We’ve made no secret of the fact we’ve been disappointed by the quality of the hard-disk drive camcorders reviewed so far for DigitalTrends.com including the new Toshiba gigashot and JVC Everio models. Camcorders record memories and if the video quality isn’t better than a $400 tape-based edition, what’s the point of saving hours and hours of noise-filled footage–and spending more money for the privilege? We felt the same way about most DVD camcorders too—until we tried the Panasonic VDR-D300. What made this camcorder a winner was the fact it uses three CCDs to capture video. Now JVC has moved to address the shortcomings of HDD camcorders by introducing the GZ-MG505, the first one with three CCDs. In theory, dedicating an individual chip to record the three primary colors of red, green and blue results in more accurate, life-like images without the jagged lines and swirling noise that plagued other HDD camcorders. That’s the theory. Also adding to the allure of this new model is its ability to take 5-megapixel stills (2560 x 1920 pixels) and with the 30-gig drive you can save over seven hours of memories at best quality without worrying about spare tapes or discs. You’ll need a handful of batteries to accomplish this task but that’s another story.
Could this HDD camcorder be the one to solve the substandard video problem? This is what we hoped to discover as we anxiously opened the carton and prepped the JVC Everio GZ-MG505 for a hands-on test. Read on to discover if you should start saving over a grand for this stealthy new camcorder…
The GZ-MG505 measures 2.9 x 2.9 x 4.9 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 17.6 ounces with battery, strap and lens cap. It’s hardly pants pocket-sized but it’ll fit it an outer jacket–no problem. There’s an easily adjustable Velcro wrist strap on the right hand side. Sadly, this supposedly sophisticated camcorder has a lens cap that connects to the wrist strap and dangles in the breeze. How lame—especially when the Sony HDD model has a built-in lens cover.
The front is dominated by a 10x optical zoom JVC Video Lens with a removable square-shaped lens hood. There are optional accessory lenses if the 10x doesn’t do it for you. It also has a 300x digital zoom but just as we don’t like the quality of digital zooms in digital cameras, we suggest you disable here as well. You’ll find a flash for stills, a stereo mic and sensors for the supplied remote control and camera. Next to the mic is a compartment to connect an external microphone in case you want to play TV reporter and interview your relatives at the next BBQ bash.
The right side is fairly plain with an embossed HDD logo and a DC input to charge the battery. The cover hinge seems a bit flimsy as is the hinge on the rear above the battery. That one hides the A/V out and USB ports. Also on the back is the record/snap key for taking videos or stills. The top is fairly clean with a wide/telephoto zoom key, the main mode switch (power on/off/playback) and a cold accessory shoe.
The left hand side is dominated by a 2.7-inch widescreen LCD monitor rated a so-so 112K pixels. The screen has a small joystick control on the far left that lets you access menus and easily make adjustments. I really liked the battery-time indicator that shows how much juice is left to the minute rather than a bar graph. Unlike the Sony DCR-SR100, there are no zoom controls on the monitor. On the body are a number of controls and an S-video output. Alas, you’ll have to dig an S-video cable out of your drawer in order to enjoy the better quality video on your TV since it’s an optional accessory. You’ll find the mode key (camera/camcorder), menu, delete, auto/manual and flash/info keys. A tiny speaker is nestled in here as well. The bottom has an SD card slot and a tripod mount. All in all, a logically designed and understandable control layout with no head-scratchers forcing you to run screaming for the owner’s manual.
The Everio GZ-MG505 comes with a good-enough kit—even though JVC cheaped out on the S-video cable. You get a rechargeable battery (50 minutes), A/V and USB cables, lens cap, strap, remote, a 72-page owner’s manual and software CD ROM. The disc is loaded with PowerDVD 5, PowerDirector Express and PowerProducer for editing and burning discs as well as Digital Photo Navigator V1.5 to handle stills. There’s no SD card or other media since the 30-gig hard drive holds it all.
