The Everio GZ-HD40 is a significant camcorder for JVC. The $1,299.99 model (though it can be had for less than $1,000) supports AVCHD in addition to JVC's traditional MPEG-2 TS format offering more flexibility in your video-editing options. It also marks a shift from using three, low-resolution CCD sensors to a single, comparatively high-resolution CMOS sensor. The result is an Everio with video quality able to compete with similarly priced HD models from Canon and Sony.
Considering there's a 120GB hard drive inside, JVC kept the HD40 reasonably compact at 2.9 inches wide by 2.7 inches high by 4.9 inches deep, and with battery it weighs 1.2 pounds. (An 80GB version, the GZ-HD30, is also available.) Out in front is a 10x f1.8-2.2 50-500mm-equivalent lens with no optical image stabilization; only electronic stabilization is an option. Behind the lens on top of the camcorder's body is a serviceable stereo mic followed behind it by an accessory shoe for use with an external microphone attachment. It's worth noting that the shoe's cover is not attached to the body, pretty much guaranteeing it'll eventually get lost. Another niggling design issue: Like most straps on camcorders this size, it's positioned too low on the body, causing the weight to be off-balance and the camcorder to flop to the left with the slightest relaxation of your grip. In the case of the HD40, it appears the location is low to avoid having the strap block inputs, but that doesn't make it any less irritating.
Flipping open the 2.8-inch LCD reveals a set of buttons on the camcorder body's right side: Direct DVD for burning discs without a PC using the Everio Share Station, Focus Assist, Play/Rec for switching to playback mode and back again, Delete, and a Power button (however, the camcorder does have an instant-on setting when the LCD is opened). On the left side of the LCD are the remaining controls for menu navigation and settings: Menu and Index buttons and a five-way thumb-stick.
Ports include HDMI, AV, and component outputs at the back above the DC input for power and charging, a mic input and headphone out on the body's right side near the lens, and a USB miniconnector in front below an LED lamp to lens' right. On the left of the lens is a switch for sliding the manual cover open and close. On the HD40's bottom is a microSDHC card slot for recording still photos or AVCHD video to cards up to 8GB in capacity; MPEG-2 TS video can only be recorded to the hard drive. There's also a docking port for use with the included base that adds a FireWire port for file transfers.
The Everio HD40 has several manual controls for white balance, exposure, sharpness, shutter priority, aperture priority, and brightness. You get manual focus, too, controlled by the stick to the left of the LCD and to help you actually see what's in focus JVC has a very handy Focus Assist feature. Turn it on and the LCD's picture goes black and white while what's in focus gets outlined in your choice of one of three colors. There's an exposure assistant, too, that puts zebra stripes across areas that are overexposed in your shot.
Changing settings can be tortuous depending on what you're looking to adjust. The Menu button gets you into a majority of your options, but important settings are buried three levels deep, and there doesn't appear to be any order. For example, switching between MPEG-2 and AVCHD--one of the major reasons for buying this model--requires you to press the Menu button go to Basic Settings, find the selection titled Stream Format and then choose either SD Video, which is, in fact, MPEG-2, or AVCHD. Then once you're back out, you have to hit Menu again, find Video Quality and select what recording speed you want to use. True, this probably isn't a setting you'll be changing all that often, but it's illustrative of the rest of the menu system, so if you're easily intimidated by digging through settings, you may want to try the JVC before buying.