The first of the new 2009 camcorders are finally hitting stores. Unlike the onslaught of low-priced (sub $200) video capture devices like the entry-level Flip Mino, models such as the GZ-MG670 have critical things like zoom lenses, better picture quality, bigger LCD screens and tons of others creature comforts that make them at least twice as expensive — but still much better deals in our view. Take the just released MG670 for example: It has a 35x optical zoom, a 2.7-inch widescreen LCD and 80GB storage (19 hours at best 720 x 480 pixel quality). Compare this to a Flip Mino with no zoom, a poor 1.5-inch screen and 640 x 480 clip quality. Basically, there is no comparison. However, the Flip and its brethren are extremely compact, and made for video sharing on YouTube. Both are features millions want and use every day. Until last year mainstream camcorder manufacturers didn’t know sharing existed but that changed with the JVC GZ-MS100, a relatively affordable edition with YouTube uploading built into the software. Now JVC has introduced its newest models with YouTube and iTunes upload capability. As for size, it’s definitely bigger than a Flip but hardly a TV station camera. Now is the MG670 worth it — and does it make sharing the breeze it’s supposed to be? Let’s start shooting…
Features and Design
We won’t belabor the Flip/JVC analogy for long, since they’re very different breeds of cat. That said one of the key benefits for Flip-like devices is their pocket size. A $179 Flip Mino weighs 3.3 ounces and measures 1.97 x 3.94 x .63 (W x H x D, in inches). The bigger $479 JVC is 2.1 x 2.7 x 4.5, and tips the scales at 12.4 ounces including the battery. Bottom line: The Flip easily slips into your jeans, while the JVC has to go into cargo-pants pocket. This hardly precludes carrying this thing around all day. And you get so much more.
A Flip Mino has 2GB storage compared to the 80GB hard disk drive found on the MG670; for 70 bucks more you can get 120GB with the MG680. What this means is the ability to record practically forever with the Everio; 19 hours to be exact, with the MG670 at best quality, which is MPEG2 standard definition DVD level. The Flip Mino does one hour at VHS-like 640×480 resolution, using MPEG4-AVI compression. Even in the world of cheesy YouTube videos, your friends will appreciate the better quality.
Note: the new $229 Flip MinoHD records an hour’s worth of high-def footage (1280 x 720 using the MPEG4 H.264 codec). It’s as barebones as can be though (no zoom, tiny 1.5-inch LCD, ad nauseum).
The JVC GZ-MG670 is extremely compact, given its zoom lens and hard drive. The camcorder fits very comfortably in your hand. It has a piano-gloss-black finish, and it looks very sleek, with a minimal amount of annoying decals and logos. We do have to take exception with one bit of nomenclature – the “40x Dynamic Zoom” near the lens. The camcorder actually has a 35x optical zoom – which is pretty potent given the small size. The Dynamic Zoom is a “gentle” digital zoom boost without degradation, according to the folks at JVC (more on this in the performance section). That said, we’d prefer more accurate decals on the camcorder, since most shoppers won’t look at the fine print.
The front is dominated by the 35x f1.8-4.0 Konica Minolta zoom which can be boosted to 40x, 80x or even 800x digital. As always, we recommend disabling any boost for best quality. The 35x has a focal length of 37-1295mm, which is plenty. We’d like a wider angle opening but the 37mm is better than most, and the 1295mm tele will bring anything front and center. The lens has a built-in cover, so there’s no flapping cap-on-a-string. There’s also a tiny LED light, and stereo microphone.
The right side, which covers the 80GB hard drive, has embossed logos, a USB compartment near the lens, and an A/V out near the record button. The strap is not nearly as cushy as those found on larger camcorders, but it’s easily adjustable and provides the support you need.
On the top are a zoom toggle switch, and a Snapshot button for taking pretty weak 832 x 624, half-megapixel stills which can be saved to microSD cards or the drive. There is no hot shoe for optional lights or mics. The rear has a recessed slot for the battery, a DC-in compartment for charging and the record button.
The left side – which has the foldout LCD screen – is where you’ll live most of the time. The monitor is a 2.7-inch widescreen display that works extremely well in bright sunshine. When we reviewed the Nikon S710, we took it to the beach and the screen wiped out in direct sunlight. The JVC worked without a hitch in the same situation. You’ll be very happy using it. To the left of the screen is a Laser Touch control, so you can scroll through the menus and quickly make manual adjustments. The bottom bezel has five smallish buttons for various adjustments. The functions change, depending on the mode you’re in (more on this in the performance section).
JVC Everio G GZ-MG670
On the camcorder body are a built-in speaker and mini HDMI out. Connect it to a HDTV and the video upconverts from standard def to 1080p. Other buttons include power on/off, one to switch between videos/stills, a display button to eliminate icon clutter on the screen, and three “One Touch” keys to upload/title, export and send footage direct to DVD.
