The GZ-MC500 is one of the most advanced models in JVC's line of Everio cameras, which capture both MPEG-2 video and photos on a little hard drive or a flash memory card. What sets this camera apart from its lesser siblings is its three-chip imaging system. It uses the same three CCDs as the GR-X5, a larger but still very compact JVC model that records video on MiniDV cassettes. And while the JVC Everio GZ-MC500 certainly isn't the cheapest three-chipper, it is one of the smallest.
JVC includes a 4GB Microdrive with this Everio--enough to hold about an hour of highest-quality footage--and recording in MPEG-2 offers some very real benefits, including random access to your clips and easy downloads to a computer. But there are some drawbacks, too. Even though downloading video is easier, some popular video-editing applications still can't handle MPEG-2 footage as well as DV.
Probably more significant for this Everio's audience is the cost of the media. MiniDV tapes are cheap enough to serve as an archiving medium, but Microdrives and CompactFlash cards are clearly not. That means you'll have to develop the habit of continually emptying out the Microdrive by transferring its contents to a hard drive or a videotape for long-term storage. This may be particularly challenging if you're out in the field for any length of time--on a long vacation, say.
With the Everio GZ-MC500, JVC lives up to its reputation as an innovator. The camera is far from a bargain, but for those who want a hybrid camcorder incorporating the latest technology in an extremely compact package, it's a winner.
The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 is a very smartly designed little package. The black camera body consists of two parts: a handgrip section on the right and a lens section on the left, connected by a pivot. This design lets you tilt the lens up and down relative to the grip and the viewfinder, making it easy to accomplish high- and low-angle shots, at least for right-handed people.
The handgrip part of the camera sports an adjustable handstrap and opens to reveal a compartment shared by the Microdrive and an internally mounted battery. Because the battery charges in-camera, you'll have to purchase an optional accessory charger if you want to charge a second battery while shooting.
The rear of the handgrip wraps around the back of the camera and contains a 1.8-inch 130,000-pixel LCD, which is the only viewfinder. Most of the ports are located on the front of the handgrip, namely connections for power, headphones, and an A/V cable. Annoyingly, the headphone jack is an unconventional design that requires an adapter cable to connect standard headphones. There's no external microphone jack, which limits this camera's audio capabilities to what you can capture with the built-in mic.
A rubber lens hood clicks onto the front of the 10X zoom lens, which is protected by a conventional lens cap and surrounded by a standard focus ring--an excellent and increasingly rare control. Atop the lens side of the camera are a pop-up flash and a stereo mic, and at the bottom of the rear is the SD card slot. Finally, the camera's left side is adorned with a sliding power switch, a mode button surrounded by a program selector dial, a Focus Mode button, a tiny speaker, and a USB port.
In general, this camera's control layout makes sense. Since the body of the GZ-MC500 is so small, there's room for only a few external controls, and JVC has made the right choices regarding both the nature and the placement of these controls.
Less frequently used controls are relegated to the LCD menu system, which is about as straightforward and intuitive as possible. Although the menu navigation joystick is tiny, it proved surprisingly usable.
The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 uses three 1/4.5-inch, 1.33-megapixel CCDs to capture MPEG-2 video and JPEG stills, interpolating its photo output as high as 5 megapixels. Despite its three-chip design, which is most often reserved for larger, prosumer camcorders, this model's feature set is unapologetically geared toward the point-and-shoot crowd. It lets you select from a variety of automatic and semiautomatic shooting modes--including Twilight, Portrait, Sports, Snow, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority--and there's a foolproof fully automatic mode. This is also one of the few video cameras that can be used as a voice recorder.
If you are a manual control aficionado, this is not the camera for you. That said, this Everio does provide some flexibility to casual videographers who like the option of making manual adjustments even though they usually shoot on auto. You can shift autoexposure, select white balance, and use the backlight compensation button to quickly adapt to a backlit scene. In aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, you can adjust the iris and shutter speed, respectively. There's also a spot meter that you use by selecting a light-metering point with the minijoystick.
Two essential features included are a digital image stabilizer to take the shake out of handheld camerawork and a 16:9 mode, for display on wide-screen televisions. Unfortunately, only an anamorphically squeezed wide-screen mode is available, so the image appears vertically stretched on the viewfinder and on 4:3 televisions. One thing that's missing that we'd like to see is a Night mode with infrared illumination or at least a built-in LED.