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.
They're a pretty nice set of exposure options, however: Gain/ISO speed (depending upon whether you're in video or still photo mode), aperture- and shutter-priority, automatic with exposure compensation, and a few scene presets.
Like most tapeless camcorders, the JVC Everio GZ-MG505 records to disk using MPEG-2 encoding and can store about 7 hours of video on its 30GB drive. The files have a .mod extension; as long as you have an MPEG-2 decoder on your system, your software will recognize them. Unlike the MC500, the GZ-MG505 ships with appropriate software for both the Mac and the PC. Your system will automatically recognize the camcorder's hard drive when you plug in via USB, and from there, you simply drag and drop.
Not all aspects of the GZ-MG505's performance seem so quick and easy. It takes a fraction of a second longer to focus than feels appropriate, it's hard to maintain a consistent zoom rate, and the battery lasts a mere 50 minutes. Furthermore, the electronic image-stabilization system barely appears to have an effect at the telephoto end of the range. But aside from the EIS issue, these molehills are offset by the camcorder's zippy startup and record speed, competent exposure system, and low noise--enough to nudge the GZ-MG505's performance rating up to a 7 from last year's 6.
In fact, the biggest improvement over its predecessor is its low-light video quality, which is now quite good. It can't shoot in the dark, but the GZ-MG505 produces very clean video, with virtually no image noise, in minimal illumination. A slow-shutter-speed Night Alive mode bolsters the colors, but like all slow-shutter modes, is useless if there's much motion.
The camcorder's three CCDs visibly bolster the dynamic range in shadow areas and midtones, but they're less effective in the highlights, which get clipped to produce large, flat white areas. And some of the reds it captured emerged more out-of-gamut than the originals. If you play the videos only on your computer, you may be disappointed by the resulting lack of contrast and color saturation. On a TV, however, connected via an S-Video cable, the picture quality looks very good--sharp and saturated. Don't use the bundled composite cable for TV viewing; though the cable will cost you extra, S-Video delivers a significantly better picture.
Despite JVC's grandiose claims for its Megabrid processing engine, alchemically combining three 1.3-megapixel CCDs does not make a great 5-megapixel still image. But the artifacts in the GZ-MG505's photos don't jump out and scream at you when viewed onscreen, and a good shot can tolerate printing to as large as 8x10. I'd cap it at 6x8 to be safe, though.
Despite its flaws, the JVC Everio GZ-MG505 is enjoyable to shoot with and can produce video and stills that won't embarrass you at the next family reunion. Overall it's neither significantly better nor worse than its primary competitor, the Sony DCR-SR100--it's just significantly more expensive.