JVC Everio GZ-MC500
The GZ-MC500 is one of the most advanced models in JVC's line of Everio cameras, which capture both MPEG-2 video and photos on a little hard drive or a flash memory card. What sets this camera apart from its lesser siblings is its three-chip imaging system. It uses the same three CCDs as the GR-X5, a larger but still very compact JVC model that records video on MiniDV cassettes. And while the JVC Everio GZ-MC500 certainly isn't the cheapest three-chipper, it is one of the smallest.
JVC includes a 4GB Microdrive with this Everio--enough to hold about an hour of highest-quality footage--and recording in MPEG-2 offers some very real benefits, including random access to your clips and easy downloads to a computer. But there are some drawbacks, too. Even though downloading video is easier, some popular video-editing applications still can't handle MPEG-2 footage as well as DV.
Probably more significant for this Everio's audience is the cost of the media. MiniDV tapes are cheap enough to serve as an archiving medium, but Microdrives and CompactFlash cards are clearly not. That means you'll have to develop the habit of continually emptying out the Microdrive by transferring its contents to a hard drive or a videotape for long-term storage. This may be particularly challenging if you're out in the field for any length of time--on a long vacation, say.
With the Everio GZ-MC500, JVC lives up to its reputation as an innovator. The camera is far from a bargain, but for those who want a hybrid camcorder incorporating the latest technology in an extremely compact package, it's a winner.
The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 is a very smartly designed little package. The black camera body consists of two parts: a handgrip section on the right and a lens section on the left, connected by a pivot. This design lets you tilt the lens up and down relative to the grip and the viewfinder, making it easy to accomplish high- and low-angle shots, at least for right-handed people.
The handgrip part of the camera sports an adjustable handstrap and opens to reveal a compartment shared by the Microdrive and an internally mounted battery. Because the battery charges in-camera, you'll have to purchase an optional accessory charger if you want to charge a second battery while shooting.
The rear of the handgrip wraps around the back of the camera and contains a 1.8-inch 130,000-pixel LCD, which is the only viewfinder. Most of the ports are located on the front of the handgrip, namely connections for power, headphones, and an A/V cable. Annoyingly, the headphone jack is an unconventional design that requires an adapter cable to connect standard headphones. There's no external microphone jack, which limits this camera's audio capabilities to what you can capture with the built-in mic.
A rubber lens hood clicks onto the front of the 10X zoom lens, which is protected by a conventional lens cap and surrounded by a standard focus ring--an excellent and increasingly rare control. Atop the lens side of the camera are a pop-up flash and a stereo mic, and at the bottom of the rear is the SD card slot. Finally, the camera's left side is adorned with a sliding power switch, a mode button surrounded by a program selector dial, a Focus Mode button, a tiny speaker, and a USB port.
In general, this camera's control layout makes sense. Since the body of the GZ-MC500 is so small, there's room for only a few external controls, and JVC has made the right choices regarding both the nature and the placement of these controls.
Less frequently used controls are relegated to the LCD menu system, which is about as straightforward and intuitive as possible. Although the menu navigation joystick is tiny, it proved surprisingly usable.
The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 uses three 1/4.5-inch, 1.33-megapixel CCDs to capture MPEG-2 video and JPEG stills, interpolating its photo output as high as 5 megapixels. Despite its three-chip design, which is most often reserved for larger, prosumer camcorders, this model's feature set is unapologetically geared toward the point-and-shoot crowd. It lets you select from a variety of automatic and semiautomatic shooting modes--including Twilight, Portrait, Sports, Snow, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority--and there's a foolproof fully automatic mode. This is also one of the few video cameras that can be used as a voice recorder.
If you are a manual control aficionado, this is not the camera for you. That said, this Everio does provide some flexibility to casual videographers who like the option of making manual adjustments even though they usually shoot on auto. You can shift autoexposure, select white balance, and use the backlight compensation button to quickly adapt to a backlit scene. In aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, you can adjust the iris and shutter speed, respectively. There's also a spot meter that you use by selecting a light-metering point with the minijoystick.
