JVC Everio GZ-MS100 Camcorder Review
The JVC Everio GZ-MS100 ($349 MSRP) is the latest attempt by a camcorder manufacturer to hitch their wagon to the YouTube star. It\'s obvious that the future of video is online, as people across the generational and economic divide are accessing news, gossip, and family videos from YouTube, which is far and away the most popular online video host. The GZ-MS100 is not necessarily the simplest camcorder to facilitate videos bound for YouTube - the Flip camcorder and Sony\'s NSC-CG1 have already beaten JVC to the punch. In fact, our testing showed the GZ-MS100\'s YouTube prowess to be highly overrated. However, the MS100 is definitely the best stand-alone camcorder. The question is, if there are easier and cheaper plug-and-play YouTube camcorders, does the Everio GZ-MS100 justify itself as the best balance of performance, price, and compatibility?
Video Performance* (2.85)*
The JVC Everio GZ-MS100 is equipped with a lot of the same internal components that are in JVC's other entry- and mid-level Everio camcorders. Inside, you'll find a single 1/6-inch CCD with a gross pixel count of 680,000. The effective pixel count is not listed in the specs sheet, but it's safe to assume that it's a 340,000 count.
The GZ-MS100 records in standard definition MPEG-2 video, and with specs like those above, you can expect a decent image, but certainly not something you want to put on a big screen. If used as intended - for YouTube - that's absolutely fine. YouTube compression devastates most image quality anyway with its additional layer of super-heavy compression.
JVC GZ-MS100 3000 lux auto
We started testing by shooting our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux (bright light) and examining the results on a full-size monitor, then comparing the chart results from similar camcorders. Under these more or less ideal conditions, the GZ-MS100 looked decent. The first thing you notice is the high color saturation. The greens, in particular, are very saturated. Common (though not exclusive) to entry-level and low-end camcorders, colors are sometimes boosted to help you overlook an otherwise poor image. In this case, the image isn't that bad. The fine details are, in fact, better than last year's JVC GZ-MG130 (a hard drive camcorder), the Sony DCR-DVD108 (a DVD camcorder), and this year's Panasonic SDR-SW20 (a card-based camcorder). The Sony pushed the in-camera sharpening, which boosted the detail along high contrast areas and gave it the appearance of higher resolution, but it really didn't. The Sony produced the best looking color of the three.
Compared to the two primary YouTube-oriented competitors, the Flip Ultra and the Sony NSC-GC1, the JVC GZ-MS100 performed better. The image was sharper and the colors were more accurate. We must note that we did not perform full lab testing on the Sony CG1, but we did spend a fair bit of time with it at the camcorder's release event.
Out of the lab, the Everio GZ-MS100 performs well in most circumstances. As long as the lighting is good, the camcorder produces acceptable video for its price range. The compression artifacting is hard to miss - chunky blocks of discoloration in various areas of the screen. There is also a fair amount of purple fringing around bright white areas. In indoor shooting, beware of white balance issues. We found the camcorder incapable of producing a decent pallet under fluorescent lighting, and we tried setting the camcorder in both Auto white balance and the Fluorescent preset.
Overall, the Everio GZ-MS100 is a good performer for its class and price. It certainly doesn't stand out head and shoulders above the competition, but if used primarily as a camcorder for online video sharing sites, it will do the job well.
Video Resolution* (3.66)*
The video resolution of the JVC GZ-MS100 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs resolution chart at an even, bright light, then playing the footage back on a monitor to determine the approximate line widths per picture height (lw/ph). We found the camcorder capable of outputting a horizontal resolution of 325 lw/ph and a vertical resolution of 225 lw/ph. This is about average for a camcorder in this price range.
Low Light Performance* (5.6) *
The low light performance of the JVC Everio GZ-MS100 was tested in three stages. First, we shot our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared them against the other camcorders that underwent the same tests.
First, we should note that all JVCs offer a function called AGC, which stands for Auto Gain Control. This means you don't have direct control over the gain, but you can turn the auto gain on and off. The factory default is to leave this on, and we highly recommend you leave it that way. The small sensor in the GZ-MS100 needs all the help it can get.
