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Relatively compact and weighing a little more than a pound, the JVC GR-D650 has a tall, thin design that fits comfortably in the hand and is compact enough to slip into a jacket pocket. The case is typical silver-and-gray plastic fare, with a solid design that feels like it should hold up well to everyday handling. Like most modern camcorders, the GR-D650 relegates the majority of its settings to menus, but you will find buttons for common functions, as well as a four-way directional pad that does double duty for menu navigation and quick access to settings such as backlight compensation. The GR-D650's menus are well organized and easy to navigate.
The 2.5-inch LCD is reasonably detailed for 4:3 shooting, but when shooting in 16:9 mode, a large black bar appears at the bottom of the screen. The resulting small wide-screen image lacks the necessary detail for precise operations such as manual focus.
Though the battery and the SD card slot are easily accessible when the camcorder is mounted on a tripod, the bottom-ejecting tape slot means tripod users will have to remove the GR-D650 in order to switch tapes. Battery life is decent at about 1.5 hours under typical shooting conditions.
The JVC GR-D650 features a 1.3-megapixel CCD and a 15X optical zoom lens. Along with a fully automatic shooting mode, the camcorder boasts manual and spot exposure, iris lock, manual focus, and adjustable shutter speed. There are four program autoexposure modes, as well as a few gimmicky digital effects and four built-in wipes. The GR-D650 provides a composite-video output but doesn't offer an S-Video output or a video input for transferring footage from analog sources.
For the most part, the GR-D650 is a responsive performer. Its digital image stabilization works well throughout the zoom range. Automatic exposure and white balance are fast and accurate, though autofocus can take a few seconds to lock during low-light shooting.
Image quality in brightly lit situations was very good in our 16:9 test footage, with nice detail and sharpness, accurate color reproduction, and little discernable noise or artifacts. When switching to 4:3 mode, color reproduction remained solid. However, image artifacts, mostly in the form of shimmering along straight edges, became much more noticeable.
In low light, image quality is better than that of many other cameras in the GR-D650's class, thanks to the camera's automatic gain control. This reduces noise significantly in low-light conditions, though it also causes color to lose saturation as well as a noticeable amount of detail. Still, the result is preferable to the grainy images offered by many competing camcorders. Close subjects can be lit by the camera's built-in video light. You can also sacrifice frame rate--and image stabilization--for increased color saturation using the Night-Alive mode.
In bright conditions, the camcorder's 1.2-megapixel stills show accurate color reproduction and enough detail for acceptable quality 4x6 printouts. However, shots in typical nighttime room lighting are extremely grainy.
This no-frills, easy-to-use MiniDV camcorder delivers solid video at a rock-bottom price. If you're looking for a good value on a tight budget, the JVC GR-D650 will do the job.