JVC Everio GZ-MC100 review
DV may have revolutionised video, but it’s starting to look a bit jaded. Its frame-based compression still requires 3.6MB for every second, and while MiniDV tapes may make VHS look gargantuan, they’re bulky compared to solid-state memory formats. If you want a truly tiny camcorder, you’ll need to look elsewhere, as Sony has with its MicroMV products. Even these still use tape, so don’t enjoy the benefits of random access.
Enter JVC’s new Everio range, which the company is calling ‘digital media cameras’ to differentiate them from camcorders. The range consists of just two models – the upright GZ-MC100 on test here and the swivel-body GZ-MC200, which costs about £70 more. A third model is planned for March 2005. Other than the camcorder chassis format, though, the two current models are identical. Both sport F1.8 optics and a 1/3.6in CCD with a 2.12-megapixel resolution.
The Everio isn’t the first camcorder to use removable memory instead of tape. A number of digital camera manufacturers have added video recording to their stills cameras, such as Pentax’s Optio MX4 (see issue 123, p79). But so far none have offered the video quality of a DV camcorder. Panasonic’s SVAV100B came closest, but that only uses SD memory to record, which means a current maximum 1GB of storage. Both of JVC’s Everios come equipped with a removable 4GB CompactFlash Hitachi Microdrive as standard, although they also have an SD slot.
Even 4GB isn’t much where DV is concerned, so the JVC uses the more efficient MPEG2 compression. As a result, even at the JVC’s maximum Ultra Fine resolution, the Microdrive is enough for a full hour of footage. Ultra Fine uses the full 720 x 576 resolution of PAL TV, and an 8.5Mb/sec data rate, which is about 3.5 times less than DV – about the same as a commercial DVD. To store more on the Microdrive, Fine mode uses 5.5Mb/sec and Normal mode 4.2Mb/sec, both with the same 720 x 576 resolution. There’s also an Eco mode, using 1.5Mb/sec and 352 x 288. With the latter, five hours of video can be stored on the Microdrive, and if that isn’t enough JVC claims it will be offering a half-price deal for a second disk with every Everio.
In order to live up to the ‘digital media camera’ moniker, the MC100 also takes still photos and records audio. With just a 2.12-megapixel CCD, however, it’s not a state-of-the-art digital camera. The maximum resolution is only 1,600 x 1,200, which is borderline for printing, particularly now that 4-megapixel resolution and above is commonplace even for compact digital-stills cameras. We also found the shutter could be sluggish, making it hard to get a clear photo when using the maximum zoom. However, even at the highest quality setting you can fit over 5,500 images on the Microdrive. As an audio recorder, the Everio offers 48KHz 16-bit sound in WAV format.
So those are the paper specs, and we were pleasantly surprised by the results in practice as well. In bright sunlight, the video recorded showed good contrast and colour fidelity. Best of all, at the Ultra Fine quality setting there was virtually no sign of artefacts such as stair-stepping, and there was little blooming around brightly coloured objects either. Detail resolution was good, too.
However, the Everio wasn’t so effective under artificial or poor natural lighting. The auto white balance left colours rather washed out, and the preset modes only went so far to correct this. But detail remained sharp.
As this is a camcorder from a well-established manufacturer, it has similar features to a standard MiniDV camcorder. Aside from automatic, four white balance modes are on offer, including sunlight, halogen, cloudy and a full manual mode. There’s manual focusing and exposure, Twilight, Spotlight, Snow and Sports AE modes, and shutter speeds from 1/2 to 1/4,000 of a second. There’s even a widescreen mode for 16:9 aspect ratio shooting.