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Standard-definition camcorders tend to have relatively low-resolution image sensors, but JVC bucks that trend with its top-of-the-line Everio G-series hybrid hard-drive/flash-memory camcorder, the GZ-MG730. Instead of a more typical 1-megapixel or 680,000-pixel sensor, the MG730 uses a 7-megapixel model with the goal of giving consumers a combination camcorder and a still camera in a single body. The MG730 succeeds to a limited extent, but unfortunately suffers from the same problems as many of its standard-def competitors, like the Sony Handycam DCR-SR85 : it delivers merely average video quality with a price tag that's too close to last year's still excellent, but only a bit more expensive, HD models, such as the Canon HG10.
With a design closely matching the rest of the Everio G series camcorders, the MG730 is a coat-pocket-size 2.8 inches wide by 2.7 inches high by 4.7 inches deep; that's only slightly larger than JVC's Everio GZ-MS100 microSD card-based camcorder. That's impressive considering it has a 30GB hard drive as well as a microSD slot for storing both video and still images. It weighs 12.8 ounces with its 1460mAh battery that's rated for up to 2.5 hours of recording (it averaged closer to 2 hours in my testing).
The main controls are well placed. A thumb-reachable dial surrounding the record button on back changes modes, which include six scene options, Auto, Manual (Program AE), and Shutter and Aperture Priority--all of them work for both video and still images. The battery takes up most of the rest of the back, though above it is a switch for changing from video to still shooting. On top are the zoom rocker and a snapshot button. You cannot take stills while shooting video. Notably missing are external mic and headphone jacks.
Flip open the 2.7-inch LCD to access buttons on the body for jumping from record to playback, turning on the built-in neutral-density filter (which decreases light transmission to allow for slower shutter speeds in bright light), a power button, and Direct DVD and Direct Back Up buttons. You can also set the MG730 to power on when the LCD is opened.
Then there are the Laser Touch controls, a touch-sensitive strip down the left side of the LCD that sort of takes the place of a joystick or directional pad. However, those generally have five directions used for selecting things. The strip, while responsive and pretty for adjusting focus, exposure, and shutter speed--it lights up a brilliant blue when it's stroked--only handles vertical scrolling.
Below the display are five Laser Touch buttons: OK/display, three that are context-sensitive, and Menu. I'm sure after a couple months of use, you'll have no problem remembering to go from Menu to OK to scrolling to OK to scrolling to OK to scrolling and to OK one last time, but for me it seemed like a lot of jumping around to change the white balance setting. Aside from all the menu digging, the Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes are definitely a plus for the MG730, especially considering its increased photo abilities.
The MG730 records video in MPEG-2 and still images in JPEG. The Ultra Fine video setting comes in at 8.5Mbps, providing a little more than 7 hours of storage. Honestly, it's the only setting you'd want to use with the MG730, but there are three more options going down to Eco at 1.5Mbps for 37 hours and 30 minutes of recording time. Stills are 7 megapixels.
Overall, video quality looks good for standard definition in the MG730's class. Colors were pleasing with acceptable white balance in natural light. Indoors, the auto white balance turns overly warm, and like many camcorders it lacks incandescent or fluorescent presets. You can set manual white balance for better results. It did deliver better low-light quality than expected, but is slow to focus. Since it lacks optical image stabilization, extending out to 10x may result in a shaky mess without a tripod. The zoom rocker itself tends toward touchy, but with some practice can be steadily controlled. The package includes a remote control and docking station, making it easy to watch video on your TV or computer.
We usually say you're just as well off using a camera phone as a camcorder for stills. But the MG730 fares better than most camcorders, at least in well-lit conditions; the photos have some artifacts, look a bit oversharpened, and the colors are a bit off, but the exposures are good and they're high-enough resolution to be useful. But under cloudy skies or indoors quality degrades, increasing noise and losing detail, relegating your results to Web use at small sizes.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG730 disappoints primarily because it's overpriced, though its quality fares well compared with standard-def models like the SR85. Like that model, it also costs almost as much as better-performing HD models.