JVC GR-D390 review
Although at the budget end of the range, you can still expect great image quality and a healthy range of features
A decade ago, when consumer digital camcorders first arrived on the market, they cost around £2,000. But these days, you can pick one up for under £300. Despite the price crash, these budget models are still capable of better image quality than some of the first premium units to arrive.
When shopping for a camcorder at any price, there are a number of key features to look out for. Megapixel ratings are only relevant to still photo abilities, as DV (Digital Video) is a standardised resolution of 720 x 576 in the UK. More important for video quality is the physical size and number of CCDs. Larger sensors capture more light, so will perform better than smaller ones in darker conditions, while having three CCDs instead of one triples the colour resolution for much better fidelity.
Models with a microphone input and accessory shoe let you add an external or wireless microphone for better audio, or you can use the shoe for a video light. And don’t be taken in by the size of digital zoom, as this will be unusable. Instead, look for a larger optical zoom.
A tape mechanism that loads from the top or side is also preferable. If you’re using a tripod, bottom loading will force you to remove the camcorder to change tapes. But compared to models that record onto DVD, tape camcorders are a pain since you have to wind them to the position you want and then wait in real-time to transfer footage to your PC. Panasonic’s VDR-D150 records onto 8cm DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. If you use a DVD-RAM disc, you don’t even have to finalise the disc before simply popping it into your set-top DVD player. DVDs also allow you to copy footage quickly onto your hard disk for editing.
The JVC is a keenly priced camcorder. The specifications are standard at this level, though. The CCD is a single 1/6in 800,000-pixel sensor, and this is only enough for 640 x 480 still images. The GR-D390 isn’t replete with manual features either. The shutter can be varied from 1/50th to 1/4,000th of a second, and exposure between plus or minus six levels. Four auto-exposure modes are available, and all of these manual settings are easily accessed via the menu. The JVC also sports the highest optical zoom this month at 32x. However, it offers no microphone jack or accessory shoe, and tapes load from the bottom, so there are few concessions to the more enthusiastic videomaker.
Under bright daylight conditions, the JVC produced good detail with little grain, although the colours were a bit timid and the reds erred on the pink side. Indoors, the dull colours became duller and grain started to appear. In poor illumination, the image suffered the same fate as the Sony’s DCR-HC46E, with virtually all the colour information lost and obvious grain appearing. The GR-D390 still offers good value, but Canon’s MVX460 and Panasonic’s NV-GS180 offer better image quality and features. This time round, JVC can’t deliver the best quality for the price.