"JVC Everio GZ-MG330"4.5 starson by mkochmo
Pros: Size, features, DVD burning ability, image quality/performance, zoom, hard rive format, cost
Cons: Could use better low-light optics, 1MPCCD or better
Summary: I did 2+ months of research before finally buying a hard-drive camcorder, and I was dismayed by many of the reviews -some perfect scores, some zero's, on the same camcorder. Quickly figured out the professional-level and amateur are both reviewing these things, with very differnt viewpoints and needs. Hopefully this review will help all of you!
I have owned 4 higher-end camcorders for the past 10 years - those that the "normal" consumer (family) would buy for use, without having to pay $1000 or more (all of mine were $600 or less). I am NOT a professional photographer, but rather a very avid/busy photographer interested in capturing family experiences - concerts, sporting events, graduations, vacations, pets, grandparents, family times, etc - what 95% of us use camcorders for. All the previous camcorders I have owned have been 1MP or better CCDs to provide the best video possible for the "normal" user, without paying more than $600 for any one of them. I have historically only owned Canon and JVC camcorders, and recommend both lines.
All previous camcorders were mini-DV tape format - I just recently had 100+ tapes converted to all DVDs - very nice if you have not done so yet. It will cost you about $11-13 per DVD (2 hours of video) to get yours professionally transferred, with menus, etc. Well worth the $$. I just resold my previous Canon Elura70 1.3MP camcorder, which served me well for 3+ years. I wanted to move to the "future" and go with either a DVD, HD, or flash-drive, or combo. Something that would allow me to better archive and copy my footage myself (DVDs, etc).
After 2+ months of reviewing, I was all but sold on the Canon HG-10 - high-def, multi-MP camcorder, with a hard drive. Reviews were very strong. But I liked the size/features of the JVC. The HG-10 looked unbeatable. Then I went to a store and compared them side-by-side, and was pleasantly surprised by the JVC performance and feel (in the store) and by the notable size difference (HG-10 about twice the size). I decided to take a chance on the JVC, even though it was not high-def, 1+MP CCD resolution, etc.
For the above explained purposes, this camcorder is, hands down, THE BEST VALUE and size and features and results that the "normal" user can ask for, at this price. The size is phenominally small, the features, ergonomics, and usage are near perfect, and the video quality is excellent to very good under most instances. I have now used this to film outdoors, indoors, and what I consider a VERY difficult scenario - a high school concert, dimly lit in a big auditoruim, with bright backlighting behind the performers, and from a distance of several hundred feet, zooming in 20x or more to see a full face image (my 16-year old) in the screen. Under this very difficult scenario, and viewing the video on my 52-inch 1080P Samsung (a VERY unforgiving LCD TV for less-than high-def images - remember the larger the playback monitor, the harder it is on video as it will show every imperfection in the signal/images), the video was EXCELLENT up to a zoom length of about 22x. After 22x zoom (which is pretty darn far), the image got somewhat grainy on the 52" TV. Images at less than 22x zoomed, on my huge TV, looked phenominal under these poor image filming conditions. This is impressive, if you consider the zoom ratio (and hand-held!), and then played back on a hi-res 52" monitor!!! When viewed on a smaller 20" TV or my 17" computer monitor, the zoomed video looked flawless in these dim conditions up to the full 35x optical zoom - I was impressed, and sold on keeping the camcorder. The digital image stabilizer works well once zoomed to where you are going, but a bit jittery while zooming - I did the above hand-held resting my elbow on the seat armrest only, and had NO jitters in the image once zoomed in or out. I was blown away by the quality of this less-than 1MP, less-than-Hi-def CCD sensor even given the tough situation/playback described above - BUY THIS CAMCORDER!!!!
All other videos I took under normal lighting - in the house during the day, outside, etc. were flawless when viewed on my 52" TV.
There is an Auto mode (everything done for you), and a Manual mode, where you can adjust the most common settings (white balance, shutter speed, "scenes" or enhancements to the video, etc.) I tried both, and for most of what I will ever do (and have done for 12+ years), Auto is all you need.
The laser-touch slide bar for menu access is intuitively genious, and easy to use. Menu's are simple and understandable, the users guide is brief and informative, and within 15 minutes, I understood every feature of this machine. Battery usage has been reported less than great, but I get a full 90-100 minutes from the standard battery - just buy another one for a spare. And the on-screen battery life sensor (minutes remaining) is way cool with JVC batteries.
Burning DVD is SIMPLE, and connectivity is SIMPLE on this camcorder. I was able to burn and copy a DVD with the push of 1 button when connected to my desktop that has a DVD burner. Very simple to use. I am 100% sold on this camcorder for what I (and most people) will ever use it for.
I cannot underscore the simplicity of usage. That, on top of the image quality, sold me.
For stills, don't even bother using this - I did not even try (seriously), and never will. If you are a true photographer, even amateur, spend $150 and get a 6+MP digital Canon camera or similar, fits in your shirt pocket, and KEEP STILLS SEPARATE FROM VIDEOS!! I have had 2MP CCD video camcorders in the past that took terrible stills, so why bother???? THIS IS A VIDEO CAMERA!! I would love to see manfacturers stop trying to combine both into 1 package.
If you are a high-end videographer, you need to skip this (why are you even considering a camcorder for under $500????), buy at least the Canon HG-10 (which is wonderful except a clunk in size compared to the JVC), or go for an even better camcorder and spend an extra $500 doing so. For the price, this is more than 99% of what the normal users will ever need and expect for under $600. Period.
My only reccomendation to JVC - consider upgrading the CCD to a true 1MP or better, for enhanced low-light video imagery. This is a wish list only item, as the images are pretty darn good as-is, and the larger f1.2 lens and 1+MP CCD that would be required for that will defeat the size/form factor that you get with the 330.
Bottom line - best darn harddrive based mini-camcorder out there at close to this price - BUY IT!! (and you can choose any of the cool colors - a WOW factor to say the least). And, if you buy from a reuptable dealer, you'll have 15-30 days to test it like I did, and not worry about having to return it. If that happens, nothing lost, just get the HG-10 or better!!