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Video Performance* (2.85)*
The JVC GZ-MG330 has a lot in common JVC's other entry-level standard definition camcorders. The sensor is a 1/6-inch CCD with a gross pixel count of 680,000. The effective pixel count is not listed, but it's a fair bet that it's also around 340,000. The lens has a 2.2mm - 77mm focal length and an aperture range of f/1.8 - f/4.0. It records video in the standard definition MPEG-2 format. For all intents and purposes, it is very much the same as what you'll find inside JVC's SD/SDHC card-only camcorder, the GZ-MS100.
Unsurprisingly, the video performance is very similar as well. With specs like that, these camcorders are fine for uploading quick and dirty video to YouTube, but the low quality becomes evident when you're viewing footage on a big screen TV or making DVDs for your friends. Of course, this is what we've come to expect from inexpensive standard definition camcorders. So, what really matters is how the MG330 stacks up to the competition.
We started testing by shooting our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux to simulate bright lighting conditions. We then examine the results on a full size monitor and compare this footage to the same testing results from similar camcorders. Under these more or less ideal conditions, the GZ-MG330 looked decent. The first thing you notice is the high color saturation. The greens, in particular, are very saturated. This is a common phenomenon in consumer camcorders these days, as people don't necessarily want accuracy as much as they want their grass to look green and their sky to look blue.
|The JVC GZ-MG330 at 3000 lux|
The fine details are, in fact, better than last year's JVC GZ-MG130 and it looks a little better than the standard def hard drive offering from Sony—the DCR-SR85. It doesn't quite match the apparent sharpness of the Canon FS100 or the Samsung SC-MX20. The oversaturation of the MG330 is about the same as what we saw on the standard definition Canon models, while the Sony and Samsung camcorders are more natural and muted. To the eye, we preferred the color of the Sony DCR-SR85, but it was much noisier and full of compression errors.
For clarity of image, the JVC performs admirably. It won't give you the sharpness of the Canon FS100, but there's remarkably little noise. The Samsung SC-MX20 has incredible sharpness, but also had a bit of trouble with compression artifacting (the chunky blocks of discoloration that appear at the edges of shapes).
|JVC GZ-MG330 at 3000 lux auto||Canon FS100 at 3000 lux auto|
|Sony DCR-SR85 at 3000 lux auto||Samsung SC-MX20 at 3000 lux auto|
Out of the lab, the GZ-MG330 performed well in most circumstances. Automatic adjustments weren't always up to the challenge of producing the best results (see Automatic Controls), but the manual controls worked well and made up for the deficiencies. Manual white balance, though not particularly intuitive to use, was critical in obtaining accurate colors in any kind of indoor lighting.
In a variety of bright indoor and outdoor settings, the camcorder produced good video for its price range. The compression artifacting was hard to miss and there was some purple fringing around bright white areas, but overall performance was good. After all, every standard definition camcorder we review looks sloppy compared to the more expensive high definition models that comes through our labs.
Video Resolution*** (3.66)*
To test video resolution, we shoot a DSC Labs resolution chart at an even, bright light, then play the footage on an external monitor. Resolution is measured in line widths per picture height (lw/ph). The JVC GZ-MG330 produced a maximum horizontal resolution of about 325 lw/ph and a vertical resolution of about 225 lw/ph. This is the same resolution we saw on the JVC GZ-MS100 and is slightly below average for a camcorder in this price range. The Sony DCR-SR85, in particular, proved to have good resolution: 350 lw/ph horizontal and 300 lw/ph vertical.
Low Light Performance*** (4.35)*
As with all camcorders that come through our labs, the JVC GZ-MG330 underwent a three-stage barrage of low light testing. For stage one, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux. We compared that footage to the video shot under the same conditions by similar camcorders.
At 60 lux, the GZ-MG330 performed surprisingly well. The camcorder retained a considerable amount of fine detail in areas of both high and low contrast. Colors look strong and accurate overall, despite some slight over saturation in the greens and blues. The GZ-MG330 is another poster child for JVC's much touted noise reduction systems—there is a pattern of graininess, but it's more subtle than what we've come to expect from other standard definition camcorders.
|The JVC GZ-MG330 at 60 lux with AGC off|
Compared to other camcorders in its class, the JVC GZ-MG330 gives an impressive performance in low light. Its biggest deficiency is in sharpness, where it appears to preserve a bit less detail than most of the competition. The Sony DCR-SR85, Samsung SC-MX20, and Canon FS100 all produce images that look sharper. The MG330, however, has a brighter overall image and bolder colors than any comparable camcorder. There's one downside to this brightness and bold saturation: the colors are sometimes oversaturated and less accurate than the competition. Some colors blend together or don't come out quite right. The Panasonic SDR-H60 is the one camcorder that seems to report the most accurate colors—purple actually appears purple, even at 60 lux.
Where this JVC excels the most is in producing a clear image. Large solid areas appear to have less noise than, for instance, the Sony DCR-SR85 or Panasonic SDR-H60. You also don't see the sort of compression errors that we found at the edges of some details in the Samsung SC-MX20. And you certainly don't have the huge patches of discoloration that plagued the Canon FS100. Part of this clarity may be a result of JVC's noise reduction system, but it's likely that some of the noise is smoothed over by the lack of sharpness.