In no time we had the camera prepped, the battery charged and an SD card in place. Now it was time to put it through its paces.
Image Courtesy of JVC
The Everio GZ-MG505 boots up in about three seconds once you move the power key to on and open the LCD panel. This is very quick and much faster than the tape- or disc-based competition.
As noted, the camcorder uses three 1/4.5-inch imagers rated 1.33 megapixels each. For more on three CCD technology albeit from a competitor, check out this quickie video.
I started out in Auto for video and stills then moved to explore the manual options after I got the feel of the unit. The ergonomics of the GZ-MG505 are quite good. It feels just right and the basic controls for zooming and record on/off are within easy reach. The owner’s manual points out that the unit heats up after extended use but don’t worry about it. We used it for hours and didn’t feel the need to purchase a fire-retardant glove. Zooming was very smooth and there was very little focus grab.
If you want to go beyond point and shoot, simply hit the Auto button and you’re in manual mode. By pressing down the joystick you have manual focus which is adjusted by pushing the joystick left and right. There’s also access to backlight compensation and spot exposure. Thank goodness there’s printed owner’s manual because you’d never figure out what is what trying to decipher the onscreen icons. Move the joystick down to “M” and you get access to Program AE settings (four of them) plus you can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and the overall tone of the footage (strobe, sepia, monotone). This is a good set of manual controls (once you know where to find them) and more adventurous shooters can have fun with them.
There are many of the same manual options in the still mode too. You can adjust the flash, white balance, aperture and so on. Plus there’s a continuous burst mode and three-shot bracketing that shifts the EV +0.3 and -0.3.
After much fiddling around, shooting down the Jersey Shore, backyard BBQs and other typical summer fare, it was time to inspect the results.
You may be a tape purist but nothing on Earth beats the playlists that instantly appear when you put a HDD camcorder in playback mode. You move the joystick from box to box, highlight it and watch the results on your TV. It’s terrific. DVD camcorders offer this too and it’s a key reason for their growing popularity. Where DVD cams slaughter HDD models is quick playback in a DVD player or PC. With a hard disc camcorder you have to download it somewhere in order to turn it into a readily useable media by burning a disc. Granted you can spend another $179 for a self-contained DVD burner that automatically does this for you (the Share Station DVD Burner CU-VD10)—but you’re moving into Beverly Hills territory now.
And the results? Better this go-round but no prize ribbon. Video had much less digital noise than previous Everios I used. In fact, it was like night and day, the results were so much better. Where this camcorder disappointed was its color rendition. Although it was reasonably accurate, there was no pop to the yellows or reds. And some things– such as a red float in a swimming pool–were just off.
As far as this taking the place of a quality 5MP digicam with an 8x zoom like a Panasonic DMC-TZ1 with its 10x zoom ($349)—forget it. It’s not nearly as sophisticated (top shutter speed maxes out at only 1/500th of a second) and it’s not a true 5-megapixel imaging device and uses pixel-shift technology to reach 5MP. Still you can take decent photos and the 30GB HDD saves a mere 10,000 shots! Again the results here were disappointing as well. Flowers taken on a sunshine-filled day again were off color-wise. And definitely use the manual focus when you’re in still mode to make sure you get best results. You can get some decent 4×6 prints out of it but an 8 ½ x 11 would be really pushing it.
Image Courtesy of JVC
There’s no question JVC had definitely made some progress with its hard-disc drive camcorders. By using three CCDs, annoying digital noise is greatly eliminated. The camcorder focuses quickly, is nicely designed other than a floppy lens cap but pure video quality leaves something to be desired. Colors really didn’t have much pop and in some cases were just plain off the target. And at this price, it’s tough to recommend.
- Massive storage (7 hours of MPEG2 video)
- Much less video noise than earlier Everios
- Fast focusing and response
- Nice ergonomics
- Colors don’t have pop
- Color accuracy off target