JVC GZ-MS100 60 lux auto
At 60 lux, the GZ-MS100 performs surprisingly well (with the AGC on). The fine detail retention is quite good, and the colors remain strong. JVC has touted its noise reduction systems in the last few generations of camcorders, and its positive effects are seen here. There is a definite pattern of graininess, but it doesn't mask much of the fine detail. By comparison, the JVC GZ-MG130 looks similar, but not quite as sharp. The Sony DCR-DVD108 is slightly darker than the GZ-MS100, but the colors look more natural and pleasing. The Panasonic SDR-SW20 is darker, less sharp, and duller in color.
JVC GZ-MS100 60 lux with the AGC off
At 60 lux with the AGC off, much of the color is drained and there is some loss of fine detail.
The JVC GZ-MS100 also offers shutter speed control. When we dropped the shutter down to 1/30 at 60 lux, it actually had a negative effect on the image. The color saturation was pushed beyond the point of comfort.
JVC GZ-MS100 60 lux 1/30th shutter speed
At 15 lux, the JVC GZ-MS100 is not great, which is the de facto standard for anything but higher-end camcorders. The colors are still strong and there is some fine detail retained, but not much. The Sony DCR-DVD108 looks sharper but has dimmer colors. The Panasonic SDR-SW20 looks much worse.
JVC GZ-MS100 15 lux auto
With the AGC off at 15 lux, the image is almost black.
JVC GZ-MS100 15 lux with the AGC off
When we turned the AGC back on and lowered the shutter speed to 1/30, the image looks better. If you can deal with the motion lag, it may be a useful feature for low light shooting.
JVC GZ-MS100 15 lux 1/30th shutter speed
The second stage of our low light testing involves shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then exporting frame grabs to Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. At best, the JVC GZ-MS100 is able to produce a color error of 8.08. This is a better color accuracy than any of the camcorders we looked at for comparison - not too bad of a performance, all in all. The noise measures 0.9275 percent, which is much better than the Sony, a little better than the Panasonic, and the same as last year's JVC GZ-MG130. Finally, the saturation measures 95.47 percent. This is far brighter than the average camcorder. It seems to be a result of an overactive auto gain. The net effect is pretty good, however.
The third stage of the low light test involves shooting the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde at a slow, steadily decreasing light while watching a waveform monitor. When the camcorder produces a peak exposure output of 50 IRE, we take the light level of the lamp and factor it in as the camcorder's sensitivity. The GZ-MS100 is able to produce 50 IRE at a light level of 13 lux. This is a little better than the Sony DVD108 and Panasonic SW20, but a huge improvement over the last year's JVC GZ-MG130.
Overall, the JVC Everio GZ-MS100 turned in a surprisingly good performance in low light. The image has noticeable noise, but in moderately low light you will be able to see a fair amount of color and detail.
*The GZ-MS100 is equipped with Digital Image Stabilization (DIS), a form of image stabilization that creates a digital buffer around the recorded frame. This sacrifices resolution along the borders of the image and is not as effective as Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which physically isolates the lens element from the body of the camcorder.
We tested the GZ-MS100's DIS system using our custom-built camcorder shake emulator at two speeds: Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One simulates the typical handheld shake created from a stationary position. Speed Two is a bit more aggressive, more along the lines of a light jog or bumpy car ride with the camcorder. The GZ-MS100 displayed an impressive 95-percent shake reduction at Speed One and a miserable 11.1-percent shake reduction at Speed Two. The GZ-MS100's DIS simply cannot handle fast motion.
Wide Angle*** (11.2)
*We tested the GZ-MS100's maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser at both left and right angles. DIS was disabled, the camcorder was set to Manual mode, and the Zoom was pulled back to its widest setting. Video was later interpreted on an external monitor to attain a true reading. The GZ-MS100's maximum wide angle measurement proved to be 56 degrees, which is along the highest end of the spectrum.
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