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).
Just as the ND filter helps the GZ-MG555 in bright light, a built-in video light aids the camcorder when shooting in the dark. The video light projects a relatively small circle of white light on the subject when shooting in the dark, but even that is a great improvement over the anemic night mode found on its little brother, the GZ-MG255. Puzzlingly, further scaled-back Everios like the GZ-MG155 and GZ-MG130 do have video lights.
Once you've shot your videos or photos, the GZ-MG555 offers several ways to watch and edit them. The camcorder itself can plug directly into a TV with a standard RCA video connection, or into a computer with a USB 2.0 port. An included charging dock offers even more options, letting you hook up the camcorder to a TV with an S-Video cable or to a computer with an IEEE 1394 (aka FireWire or i.Link) port. The GZ-MG555 lacks higher-end television connections like component video and HDMI, but they really aren't necessary; though component video could give the camcorder a slight boost in playback quality, both hookups are generally reserved for high-definition camcorders.
Videos shot on the GZ-MG555 looked good, with some minor reservations. We shot test footage both indoors under our fluorescent lights and outdoors under a partly cloudy sky, and in both cases the video came out colorful and crisp. Colors looked accurate, even with the neutral-density filter enabled. The camcorder focuses slowly when zooming in, however, and can sometimes pick up a few seconds of blur before sharpening up. Be careful when shooting with the neutral-density filter on as well: under overcast and cloudy sunlight, the filter mutes colors and makes video appear darker than it should be.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG555 impressed us with its robust controls and solid image quality. However, its price seems a bit steep for a single-sensor, standard-definition camcorder. Unless you really want the GZ-MG555's myriad video settings or want a built-in video light, consider its $200 cheaper little brother, the GZ-MG255, instead. With just a 2-megapixel sensor, the MG255 has comparable video quality, but won't take nearly as nice still photos. The money you save, however, could easily go into a budget-level dedicated still camera that would produce nicer shots than either of these camcorders.