Admit it. You visit YouTube to watch talking cats, quickie news and video game items, music videos as well as ogling people around the world generally making fools of themselves. I do it too but haven’t Broadcast Myself—until getting the new JVC Everio S GZ-MS100 camcorder that’s specifically designed for recording and quickly uploading clips to the wildly popular site. This is a stripped-down camcorder offering none of the quality of recently reviewed high-def models like the Sony HDR-SR12 and Canon Vixia HF10. And even though it’s an Everio, this JVC has no hard disk drive–it is a “memory camcorder” that records to optional SD/SDHC cards so it’s as light and compact as can be plus it’s fairly cheap. Although not quite as affordable as the many low-grade MPEG4 and H.264 camcorders available, it records MPEG2 videos—DVD level. It also has a 35x optical zoom compared to 3x for the typical sub-$200 USD Aiptek home video maker. But this camcorder is all about sharing—hence the S in the model name. Now is this petite camcorder good enough to share your cash with the local CE emporium? Let’s find out…
Features and Design
Since the silver-bodied JVC Everio S GZ-MS100 does not have a disc or tape mechanism or even a hard drive, it’s small measuring 2.18 x 2.68 x 4.37 (WHD, in inches), weighing 9.6 ounces with card and battery. It easily fits in the palm of your hand and you can carry this one around all day with no problems.
The front is dominated by a 35x optical zoom that provides an excellent range (36-1260mm in 35mm terms) that’s slightly wider than other models for easier group shots and landscapes. The Konica Minolta lens has a manually operated cap that certainly beats a cheesy cover attached by a piece of string. It also accepts 30.5mm diameter filters. Also here is a stereo mic and a tiny—and I mean tiny—LED light to illuminate close-up subjects (within 4.5 feet) that does a surprisingly good job (objects really need to be close though). Below the light is a compartment for the USB out.
The right side of the primarily plastic camcorder is nicely sculpted with several embossed logos touting the brand and the fact it accepts SDHC cards (up to 32GB which lets you record 7.5 hours of Ultra Fine video; a more common and affordable 4GB card does an hour). The card compartment is here as well. You’ll also find a fairly comfortable Velcro strap and an A/V output jack. There’s a strange compartment here that takes a knife to open—it gives service people access so they can run diagnostics. Take a look, then quickly close and forget about it.
The left side has a fold-out 2.7-inch widescreen LCD monitor so you can frame your 16:9 epics. It’s a good one that handles direct sunshine with a minimum of problems. On the far left bezel is a bar offering Laser Touch Operation so you slide your finger to move through menu options rather than toggling a joystick. There’s a cool blue light behind it to show it’s working. Below the screen are five small buttons including OK, Menu and three that align under specific menu icons so you can make adjustments. I found working with the Laser Touch OK after a little trial and error. Like an iPod there are times when you fly by the item you want to adjust. The buttons required a squeeze of the key and the screen’s outer cover with two fingers rather than a simple press. Not a big deal but clearly these are not the most sensitive controls out there.
On the inner body are a number of basic controls including power on/off, One Touch Direct DVD burn/Info and Upload to YouTube, the Play/Record button, a switch to change between video/still and Auto/Manual control. You’ll find the speaker here as well. The Info button shows how much space you have left on your card and remaining battery life to the minute, great things to have quickly at hand. As a nice touch, once you power up, the camcorder turns on and off simply by opening the LCD screen. With the screen closed you’ll see a silvery JVC and SDHC logos. Near the front is the slider switch mentioned for the lens cover.
The top of the unit has the wide/tele toggle switch and a Snapshot button for stills. Since the GZ-MS100 has only a 1/6th inch 680K pixel CCD it only takes 640 x 480 pixel stills, barely worth the trouble unless you’re posting to the web. Given the low price, I hardly expected a hot shoe for optional mics and lights; I wasn’t disappointed.
The rear has the slot for the battery that fits fairly flush to the body and isn’t intrusive at all. There’s the record button, a DC-in jack to charger things up and two tiny access lights.