It's also worth mentioning that JVC uses an automatic gain control feature (AGC) that can actually be turned on and off. You don't have any control over the gain level, but you can choose whether or not to allow the camcorder to increase the gain automatically. Most camcorders have the same kind of internal processing (improving low light performance by boosting gain), but they don't allow you to turn this feature on and off.
Since most camcorders boost gain in low light and since the factory default is to keep AGC turned on, we shot all of our low light testing with AGC turned on. We recommend you do the same. AGC increases noise slightly, but the JVC has a fairly clear image regardless. Without AGC, the image is just too dark to be useful.
|The JVC GZ-MG330, 60 lux auto with AGC turned off|
The JVC GZ-MG330 also offers shutter speed control, but when we dropped the shutter down to 1/30th, the colors were even more grossly saturated and the slightest movement resulted in significant blurring.
None but the highest-end camcorders produce particularly good video at 15 lux. The JVC GZ-MG330 is no exception. The image is dark, has lost a lot of fine detail, and is oversaturated in some areas and undersaturated in others.
|The JVC GZ-MG330 at 15 lux auto|
Compared to the competition, however, the MG330 is a standout. Thanks to the AGC, the image is actually quite bright—brighter than the comparable models from Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and Samsung. But it's also relatively noise-free. There's surprising clarity for an inexpensive, standard definition camcorder recording at just 15 lux. The Sony and Canon still look sharper, but sharpness won't do you much good if you can't see your subject.
With the AGC turned off at 15 lux, the image is almost black.
|The JVC GZ-MG330, 15 lux auto with AGC turned off|
For stage two of our low light testing, we shoot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then export frame grabs to Imatest imaging software. The Imatest analysis determines color accuracy, noise, and saturation. The color error was a disappointing 15.7—no doubt a product of the camcorder's tendency to oversaturate certain hues in the low light. While this result isn't as good as the JVC GZ-MS100's impressive 8.08, it is about average for camcorders in its class. (The Canon FS100's 13.2 is better, but not by much.)
The noise is a fairly low 1.11%, confirming what we saw with the naked eye: the MG330 produces a clearer image than camcorders from other manufacturers. Models from all four competitors performed with about 1.5% noise or higher. The JVC also has a much higher saturation than the competition; most standard definition camcorders produce approximately 60% saturation, but the JVC GZ-MG330 had 99.08% saturation. It's probably the result of that overactive auto gain and this accounts for some of the trouble with color accuracy, but most people will appreciate the final product.
The final stage of low light testing measures sensitivity. We shoot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at a slow, steadily decreasing light while watching the camcorder's output on a waveform monitor. The GZ-MG330 was able to produce 50 IRE at a minimum light level of 13 lux. The Canon FS100 and the Samsung SC-MX20 had about the same sensitivity, while the Sony DCR-SR85 and the Panasonic SDR-H60 had significantly worse results.
Overall, JVC seems to be leading the competition in low light performance this year—as far as traditional standard definition consumer camcorders are concerned. Both the JVC GZ-MS100 and the JVC GZ-MG330 produced bright, colorful video in low light conditions. The nearest competitor was probably the Canon FS100 and its sister models, which proved to have good results overall, but were plagued by loud blocks of noise discoloration. It's also worth noting that one of the best low light performers this year was actually the Pure Digital Flip Mino, an ultra-compact YouTube camcorder that had surprisingly bright and colorful low light performance. The overall video quality of the Mino can't match the MG330, but if you're looking for an inexpensive camcorder for chronicling your nightlife, the Flip might be a better choice.
The GZ-MG330 is equipped with Digital Image Stabilization (DIS)—the same type of system employed by JVC on the GZ-MS100. DIS stabilizes footage by creating a digital buffer around the frame while recording. This stabilization method is less expensive to implement than Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), but it sacrifices resolution along the surrounding borders of the image. DIS is not as effective as OIS, which physically isolates the lens element from the body of the camcorder.
We tested the GZ-MG330's DIS system using our custom-built shake emulator. Speed One simulates typical handheld shake, while Speed Two is more akin to a bumpy car ride. The MG330 displayed a low 60% shake reduction at Speed One and virtually no shake reduction at Speed Two. These are very different results from the GZ-MS100—perhaps because the added bulk of the hard drive on the MG330 reduced overall shake with or without DIS turned on. Even so, the DIS does have some effect; vertical movement was considerably reduced and even at Speed Two the image looked clearer, if not more stable.
By comparison, the Sony DCR-SR85 had impressive stabilization results—Sony seems like the go-to brand if you're particularly worried about shaky hands or bumpy car rides.
Wide Angle*** (11.2)*
We tested the GZ-MG330's maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser at both left and right angles. As always, the zoom was pulled back to the widest setting and DIS was disabled. Interpreting the footage on an external monitor,we found the MG330's maximum wide angle measurement to be 56 degrees. This is higher than most of the competition, which usually measure out to about 48 degrees.
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