When Lori Grunin reviewed JVC's Everio GZ-HD7 a few months ago, it did all right, but she concluded that its features, performance, and image quality didn't live up to its high price tag. JVC followed up the HD7 with the Everio GZ-HD3, a scaled-down version, which includes the same triple-CCD design and a lot of the same features. The HD3 has a different 10x optical zoom lens, this one carrying the KonicaMinolta brand instead of the Fujinon name, and with a f/1.8-2.4 maximum aperture range, as compared with the HD7's f/1.8-1.9. In the end, the differences affect the camcorder's general usability (in the ergonomic sense) much more than performance or image quality, which remains essentially the same as the HD7.
While the HD3 is only slightly physically smaller than the HD7, its other physical differences make more of an impact than its size. The most noticeable difference is the HD3's lack of a focusing ring. Instead you have to use the small joystick on the edge of the 2.8-inch LCD for manual focusing. A small button marked Focus Assist changes the view on the LCD into black and white and highlights an object in the frame when it comes into focus, which was very helpful when trying to focus manually, though I still found myself overshooting the focus point and having to come back because the joystick control is a bit too coarse. Ultimately, the focusing ring is a much better way to focus, but at least JVC made focus one of the shortcuts from the HD3's joystick, along with night mode, program AE, and backlight compensation, so you don't have to press a menu button before choosing that feature.
Shutter speed and aperture priority weren't as lucky. They were thrown into the menus on the HD3, but have buttons on the HD7. White balance is a menu-based control on both of these camcorders, but I would've rather seen that as a joystick shortcut than Program AE (essentially scene modes), since I usually end up changing white balance more often than I use preprogrammed scene modes.
Strangely, for a nonpro camcorder, the Everio GZ-HD3 includes a standard minijack mic input and an unpowered accessory shoe. That means it's easy to use an external mic with the HD3, whereas other manufacturers tend to leave that option out and force you to use their proprietary mic, or an accessory that adds a standard mic input. Even stranger is that the HD3 includes an SDHC memory card slot, but while some other manufacturers have been using SDHC as media for full HD recording, the HD3 restricts you to the lowest-quality SP mode when recording video to SDHC cards. Also, since you have to convert all footage from JVC's MPEG-2 TS format before playing it back on another device, some of the benefits of using SDHC cards become moot when using the HD3. Of course, you can still watch video shot on SDHC cards through the camcorder itself, using the unit's full-size HDMI or S-Video outputs, or via component or composite outputs using the supplied proprietary breakout cables.
It doesn't really matter much, and in fact it could be considered a benefit, but the HD3 lacks the HD7's FHD (Full HD) mode. Since most video editors don't support FHD, it could be considered more trouble than its worth, especially since Lori Grunin saw little, if any, difference between the video quality of the HD7's FHD and 1440 CBR modes. In our tests, the HD3's 1440 CBR video looked extremely similar to the HD7's, which is to say that it looks good. It has the same interlace artifacts, horizontal jitter and stutter, and blown-out highlights as the HD7, but colors look fairly accurate and well saturated.
Another major difference between the HD7 and HD3 is that the HD7 had, albeit ineffectual, optical image stabilization, while the HD3 relies on digital image stabilization. Normally this might be seen as a drawback, but given the HD7's problematic stabilization, you might actually get better results from the HD3's stabilization, which was effective to about 60 percent of the camcorder's 10x optical zoom range.
I wouldn't call the HD3's autofocus exceedingly fast, but it wasn't slow either. As was the case with its more-advanced cousin, the wind filter did a great job of neutralizing the auditory effect of breezes when filming. I didn't run into the same battery problems as Lori did with the HD7, but if you're planning on shooting for extended periods of time, it always makes sense to buy an extra battery with a camcorder.
When the company introduced the Everio GZ-HD3, JVC suggested a price $300 less than the GZ-HD7, which doesn't make up for the loss of the focus ring or the other button-based manual controls. However, the HD7's price has dropped precipitously since its introduction, no doubt because of its image-stabilization troubles. Since it's hard to recommend a camcorder with stabilization issues, I find it difficult to suggest the HD7 over the HD3. Ultimately, for image quality, you're probably better off opting for a tape-based HDV camcorder, such as Canon's HV20. If you really want a hard drive camcorder though, check out Sony's Handycam HDR-SR7.