JVC Everio GZ-MG555
JVC continues its line of Everio hard-drive camcorders with the GZ-MG555. Equipped with a single 5-megapixel sensor and a 10x zoom lens, the GZ-MG555 is the highest-end standard-definition Everio camera currently on the market. It isn't JVC's top consumer camcorder (the high-definition Everio GZ-HD7 has that honor), but its higher resolution and much more-robust control scheme sets the GZ-MG555 apart from lower-end Everios.
Like all Everio camcorders, the GZ-MG555 records video to an onboard hard drive, rather than tapes or DVDs. The 30GB drive holds up to 37 hours of video, though that's only when shooting at the lowest quality setting. Most users will probably shoot at the Fine and Ultra Fine quality settings instead, at which the hard drive can respectively hold 10.5 and 7 hours of footage. If that's not enough storage for you, the camcorder also features an SDHC card slot so you can record both video and still photos onto flash memory. Since 4GB SDHC cards can be found for about $50, they present an inexpensive, convenient way to grab just a little more recording time.
At just over a pound and measuring under three inches across, the GZ-MG555 can be schlepped around almost anywhere without your arm getting sore. It retains the same basic design as lower-end Everio models, with a few tweaks. It still has a 2.7-inch flip-out LCD screen with a control stick and two navigation buttons conveniently mounted next to it. It still keeps the playback and menu buttons nestled against the camcorder's body. It still lacks a viewfinder due to its small size. This layout makes operating the camcorder a relatively simple and direct affair.
JVC made the GZ-MG555 unique from its brethren by installing a mode dial above its battery. Previous Everios simply toggled between manual and automatic modes with a button on the camcorder's body, while this model uses the dial to shuffle between its nine available modes. The GZ-MG555 offers five scene presets, plus aperture- and shutter-priority manual modes, on top of the standard manual and automatic modes found on lower-end Everio camcorders.
These various shooting options also can be used when taking 5-megapixel photos. When shooting stills, you can change ISO sensitivity and white balance, two settings seldom seen on other camcorders' photo functions. Though it certainly won't rival a dedicated digital camera, the GZ-MG555's still photos looked quite acceptable. Shots taken at ISO 200 and 400 filled up with noise, but ISO 50 and 100 photos looked very clear and made quite nice 8x10 prints. Just as you can record video to SDHC cards, the camcorder gives you the option of storing your photos on its hard drive, so you can shoot pictures without a memory card.
Separate from the shooting modes, a software-based neutral-density (ND) filter can be activated by pressing a button on the dial when in video mode. Physical ND filters reduce light entering the camera, and can be very helpful when shooting outdoors in very bright sunlight. Rather than use a physical filter, the GZ-MG555 changes some of its exposure settings through software, and the end result is very similar. The button's house/sun logo can deceive you, though; you generally won't need to use the ND filter (the "sun" setting) unless you're shooting in very bright, direct sunlight. When shooting outside on overcast or partly cloudy days, you can leave the ND filter off (the "house" setting).