Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
Gadgets have been getting smaller as they get better, and such is certainly the case with video cameras, whose heft has dropped dramatically over the years. But there's such a thing as TOO small, as I found with the powerful but pint-sized Everio GZ-MC500 from JVC.
This palm-snuggling unit, retailing for $1,799, performed admirably as a video camera but a little less so as a digital still camera.
The most convenient resting place for my thumb turned out to be the LCD screen, located smack in the rear of the camera. All that pressure and skin oil can't be good for the precious screen in the long run.
The back portion of the unit can pivot about 45 degrees, allowing the user to look down into the LCD while pointing the lens straight ahead. But my thumb still gravitated toward the screen.
JVC gets a design ding for that one but frankly the unit is so small there's nowhere else to put the LCD.
Enough about controls; let's talk image quality.
The video footage and digital stills are stored on a nice 4-gigabyte Microdrive memory card that comes with the unit. There's even a second onboard slot for a SecureDigital flash memory card that can be bought separately.
I tested the unit in several lighting conditions, indoors and outdoors.
For video, the Everio GZ-MC500 has it in spades. The unit employs 3CCD technology for image capture. For the uninitiated, CCD is short for charge coupled device, a type of electronic sensor that can gather optical information. Three CCDs, one each to gather red, green and blue image information, usually means superb video footage quality.
Indeed video was amazingly sharp.
The unit also boasts a respectable and buttery smooth 10x optical zoom, and I was also surprised at how stable the footage was, considering the small stature of the unit. Handheld operation can get shaky, but JVC's onboard digital image stabilization worked well to steady the footage.
After importing the video files from the Microdrive card to my PC (most inexpensive CompactFlash card readers will do) it was easy to trim the clips with the video-editing software that came with the unit and burn the final product to DVD. Viewed on a television, the footage was crystal clear.
I'm a bit of an audio quality freak, and the JVC unit really excelled there. There is little if any discernible operating noise from the unit while recording, even while zooming the lens. Voices and ambient noise all enjoyed stunning clarity. This is simply the best audio I've heard from units in the sub-$2,000 range.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the unit's photograph capabilities came up a bit short.
The Everio GZ-MC500 is promoted as a 5-megapixel-class digital still camera. The key word here is "class," and further explanation from JVC shows it's really talking about "pixel-shift technology" that purports to deliver what the user would get with a true 5-megapixel camera.
The photos I took in automatic and manual modes weren't even as good as hundreds of photos I've taken with my trusty Canon S400 4-megapixel camera.
It still holds true that a dedicated camera for still images usually beats the pants off any hybrid operation.
The battery life also came up a bit short in the performance department. You'll get about an hour of continuous record time on one charge, although you can record two hours or more of video footage onto the memory card in "normal" and "economy" mode settings. That's like eight hot dogs and four hot dog buns. Both quandaries will ruin a picnic.
That said, the top-notch 3CCD technology combined with flash memory video storage in this small form should not be overlooked if you're in the market for something that captures brilliant, vivid video footage.
By RON HARRIS