The JVC Everio GZ-MG37 is JVC's midrange entry in its Everio line of hard disk camcorders. It boasts the same ability to store hours of video on its internal drive as the high-end Everio GZ-MG77, but unlike that model, it sports an impressive 32X zoom lens. The MG37's easy-to-use design, compact size, and bountiful storage would make this little camcorder quite appealing--if it didn't have to shoot video. Unfortunately, the GZ-MG37's image quality is universally bad, no matter what the shooting conditions, and all the bells and whistles in the world can't make up for that.
Design is the GZ-MG37's most impressive aspect. Its weighs less than a pound, and its tiny body is much smaller than most MiniDV and DVD camcorders. It won't slip into any pockets, but it's still comfortable to hold and carry around easily. Because there's no tape or CD to remove, the GZ-MG37 lends itself well to tripod shooting. Only the Secure Digital card slot is blocked by a tripod mount, and an SD card isn't even needed for still images.
The controls and design are identical to those of the high-end GZ-MG77. You command most functions via a small, awkwardly placed joystick on the left edge of the camcorder's flip-out, 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD panel. Menus are logically arranged, an improvement over the last-generation GZ-MG30, but with so many categories, you'll spend a lot of time navigating to adjust any one function. Worse yet, many of the function buttons sit on the body of the camera, uncomfortably far from the control stick.
The GZ-MG37 records video to an internal 30GB hard disk that can store more than 7 hours of footage at the highest quality or 37 hours at the lowest quality. You transfer video to a PC or Mac for editing and burning via a USB 2.0 cable. The camera records in standard MPEG-2 format and includes PowerDirector Express NE software for editing clips on your PC. You can use other MPEG-2-compatible software, though you'll probably have to rename the files from .mod to .mpg for many third-party programs to recognize the videos. You can also directly burn DVDs without a computer, using JVC's optional Everio Share Station DVD burner. Hard drives are less durable than DVDs or cassettes, but a shutdown feature that stops the hard drive in case of a drop provides the camcorder some protection.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG37 uses a 680,000-pixel CCD coupled with a 32X optical zoom lens. Like the GZ-MG77, the camcorder offers a limited variety of manual settings, including exposure, shutter speed, focus, and white balance. The camcorder also has four program autoexposure modes.
Unfortunately, its automatic functions are slow, occasionally delaying a few seconds before the camera adjusts focus and exposure. Optical image stabilization does a decent job up to about 10X zoom, but if you plan to use the full zoom range, you'll want to go with a tripod.
The camcorder's video quality would be considered bad for a budget camcorder--it's inexcusable for a camera this price range. Even under optimal shooting conditions, with recording in Ultra Fine quality, video is plagued by spatial artifacts such as stair-step edges, shimmering pixels, and color fringing, as well as temporal problems such as skipped frames, interframe glitches, and simply jerky video. Colors are oversaturated and poorly balanced, giving footage a cartoonish look.
Indoor and low-light videos are worse. Noise is pervasive, even in brightly lit rooms, and completely overwhelms the scene in dim light. Additionally, third-party programs didn't properly recognize recordings shot in 16:9 wide-screen, causing distortion until we used software to set the aspect ratio.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG37 is a great camera, in theory. Its tiny frame and loads of recording space make it seem really appealing on paper. Unfortunately, its terrible image quality undoes any benefits its features offer. If you'd dead-set on an Everio, spend the extra money on the JVC Everio GZ-MG77; its video quality is still disappointing, but it's nowhere near as bad as the MG37.