Hard drive camcorders seem like a great idea. A tiny hard drive in a small camcorder case can record hours upon hours of video without having to switch out a tape or a DVD. Unfortunately, JVC's execution falls short; just like its nearly identical sibling, the JVC Everio GZ-MG27, the Everio GZ-MG21 may seem like a nifty camcorder, but its video quality and design leave a lot to be desired.
The first thing you'll notice about the JVC Everio GZ-MG21 is that it's small--really small, about the size of a large fist. It's light, too, weighing less than 14 ounces with its battery. We like tiny devices, but the GZ-MG21 just doesn't feel comfortable in large hands. If you have tiny mitts, though, this camcorder will probably fit just right.
Even with its small size, the GZ-MG21 is built like most consumer camcorders: a strap handle on the right side, a flip-out LCD on the left side, the battery pack in the back. The bottom side of the camera holds a tripod mount and a Secure Digital card slot. Since the camcorder uses a hard drive rather than tapes or DVDs, the entire case is solid, with no pop-out door for video media as in most camcorders.
I found the control layout simple, direct--and awkward. With the screen closed and the camcorder strapped to your right hand, only three switches are available. The record button rests under the right thumb, the zoom rocker rests under the right forefinger, and the mode slider sits just above the flip-out LCD.
The real frustration begins as soon as the LCD flips open. A control stick and the quality/battery button sit on the left side of the screen, while the photo/video toggle and the menu, info/light, auto, and trash buttons sit on the camera body, beneath the LCD's inset. The buttons on the camera body are so recessed and awkwardly placed that your thumb will develop arthritis long before it actually hits the menu button. Since the control stick is on the other side of the LCD, your left hand has to dance between the display and the body to navigate the menus and change settings. If JVC had simply switched the menu button on the body with the nearly pointless quality/battery button under the control stick, the camcorder would have been a lot easier to operate.