The DV tape has been the recording format of choice in camcorders for the best part of a decade. But just as tape is fast disappearing from the living room, if not gone already, DV is now facing a number of usurpers. DVD-based camcorders from the likes of Sony and now Canon aim to provide a recording format you can just stick straight into your DVD player. But JVC has taken a different tack, and is backing hard disk technology instead with its Everio range.
The first few Everios were premium devices aimed at early adopters, with the GZ-MC500EK being a particularly accomplished example. But at over £700, the latter is never going to be a device to take on the mass market. So JVC launched the MG series, which doesn’t include any models as small and sexy as the MC500EK, but has other advantages. Apart from a more affordable price, the larger form factor has meant that the MGs can use a 1.8in hard disk instead of the Hitachi Microdrive of previous Everios. So larger capacities are available, with the GZ-MG50EK we looked at offering a commendable 30GB of storage.
Although MPEG-4 seems to be the MPEG flavour of the moment, and particularly the H.264 variant, the Everios opt for the more mature MPEG-2 instead. MPEG-4 might be capable of higher compression, but MPEG-2 is more readily compatible with DVD burning. With such a sizeable capacity, even at the top Ultra quality setting, the 30GB drive is large enough for over seven hours of video. This equates to a data rate of 8.9Mbits/sec, around that of a standard DVD. If you’re willing to sacrifice quality you can squeeze nearly 38 hours of footage inside at the lowest Economy setting, although this uses MPEG-1 and is only equivalent to VideoCD. Whichever setting you choose, though, you’re going to get a lot more shooting done than the 20-minutes or so DVD camcorders can record on a single disc.
For those who might be a little worried about carrying an active hard disk around, the MG Everios include an anti-shock system reminiscent of the one IBM ThinkPads are now famous for. As soon as high Gs are detected, the Everio instructs the hard disk to lift its heads and park them, ready for the expected impact. This vastly increases damage resistance should you accidentally drop the camcorder. But there are obviously times when high Gs don’t mean impending doom – for example on a roller coaster. So you can manually disable this feature, although you’ll have to remember to turn it back on again afterwards as this doesn’t happen automatically.
Other than the recording system, though, the MG50EK is a pretty standard camcorder. The video image is captured by a 1/4.5in CCD with 1.33 megapixels, and the lens is a high quality F1.2 model. In this respect, the MG50EK hits a sweet spot that the cheaper MG20 and MG30 don’t with their 1/6in CCDs. In our tests, picture quality with the latter two models was noticeably inferior, so it’s worth paying the extra for the MG50. But more on that later in this review.