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; while the Everio GZ-MG27 may seem like a nifty camcorder, its video quality and design leave a lot to be desired.
The first thing you'll notice about the JVC Everio GZ-MG27 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-MG27 just doesn't feel right in large hands. If you have tiny mitts, though, this camcorder will probably fit just right.
Even with its tiny size, the GZ-MG27 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.
Despite its design flaws, the JVC GZ-MG27 has some decent features. Its onboard 20GB hard drive can record as much as 25 hours of video at the lowest quality or 4.5 hours of video at the highest setting. Its 680,000-pixel CCD works with an image-stabilized 32X optical zoom lens. The 2.5-inch LCD is nice and bright, though it tends to wash out colors.
Once you record video to the camcorder's hard drive, you can transfer it to a computer via a USB 2.0 connection. The video uses standard MPEG-2 encoding format, although you'll have to rename the .mod file extensions to .mpg so that many players will recognize them. Alternatively, you can connect it to the JVC Everio Share Station to automatically burn DVDs directly from the camcorder.
The GZ-MG27 can take both standard 4:3 and wide-screen 16:9 video, although its LCD is designed specifically for wide-screen. If you want to save a little money and don't plan to shoot 16:9, the less expensive but almost identical JVC Everio GZ-MG21, has a standard 4:3 LCD. Regardless of your preferred aspect ratio, you're stuck with the LCD to frame your shot; neither the MG21 nor the GZ-MG27 have an eye-level viewfinder.
While the GZ-MG27 has image stabilization for its 32X zoom lens, it doesn't work very well. Even at a modest zoom level, the slightest shakes and bumps still show up in video. Unless you use a tripod, zoomed-in video can be effectively unwatchable. Ultimately, poor video quality really kills the GZ-MG27. Movement tears constantly through video, and it's hard to find a few seconds where jagged bars don't show up onscreen. Watching video from the GZ-MG27 is like watching the world through Max Headroom's eyes.
Color reproduction is decent in sunlight, but indoor videos tend to be washed out. The camera's gain-up/night functions can boost the image in low light, but they're essentially slow-shutter modes, which further blur an already mediocre picture. The GZ-MG27 has an onboard video light, but like most of its species, it's effective out to only a few feet.
On paper, the JVC Everio GZ-MG27 looks like a great camcorder: a small video camera with a strong zoom lens and a big hard drive for taking lots of video without swapping media. Unfortunately, its awkward control scheme and terrible video quality make this a camcorder to avoid.