JVC Everio GZ-MG30EK review

Price when reviewed

After some time as the sleeping giant in the camcorder business, JVC came out all guns blazing last year. And not content with simply pioneering high-end hard-disk camcorders, the company is already taking the concept mainstream. Whereas predecessors in the Everio range were aimed at gadget-hungry early adopters, the new Everio G-series is intended to compete with everyday DV and DVD-based camcorders.

JVC Everio GZ-MG30EK review

There are currently three members of the new range. The GZ-MG30EK (on review) and MG20EK differ only in hard disk capacity, but the MG50EK has a larger, higher resolution CCD. With a more capacious chassis format, the G-Series has space for a 1.8in hard disk instead of the Hitachi Microdrives used in previous models. This offers a healthy 30GB of storage in the MG30 and MG50, but 20GB in the cheaper MG20. Even at the best Ultra (DVD Movie) MPEG2 quality, which records at 8.9Mb/sec, the MG30 can record seven hours of video. At the lowest setting, equivalent to VideoCD, 37 hours can be recorded.

Carrying an operating hard disk around has never been an ideal situation for data integrity. Even though the latest 1.8in drives can withstand up to 500G of operating shock, dropping one isn’t a recipe for keeping its contents secure. To combat this, the G-series Everios incorporate a similar technology to IBM ThinkPads, where the hard disk heads are disengaged if high Gs are experienced. So if you drop the camcorder, the heads should be parked before it hits the ground. You can also turn this off temporarily if you need to keep shooting in a high G situation, such as on a rollercoaster, but you’ll need to manually re-enable it afterwards.

Apart from the hard disk recording and MPEG2-format video, however, the MG30 is a decidedly average camcorder. The single 1/6in CCD offers 800,000-pixels of resolution. The size will affect lux rating, and the pixel count means still shots are restricted to a resolution of 640 x 480. So this camcorder is no digital camera substitute, unlike the GZ-MC500. It does have a decent selection of manual features, including focus, shutter speeds from 1/15th to 1/4,000th, halogen, cloud, fine and manual white balancing, plus four programme AE modes. Exposure control from -6 to +6 is also available, and there are four digital effects.

As with other Everios, there’s no viewfinder, only a 2.5in LCD, although this won’t be a drawback for most. There’s a tripod mount, but there’s no accessory shoe, microphone input or headphone socket. So the MG30 has little to appeal to the video enthusiast.

With the single, small CCD we weren’t expecting stellar low-light performance, and the MG30 lived up to expectations. Colour fidelity under artificial light was adequate, but video grain increased noticeably in poor illumination. Both the zoom and image stabilisation were sluggish too. However, in more favourable daylight conditions, colour was faithful, the auto-exposure coped well with rapid changes in brightness and the low-light grain disappeared.

JVC is leading the way with hard disk camcorders, and there’s a lot to be said for the format. The ability to store so much video without needing to carry a bagful of tapes is potentially very attractive. However, the GZ-MG30EK is otherwise a basic camcorder and you pay a premium for the recording system compared to DV. JVC’s otherwise very similar GR-D290, for example, is £200 cheaper and offers comparable image quality. While we applaud the Everio’s technology, it’s still too expensive for the mainstream.

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