The bottom of the Made-in-Malaysia camcorder has the microSD card slot and metal tripod mount.
The Everio comes with a basic kit: camcorder, battery, AC adapter, remote, USB and A/V cables. There’s a 44-page owner’s manual with a more in-depth PDF on the CD-ROM, which also has Digital Photo Navigator 1.5 for handling stills, and the Everio MediaBrowser for uploading videos and basic editing.
With a charged battery, a microSD card loaded, it was time to shoot some images.
Performance and Use
We set the Everio G GZ-MG670 to maximum resolution and minimal compression with the 35x zoom and DIS engaged. The camcorder has an 800K pixel CCD imaging device, a bit better than the typical 680K found in relatively low-priced camcorders. In theory, more pixels mean better quality for videos and stills. Thanks to the 80 gig HDD, we could record 19 hours of standard def video or close to 10,000 stills—enough for even the biggest Mardi Gras bash in New Orleans and Rio. If you drop it into economy low-res mode, you can capture a 100 hours. These are absurd figures, but it’s nice to know you don’t need a bunch of SD cards if you’re running short. We started off in auto then moved to manual.
We took the Everio to the beach on a bright sunny day, into NYC for some touristy clips, as well as indoors to see how the camcorder handled low-light situations. As DigitalTrends.com readers know, camcorders are among our favorite CE devices. Just turn the power on, zoom in on your subject, press the record button and the videomaker does the rest – adjust focus, exposure, white balance and shutter speed. We did just that with many of our scenes, barely making a dent in the hard drive.
If you want to go beyond auto, there are six scene modes (night, portrait, sports and so on) along with manual. In this position, you can adjust the usual parameters – focus, white balance, shutter speed and exposure. To make adjustments, you just run your finger along the Laser Touch control. It takes a bit of practice to determine how much pressure to apply, but it works fairly well – although not as accurate as a joystick control. Using the keys along the lower bezel takes a bit of squeezing but it’s something you get accustomed to pretty fast, and the menus are logically arranged.
JVC Everio G GZ-MG670 HDD
Even though the MG670 only takes .5MP (that’s right, point 5 megapixel) images, we had to try some out as well in single shot and burst mode.
When done it was time to download the scenes and images, then start sharing them, hopefully as easily as promised. However, our first step was connecting the camcorder via HDMI to a 50-inch 1080p Panasonic plasma to check out the videos. Even upconverted from SD, the high-def wannabe clips looked reasonable. But no one with two eyes would ever confuse them with true HD delivered by an AVCHD camcorder. These were scenes taken in bright sunshine. Upconverted material taken indoors was as noisy as could be, and the small LED light did little to help color accuracy. A nice plus was the wind noise reduction setting, which did a nice job controlling the roar of windy day at the shore.
We tried shooting some treetops with the 35x and 40x Dynamic Zoom, and although there wasn’t the fierce noise of a typical severely boosted-setting, there was a noticeable purple fringe along the branches. It’s clearly something to use on a wide landscape shot, rather than a close-up with sharp detail. A 50-inch screen is a tough test and the videos were appreciably better on 17-inch monitors. We still suggest keeping it at 35x.
Now it was time to start sharing after downloading clips to a HP laptop. The Everio MediaBrowser software is not the most elegant design we’ve encountered, but it’s pretty straightforward to upload to a YouTube account. There are at least four steps so it’s no “one touch” upload as claimed. And since you’re starting off with better quality, the end results are improved a bit. Although we’re not big fans of viewing tiny videos on two-inch iPod screens, a beach scene had us longing for warmer days ahead.
While the video quality was OK, nothing kind can be said about the still camera function of this camcorder. It was difficult getting subjects focused, colors were off, and the desire for optical image stabilization was stronger than ever before. In other words, there was blur galore, even when holding the MG670 as still as possible.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG670, which costs around $425, is a decent little camcorder. It’s light, comfortable and has the features any good video capture device should have – namely a zoom, a big LCD screen and storage by the bucketful. That on the table, picture quality is just adequate at SD levels on monitor screens; the 1080p upconverting via HDMI to a HDTV is an improvement but it’s not close to true high-def. The supposed “one touch” upload to YouTube is barely that, although it does save a few steps if you typically work directly on the site. Is it worth the extra cash compared to Flip Mino or a similar-type camcorder? Consumers are voting with their wallets for inexpensive flash-based camcorders in huge numbers. Call us old-fashioned, but we’d like the better quality, storage, high-powered zoom and terrific LCD screen.
- Tons of storage
- Compact, comfortable to hold
- Excellent LCD screen
- Decent SD video quality
- It’s a 35x zoom, not the 40x decal
- Not true one-touch upload
- Digital IS not optical
- Stills are very low quality