JVC GR-X5 review

£675
Price when reviewed

The lack of a three-CCD model in JVC’s consumer camcorder range has always been a curious omission. Even more maverick was the GR-PD1, which took on the semi-professional arena with a single high-resolution CCD and a unique colour-interpolation method. But finally, JVC has taken the plunge and released a mainstream three-CCD DV camcorder. In typical JVC fashion, though, the GR-X5 is no ordinary me-too device.

The three CCDs are 1/4.5in, 1.33-megapixel sensors, which is more than respectable for a camcorder this compact. In theory, the reasonably large chips make for better low-light performance, and the separate one for each colour channel increases fidelity. The high pixel count has little benefit for video, but with a bit of interpolation thrown in this allows the X5 to offer 5-megapixel stills, with a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,920.

One of the most unusual things about the X5 is that it has no viewfinder. Instead, the 2.5in LCD panel flips out of the back into an upright position. Purists might decry this omission, but in reality most people now rely on a camcorder’s LCD almost exclusively. It does have one drawback, though: the panel will interfere with attaching a microphone to the accessory shoe unless you angle it sideways, which is hardly ideal. This is a shame, as the X5 is otherwise well specified for the hobbyist: tapes load from the front, so it’s tripod friendly, and it has mini-jacks for both microphone and headphones.

As we’d expect in a premium model, the X5 is replete with manual features. Instead of a lens ring, there’s a separate wheel reminiscent of true professional camcorders, which works just as well. Discrete buttons change the function of this wheel from focusing to exposure gain or program auto-exposure modes. These include Twilight, Portrait, Sports and Snow, plus generic aperture and shutter priority. Underneath the LCD, separate buttons give access to manual white balance, digital fade/wipe, backlight compensation and night mode. There’s a rocker for selecting menu options, which also doubles as the controller in VCR mode. One setting you won’t find anywhere, however, is manual audio, which is a shame for a camcorder at this price.

Video image quality is remarkably similar to the GZ-MC500. This isn’t surprising, as the three-CCD setup is almost identical, with just a 300x digital zoom to separate out the X5. The auto focus and automatic exposure control are both responsive, making point-and-shoot usage very smooth. Colour fidelity in bright sunlight or artificial illumination is equally good, with plenty of detail in areas of shadow. We noticed no blooming around the edges of brightly coloured objects, nor the wash-out characteristic of cheaper single-chip camcorders in low light. Photographic performance wasn’t quite so stellar, with the built-in flash occasionally overexposing the image. But overall, still images were sufficiently good for you to leave your pocket camera at home.

The three-CCD competition is stiff these days, particularly from Panasonic’s keenly priced consumer three-CCD models. Still, this is a camcorder capable of great video and very good photographic images. The lack of manual audio control and strange LCD setup might put off the serious hobbyist, but for anyone looking for a top-quality point-and-shoot the only real downside is the above-average price.

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