With long recording times and convenient operation, hard-disk-based camcorders are quite tempting, especially when coupled with the relatively low prices for standard-definition models. That's true of the lowest-end camcorders in JVC's veteran Everio G series, which typically cost in the neighborhood of $350 to $450.
The Everio GZ-MG3xx models come in a variety of flavors, though they're nearly identical in terms of features, performance, and image quality. The MG330 has a 30GB hard drive and comes in silver, blue, or red; the 60GB MG360 comes in black. Each of these two models has a sibling offering bundled with a Share Station dock, which is denoted by a model number ending in "5." The MG335 comes in silver or white, while the MG365, like the MG360, comes only in basic black. The dock provides S-Video and FireWire ports. For this review, we tested an MG330.
First and foremost, the whole of the MG300 series are very compact camcorders, measuring only 4.5 inches wide by 2.7 inches tall by 2.2 inches deep, and weighing about 12.7 ounces with battery. That's small enough to be of little consequence, even if you hold it for several hours. Unlike the touch screen, joystick, or jog dial controls used by other manufacturers, JVC has a unique Laser Touch control bar--a clever blue-light LED vertical touch-sensitive strip at the left of the 2.7-in LCD screen, which lets you quickly skim through all the menu selections. You make the actual selections with five small, recessed buttons at the bottom of the LCD. This arrangement is surprisingly functional. Frequently needed items sit at the top level of the menus, including video quality, gain control (for low-light shooting), aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3), scene exposure modes, and backlight compensation. One level deeper into the manual settings menu reveals exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance, shutter speed, and metering options.
The camcorder offers a typical bundle of features for the money. It uses a 1/6-inch charge-coupled device sensor with 680,000-pixel resolution--pretty conventional for a standard definition camcorder--along with a 35x zoom lens and 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD monitor. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, no viewfinder is present.
It records MPEG-2 video in four quality modes with varying bit rates: Ultra Fine (8.5Mbps), Fine (5.5Mbps), Normal (4.2Mbps) and Economy (352x240 at 1.5Mbps). Though recording time increases as you decrease bit rate, quality also degrades, and Ultra Fine quality isn't so good that it can afford to decrease. With the 30GB hard drive, the camcorder's recording times range from about 7 hours in Ultra Fine mode to just over 37 hours in Economy; for the 60GB models, that doubles to 14 hours and 74 hours, respectively. You can also record video and stills to a Micro SD card. JVC includes a composite video/stereo RCA cable for TV playback, and bundles a CD of CyberLink software for transferring your video content from the camcorder to your Windows computer for further editing. You can also simply copy the files to your Mac or PC.