JVC Everio GZ-MG505
When it shipped last year, JVC's Microdrive-based Everio GZ-MC500 was the first of its kind to produce decent video, and it took a year for another manufacturer to match it--Sony's DCR-SR100. For this year's JVC Everio GZ-MG505, the company replaced the 4GB Microdrive with a 30GB hard disk, reconceived the design, and corrected a few of its predecessor's missteps--and also dropped the price to a more attractive level. But the heart of the camcorder, the trio of 1.3-megapixel CCDs and the 10X zoom lens, remain the same.
The redesigned body weighs a little more--just greater than a pound--but the boxy matte-plastic body is nicely compact and feels sturdy. It's also very comfortable to grip; in fact, it's one of the most comfortable models I've ever held. Though the 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD is on the small side, it's sharp enough for manual focusing, and remains clearly visible in direct sunlight. Still, I miss an eye-level viewfinder.
I did need to flip through the brief documentation to figure out how to activate and adjust the manual settings, as well as to decipher some of the mysteriously appearing icons. Once I understood the logic behind the design, though, the MG505 became quite straightforward to operate. Some of the usability features impressed me quite a bit. For instance, if you try to zoom in on a subject that's too close for focusing, the lens automatically zooms back out until it can lock. Or if you're far enough away but the lens can't lock on anything, a manual focus indicator flashes, inviting you to deal with it yourself. And the easily accessed spot-meter mode lets you choose one of three different areas to meter, instead of just the middle of the frame; this capability is common in cameras but rare in camcorders.
There are a few annoyances nonetheless. You have to press the Auto button twice every time you want to switch into manual mode or back to auto; the first press simply tells you what the current mode setting is. The joystick makes manual focus relatively easy--although I miss the focus ring from the GZ-MC500--but it can also be frustrating: press it accidentally and the next thing you know you've popped into Night Alive mode or are confronted by exposure options.