If a picture tells a thousand words, I'd hate to be given the job of counting how many words a good quality video tells!
I got this product nearly 3 years ago now but its been a very good camcorder and lasted well. I still don't feel inclined to replace it for a while, despite the recent emergence of cheaper HD cameras.
At the time I could have stretched to get a HD camcorder, but decided against it as they were still in early days at the time and the footage was difficult to edit afterwards. Even now it seems a bit pointless, as Blu-Ray burners are prohibitively expensive and the sharing format of choice for most is still DVD, so a good standard definition camera isn't obsolete just yet. The only place where homemade high-definition movies are really starting to catch on is with Youtube, but again a standard definition footage from a good camera is still welcomed.
And this is what this camcorder does very well. Footage from all kinds of lighting conditions is of very good quality and looks very crisp and smooth when put on DVD. I've filmed all sorts on this, from live concerts and loud band practises to holiday videos and family moments, and each time its captured them as well as I could have asked from a cheap consumer-level camcorder.
The hard-drive is plenty large-enough to allow for hours of high quality footage without having to worry about running out or switching to a more compressed, lower quality mode. No more worrying about tapes... just open the viewfinder screen when you want to film, the camera turns on automatically when you do so, and you can hit record and film away. It does take a few seconds to turn on which does mean you can sometimes miss the moment or opportunity, but the same applies to any camera.
On manual mode, several different parameters can be played with which makes it easier to set it up correctly when the automatic mode doesn't quite get it right, i.e. in some low-light situations. The manual white-balance is also quite handy as you can calibrate it against a white piece of paper and instantly make the colours look more true to how they are under the current lighting.
The camera itself is reasonably compact and fits snugly in the palm of my hand (though I do have quite large hands) and fits in a case along with a spare battery and charger to give a total complete "travelling package" that's smaller than my previous camcorder was alone!
The battery life isn't great, which isn't helped by the fact that you cannot turn off or close the LCD screen whilst filming (as there isn't another viewfinder, and closing the screen stops filming and turns the camera off), but two fully-charged batteries (lasting around 50 minutes each) easily saw me a day of sightseeing.
The cost of the second battery was quite high - about £50 - but I don't know what I would have done without it. You're limited to genuine JVC-only batteries by special chips in the batteries, something I was caught out by when I tried to use a cheaper imitation battery (that did claim to work with these models, but as it turned out it didn't!).
Footage is transferred onto the computer using a standard USB cable and the camera appears as a universal mass storage device from which the video files can simply be copied and pasted to a suitable location on your computer. The files aren't named particularly well (if you sort them by name, they don't come out in chronological order) so its a good idea to have your files sorted by 'Date Modified' in order organise them and pick particular clips out.
The files have the extension .MOD which throws many people at first, but don't be put off by the apparently proprietary file-type... these are standard MPEG-2 files which can be dropped into most video editors (though some won't accept them until you've renamed them .MPG).
One thing to watch out for is that they are interlaced upper-field-first, as opposed to the DVD standard of lower-field-first, so watch out for this and read up a bit more on interlacing if you don't know what this means. Dealing with this correctly can make the difference between a horrible, jerky video filled with horizontal lines and a nice, smooth, clear video!
The one issue I've encountered is that the camera doesn't seem to like being exposed to very loud noise or excessive bass, presumably due to the operation of the hard-drive and some of the anti-drop / protection mechanisms employed to look after it. Often it will cut out whilst filming a loud music performance and throw up an error that requires it to do a minute or two of drive checking before it will let you continue filming. This also seems to happen more often if its screwed tightly into a tripod rather than being handheld.
As for the sound quality... for gigs that I'm running sound for, I often multitrack record it using my portable recording rig and then sync up the audio with the video afterwards so I don't actually use the camcorder's microphone, but for other videos I've done the sound quality has been more than adequate for picking up speech well, etc.
I haven't used the photo mode enough to be able to comment in any detail on it. The photos are better than most I've seen from a camcorder, but certainly nothing to rave about. Handy if you find yourself without a camera, but I put a 512mb SD card in it when I got the camera thinking I would use it a fair bit and only ever took about 25 picture onto it.
So all in all its been a good, nifty little camera and travelling companion (its been all over the world with me!) and I'll definitely be looking at one of the newer JVC camcorders when it finally comes to replacing it. Whilst being a few years old, its still a great camera in its own right and they can be found really cheaply now.
The GZ-MG505EK is a hard disk camcorder equipped with 30GB hard disk drive, advanced photo features, Mic input, DVD creation via USB connection without a PC and full wide 16: 9 recording with widescreen LCD.