Two essential features included are a digital image stabilizer to take the shake out of handheld camerawork and a 16:9 mode, for display on wide-screen televisions. Unfortunately, only an anamorphically squeezed wide-screen mode is available, so the image appears vertically stretched on the viewfinder and on 4:3 televisions. One thing that's missing that we'd like to see is a Night mode with infrared illumination or at least a built-in LED.
In the gimmicky-feature category, you'll find the usual assortment of fades, wipes, and digital effects: sepia, black-and-white, classic film, and strobe; 40X and 100X digital zoom; and Tele-Macro, which enables extreme close-ups of objects a couple of feet away.
Because it captures MPEG-2 video--a compressed format that can be recorded on the hard drive and flash memory media that this camera uses--the GZ-MC500 offers four video-quality levels. Each makes a different compromise between image quality and recording time. These range from Ultra Fine (720x480 at 8.5Mbps, one hour total on the included Microdrive) to Economy (352x240 at 1.5Mbps, six hours total).
Also, due to the MPEG-2 system, the camera offers convenient playback capabilities. You can instantaneously switch from clip to clip via a thumbnail menu system, and individual clips can be reordered or deleted easily, freeing up space for more shooting.
Although the native resolution of its sensors is just 1.3 megapixels, the GZ-MC500 outputs stills at five resolutions, maxing out at 2,560x1,920. There are two JPEG quality levels to select from. Other photo-specific features include a selection of three ISO levels, a self-timer, a continuous-shooting mode, and autobracketing. The camera's pop-up flash has several modes, including red-eye reduction. You can also connect the GZ-MC500 to PictBridge-compatible devices for direct printing.
Two Windows software applications come with the GZ-MC500: CyberLink DVD Solution for video editing and DVD authoring, and Digital Photo Navigator 1.0 for organizing stills.
The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 responds quickly to inputs from its relatively few external controls. The focus ring and the zoom rocker are particularly easy to manipulate for controls on a camera of this size.
Autofocus and autoexposure were accurate but sluggish in their response. While these systems react nearly instantaneously in some camcorders, with the GZ-MC500 we often experienced a significant delay while the camera caught up to a change in composition or lighting. On the other hand, the digital image stabilization system performed well without significantly degrading the image.
The greatest limitation of the LCD is its relatively small size, which is hard to avoid on a camera this tiny. However, the screen is bright enough for viewing an image in direct sunlight, which is fortunate since this Everio offers no secondary viewfinder.
We found audio performance typical of a small camera that relies exclusively on a built-in mic. Capturing a certain amount of camera noise is inevitable, and there's an overemphasis on unwanted environmental sounds due to the microphone's lack of directionality. The quality of sound recorded with video varies with the video-quality setting you select. A wind-cut filter is available to help reduce low-frequency rumble.
The supercompact size of the JVC Everio GZ-MC500 is due largely to its use of Microdrive and CompactFlash media instead of MiniDV cassettes. But using those media has an impact on video quality too, since they don't record the DV-format footage that MiniDV cassettes do. Instead, video is saved in MPEG-2, the same compressed format used by mini-DVD camcorders and also used to fit full-length movies on commercial DVDs. As is the case with DVDs, this form of compression can render outstanding image quality, but it can also produce distracting artifacts depending on the nature of the image and the degree of compression.
This Everio provides four different video-quality modes, from Fine, which fits one hour on the included 4GB Microdrive, to Economy, which squeezes six hours into the same space. Surprisingly, even the Economy mode was quite watchable, though it has a slightly strobelike quality and easily visible compression artifacts.
In the better video-quality modes, the GZ-MC500 produces crisp video that has a slightly muted color palate. The quality of this video is not significantly better than what you'd get from the best single-chip MiniDV camcorders. However, the three-chip system does pay off with stills that are exceptionally good for a hybrid camera.
Due to its high pixel count, the GZ-MC500 produces wide-screen video that is every bit as sharp as its 4:3 video. Unfortunately, this high pixel count also results in inferior low-light performance. To get a reasonably bright image under less than ideal lighting, you have to set the camera to automatically boost the gain, which results in a grainy-looking, washed-out image.