4K is far from being a fad and is here to stay. Granted, not everyone owns a 4K TV yet, but once you see 4K content you’ll know there are no doubts - 4K will be a huge success.

While companies like Panasonic and Sony are going full steam ahead with 4K in both the consumer and professional world, others like JVC are still testing the water and trying to figure the best approach by experimenting with pro-oriented products like the LS300.

And this thing looks amazing...

When the LS300 was first announced in November 2014, on paper it seemed something of miracle: an ultra-compact, interchangeable lens 4K camera supporting of both MFT lenses and Super 35, able to create fantastic cinema-like videos at a 120Mbps bitrate - 20Mbps more than the almighty Panasonic GH4.

REVIEW: Testing the Panasonic GH4's 4K Video Capabilities

Add to an already very exciting list of features the dual SD SDXC slot, professional XLR Audio, an internal ND filter, and JVC’s experience in the professional video world, and for $4,450 USD (MSRP) you had one of the most promising cameras ever designed for anyone looking to get their start filming professional-level videos.

Back at the end of 2014 and until NAB 2015 (National Association of Broadcasters tradeshow), there were just a handful of 4K cameras with interchangeable lens capability, and even fewer with Super 35 support. And to make things even worse, the only viable solution available during that time was Sony’s FS7 and its whopping MSRP just less than $10,000 (at the time).

Test Videos:

Click through watch on YouTube, or scroll down for the embeds.

Of course, for that price the FS7 was and still is technically better than the LS300. Sony’s camera offers incredible low-light support and uncompressed 4K recording (with an external recorder), or, by default, the capacity to shoot 4K Video at 600Mbps instead of the more compressed 120Mbps of the LS300. But, all in all and despite being less powerful, the LS300 was on paper still way better than the GH4 and closer to the FS7’s form factor with its Super 35 support.

…but is it everything it seems on paper?

With such a spec sheet, we were eager to get our hands on this little LS300 and finally unleash our creativity, but after a few hours with the camera, as we began using and testing, we did have some disappointment.

Let’s put it this way: the LS300 is a good camera, it is in fact an excellent camera, but rather than the run-and-gun shooting suggested by the form factor, we found it much better suited to a 100% controlled environment. There are also some old fashion design element limitations that should be addressed.

We know that criticizing a product is easy and we believe that there must be some explanation as to why the camera was not as good as expected. We believe some of the reasons could be:

  • A limited understanding of what customers want/need;
  • Trying to offer the most affordable product possible;
  • A lack of field testing to fine-tune the final product.

By design, e.g., size, shape, and price, the LS300 should be a run-and-gun type of camera, made for professionals who want to shoot documentaries, budget commercials, high-quality video clips, or for a news crew always on the move expecting to be able to quickly start up the camera and shoot immediately. Well, this I am afraid the LS300 is not.

First of all, the LS300 is extremely slow to power up, you need to wait at least a good 10 seconds to be able to start shooting from a cold boot. In 10 seconds a lot can happen in front of you that you won’t be able to record. Granted, you can put the LS300 in standby mode, but you will need to be very careful to not run out of juice when shooting outside.

The second major issue we had with this camera is its LCD. It was difficult to ascertain, under any kind of outdoor lighting, how well shots were or were not exposed. An obvious, in-hand solution is the viewfinder, but it’s so tiny that it’s barely an improvement over the LCD.

Given such an underperforming LCD with its washed-out colors, it would have been helpful for JVC to provide a histogram or anything that could help you determine whether or not shots were correctly exposed.

And let’s talk about the LS300’s user interface a bit: in the past, we would regularly give Fujifilm the prize for the worst-designed UI and menus, but Fujifilm has made tremendous improvements in that regard - while JVC has not done as much. The camera UI need some polish, and many settings can be somewhat cryptic; exposure control and info, for example, seem to go missing in Manual mode yet remain available in Automatic mode. Also, the LS300’s LCD is not a touch panel. In 2015, touch panel capability wrapped around an intuitive interface is expected by most users.

There’s also a lot of good.

There are a few things that JVC did very right, and a few things they did very well. First, the LS300’s focus peaking is just spot on (no pun intended here), and it was a real pleasure to use. And rightly so, the best thing that will come out of this camera is the incredible video quality. Also, despite being limited to 120Mbps, the LS300’s video quality is far superior to what the GH4 can offer. The LS300 also handles colors very well and brings a softness unlike anything you’d get with DLSR video.

In our heart, what really saves the LS300 is the gorgeous video.

But it does come at a price. As we said, you can’t rely on the camera’s LCD monitor or viewfinder when shooting outdoors, and to really harness the true power of the camera you will need the best possible conditions - like you would find in a studio. As crazy as it sounds, and while it goes against everything that the LS300 was designed for, this camera is not a really run and gun 4K wonder, but a truly powerful and affordable studio camera that will blow your mind when you are able to control your environment and lightning - and use a better external monitor.

So, there is still hope for the LS300, right?

Yes - with caveats. If you were asking us this question in January or February, we would be inclined to say that the LS300 has a very strong place in today’s market. But, after NAB 2015, the LS300 was suddenly faced with some very strong challengers. Indeed, after Blackmagic Design announced the URSA Mini, a 4 or 4.6K camera that shoots uncompressed RAW video, a machine as powerful as the SONY FS7 for a price roughly equivalent to the LS300 for the 4.6K model ($4,995) or cheaper for the 4K version ($2,995), the LS300 found itself outpriced in an increasingly crowded market. To make things even worse, AJA Video Systems, famous for its movie gear and cameras, announced that its incredible CION 4K with Apple ProRes 4444 would now only cost $4,995 instead of $8,995.

The LS300 was JVC’s high-end volley in a market that is quickly and radically changing, and it’s still very relevant. Moving forward, however, when companies like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Blackmagic are offering cutting edge, technically equivalent or superior products at the same or lower purchase points, JVC has to begin thinking about price cuts for the LS300 and focus hard on making big improvements to its successor.

4K Test Videos:

All JVC News & Tech
AkihabaraNews Gear Reviews