JVC Everio GZ-MG300 review: JVC Everio GZ-MG300

I most miss an eye-level viewfinder, though its absence is pretty common for models this size. LCDs can wash out in bright daylight or become difficult to see in low light; having a backup viewfinder is always a preferred option. Other omissions include a microphone jack, for connecting an external microphone to improve the quality of recorded audio in noisy environments, and a headphone jack, to hear what's playing back from the unit.

While the 35x zoom certainly provides a powerful range, I found it tricky to maintain a consistent, smooth zoom. The autofocus mechanism works quite well in good light, and will even focus quite well as close as 1 inch from an object. But, like much of its budget competition, it has a difficult time locking focus in low, low-contrast light. Digital image stabilization, the staple of budget camcorders, is also far less effective than optical stabilization, and generally isn't up to the needs of the high zooms on these models.

In general, color reproduction is very good, displaying both subtle tones and brightly colored subjects with relative accuracy. However, like many tapeless standard-def camcorders, there are quite a lot of compression artifacts in the video. They're especially noticeable when you compare moving subjects to relatively still backgrounds. Moving subjects normally record fairly well, at least at the highest quality settings, but backgrounds will appear somewhat blocky and low resolution (because MPEG-2 compresses areas that don't move a lot). Of course, these artifacts were far more noticeable on a 32-inch wide-format LCD at fairly close range and less so at a typical viewing distance of 8 to 10 feet. On a 42-inch or larger TV, though, the compression artifacts are always visible. (I shot in the Ultra Fine quality mode in 16:9 aspect ratio with normal gain in good light and increased gain in low light.) The VGA-resolution still photos are good for the Internet or for sharing via e-mail, but not much else.

That said, the JVC GZ-MG330, MG335, MG360 and MG365 are still practical, and useful camcorders for entry-level users who want to have a compact model for capturing everyday and event video without having to worry about running out of tape. They're also a bit cheaper than their counterparts from Sony (DCR-SR45 and SR65) and Panasonic (SDR-H40 and H60), but a real comparison will have to wait until CNET gets a chance to review any or all of those models.

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