You get the basics when you buy this camcorder: a 2-hour battery, AC adapter, USB and A/V cables, a 40-page basic manual and a CD-ROM with PowerCinema NE for handling video files and YouTube uploads as well as Digital Photo Navigator ver. 1.5 to deal with stills. There’s a more in-depth guide on the CD-ROM too but it’s only 74 pages; JVC should include it in the package.
This is not the most sophisticated camcorder on the block but it’s straightforward and geared for quick videos—and a little more once you get a handle on the basics. After charging it up, loading a 4GB Class 6 SDHC card, it was time to start recording and sharing.
Image Courtesy of JVC
Performance and Use
The JVC Everio S GZ-MS100 starts quickly since there’s no tape or disc to move into recording position. In less than 3 seconds the screen sprang to life and the camcorder was ready to record. As always I began in the basic auto position with the digital zoom turned off (it hits 800x) and took some footage. When I did so I pressed the Upload button since this limits the amount of recording to 10 minutes, the longest amount for YouTube vids.
New Jersey was suffering from a brutal pre-summer heat wave so I drove down to the Navesink River town of Red Bank to see how the MS100 captured the water, anchored boats and colorful shops. Even though the photos are only 640 x 480, I tried them out as well. The MS100 is very easy to operate although the Laser Touch takes a fine touch for accuracy. Moving through the menus in auto and manual is also simple. The camcorder has six Program AE scene modes (Night, Portrait, Sports and so on). Since there was no “Sand” I tried “Snow” on a day the temp hit 100-plus. It really didn’t work but nothing ventured… Going beyond simple Auto there are a number of manual options including focus, white balance, shutter speed plus in Photometry you can choose a section of the viewfinder to adjust brightness or it does it for the entire screen. These adjustments are made using Laser Touch and it works fairly well as you tweak the settings. Many of these options are available for shooting stills.
Image Courtesy of JVC
Once I made a dent in the SDHC card it was time check out my efforts on the big screen and then upload some videos to YouTube. My Panasonic plasma has an SD card slot so it just took a few clicks of the remote to see a slide show of stills and scroll through the video scenes. I wasn’t really surprised by what I saw—the videos were decent, nothing more with little of the detail you see on today’s quality high-def camcorders. However, you’re not paying a grand with the GZ-MS100 so these are unrealistic expectations. For DVD-level they were acceptable with fairly accurate colors, little smearing and not too much digital noise with material shot with plenty of light. To get a bit more richness, I lowered the brightness levels. When you move indoors there’s a lot more noise and the tiny light is no help for full room shots but it earns its pay with close-ups that are tack sharp. Focusing was fast with little drift and the digital image stabilization did a fair job smoothing out the shakes. Sound was lifelike and the speaker is a bit too accurate as it picks up the noise from the zoom. You won’t notice it if you’re taking shots with more ambient noise than sailboats going by!
Now it was time to upload some videos from the camcorder after installing the PowerCinema software on my PC which runs XP Pro. After connecting via USB and opening the LCD screen, you use the Laser Touch control to engage the Upload command. At that point your videos are transferred by PowerCinema. When all the scene thumbnails appear on your monitor you click YouTube on the left of the screen, place check boxes on the thumbnails you want the world to see and start sharing. The program asks for your YouTube log-in name and password (or asks you to open an account) then a virtual keyboard pops-up to log onto your YouTube account. You then follow the steps to Broadcast Yourself. After the upload and a visit to the YouTube site after a relaxing glass of iced coffee, I checked out my work. David Lean I’m not but still giving others the chance to see clips is fun—it’s easy to understand why zillions of people do it every day. I do have a problem though—JVC calls it a One Touch YouTube Upload but it’s hardly one click.
So this boils down to a decent, lightweight standard-def 35x zoom camcorder with software that makes uploading to YouTube relatively simple. There are many other less expensive gadgets that let you post to YouTube but quality is pretty weak. At least with the JVC Everio S GZ-MS100 you’re getting a camcorder rather than a glorified disposable camera. Since this baby is brand new (as of June 2008) the price hasn’t dipped below $349 USD. If you want a pretty cool gadget and the world to share your pratfalls, by all means go for it!
• Light SDHC standard-def camcorder
• Decent video quality
• 35x optical zoom
• Hardly a “One-Touch” upload to YouTube
• Feels flimsy
• Low-quality stills