Though the GR-D70U sits at a midrange price in JVC's MiniDV camcorder line, it feels in many ways like a budget model. It includes some midrange features, such as analog inputs and an SD/MMC slot for still-photo capture, but other elements--notably the monochrome viewfinder and the mediocre indoor video quality--are decidedly low end. If you shoot primarily outdoors, this JVC's relatively small size and low cost may make it a viable alternative to more-expensive cameras. Similar in design and size to the Canon ZR60, a direct competitor, the JVC GR-D70U weighs 1.15 pounds and is relatively compact. It can fit in a large jacket pocket or a purse, so keeping the camera with you for impromptu shooting is fairly easy.
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|As you'd expect, the record, zoom, mode, power, and photo-capture controls are all within reach of your right hand.|
JVC did an excellent job with the control layout. The jog wheel, which doubles as a focus dial, rests under your right index finger, letting you access most major functions one-handed. It also makes menu navigation a snap. The menu has just two levels; you press the wheel to select an item. Most functions are clearly spelled out, and the icon that indicates that the selected mode is active is displayed next to each choice, handy for reference purposes.
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|You'll need to flip out the LCD to switch between still and video capture, play back footage, or access the Night and Backlight modes.|
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|This door ejects the tape downward, so you can't swap it out while the camera is on a tripod.|
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You can save stills to optional SD/MMC media.
The lens offers a 16X optical zoom. The GR-D70U can zoom digitally up to 700X, but that's useful only if you want to see what happens when you fill the screen with about a dozen blown-up pixels. A more reasonable and useful limit is 40X. The included wipes and fades let you apply some special effects in-camera.
Via the GR-D70U's analog inputs, you can convert your old tapes to digital format. The camera also dubs audio, but there's no way to attach a microphone. You can't connect an external light, either.
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The stock battery lasts for about 90 minutes of shooting--not great but fairly typical. Longer-life cells are available.
The lens's zoom mechanism is essentially silent, and travel is smooth until the zoom control hits one specific point. Then your slow, steady pace jumps to maximum speed. Image stabilization is very effective up to 10X; beyond that, footage will show more evidence of shaky hands.
The GR-D70U's autofocus quickly finds the proper focus point in a variety of lighting situations. Focusing manually with the jog wheel also works well. Outdoor shots look somewhat fuzzy on the JVC GR-D70U's LCD, so you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well they come out on a television or a PC monitor. Our test footage showed a good level of detail, and the camera maintained proper exposure even when we panned rapidly from light to dark areas and shot in high-contrast conditions. Color was rich and accurate, although reds were a bit blown out, a typical problem for cameras in this class.
However, everything goes to pot in dim environments. Shots recorded indoors in typical evening light show enough noise to make even casual viewers comment. In dark situations, the Night Alive mode reduces noise and enhances color and brightness, but the frame rate slows down so much that the image appears to be strobing.
Stills are generally poor, whether you shoot them inside or outside. The GR-D70U saves 1,024x768-pixel pictures, but they're interpolated from a lower resolution, so they lack detail. Indoor snaps are extremely noisy. The quality is OK for e-mailing and Web posting, but we wouldn't rely on these photos to preserve treasured memories.