JVC GZ-MG37 Camcorder Review
The JVC GZ-MG37 has made no improvements from last year’s MG30 specs – a 1/6" CCD with 680K gross pixel count. The camcorder shoots in four image qualities; the highest, Ultra, records at a variable bit rate with a maximum of 8.5 Mbps (quality vs. bit rates are discussed in more detail in the Compression section below).
At 3000 lux, the MG37 proved to be just as bad as its last incarnation. We dug in fairly hard against the MG30 for the simple fact that an $800 camcorder should not have such terrible picture quality. We hate to hammer the point too much further, but the MG37 shows all the same problems, and we have all the same complaints.
Actually, it’s not the same problems exactly. The focus and blue noise issues of last year have been replaced by color fringing and patterned noise issues. Even a casual glance at the MG37’s chart is enough to notice the fringing. The MG37 has a very hard time preventing the red pixels from flaring up along the contrasty areas of the yellow, magenta, and blue portions of the spectrum.
The sharpness has improved, but it has come at the cost of a lot of noise. The noise is not limited to a fine grain, and it appears as groupings of horizontal lines, almost like stretch marks, across all portions of the image. Last year, the same noise issues were limited to areas of darkness and areas of high contrast.
*A 200% close up shows the fringing along the high contrast lines more clearly. *
One problem that has not been resolved at all is the Moiré patterns, evident in the trumpets outside of the color tiles. Moiré occurs when scene detail is too fine for the imager to handle. In this case, it caused some distracting yellow color to appear in what should be a grayscale area. Last year the problem looked even worse, with green and blue tones appearing. But the problem has still not been solved and points to some serious internal flaws for a camcorder this expensive.
Finally, the colors look unhealthy, with too much saturation and not enough color balance. It made for some vivid, though inaccurate, colors.
By comparison, the Sony DCR-HC26 MiniDV camcorder, which has the same size imager, produced an image that was not as sharp and with a lot of noise problems, but avoided the fringing and Moiré. That camcorder only sells for an MSRP of $350. The top of the line MiniDV from Sony, the HC96, has the same $800 price point as the MG37. Its 1/3" imager produced an image far, far superior.
The Panasonic VDR-D100, a DVD camcorder, has similar specs to the MG37 and sells for about $300 less. It too had noise problems, but the color balance was much better. It did not have the neon appearance in the reds, magentas, and greens that the MG37 has.
Panasonic also produces a hard disk drive camcorder, the SDR-S100, with the same size imager. This camcorder produced a very sharp looking picture. The colors were also over saturated, but balanced better overall.
In short, you’d really have to like the convenience aspect of this camcorder over its image quality, because the picture does not match the price point by any stretch.
The JVC GZ-MG37’s video was tested for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that video through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the GZ-MG37 produced 358.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 308.6 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 110663.96. In 16:9, the GZ-MG37 produced 430.0 lines of horizontal resolution and 276.7 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 118981.0.
Low Light Performance*(1.75)*
The JVC GZ-MG37, like most JVC camcorders, has a feature called Automatic Gain Control (AGC). This is not a special feature in itself; all camcorders have some sort of automatic gain. What distinguishes JVC cams is their ability to operate with the AGC disengaged. While you would be unwise to disengage it, this sort of control is appreciated, and could come in handy. The AGC is turned on by default when you take the camcorder out of the box, and we score the camcorder’s low light performance based on the images with the AGC on.
At 60 lux, the GZ-MG37 lost a great deal of sharpness and resolution and gained a good deal of noise in the process. The fringing that occurred at 3000 lux darkened from a reddish tone to a blackish one, and spread to new parts of the image. Blue noise spread throughout the picture as well.
The 60 lux image with the AGC off demonstrates the power of the auto gain to shape the image. Obviously, the picture with the AGC on is brighter, but the patterns of the noise change as well. With AGC off, the picture has the same horizontal striations of noise. With AGC on, the noise become more of a general fuzz across the image.
By comparison, the low light images from last year’s MG30 were blurrier, but the amount of color and luminosity were about the same. The Sony DCR-HC26 had darker noise, but less patterned and less distracting. The HC26 was also sharper.
The Sony HC96 was much brighter and richer in color tone, thanks in large part to its 1/3" sensor, which has more room to capture light. The Panasonic VDR-D100 retained much more color, and its auto gain control seemed to boost saturation without costing too much in the way of sharpness. Finally, the Panasonic SDR-S100 showed better colors and less noise.
At 15 lux, the noise went through the roof on the GZ-MG37, though the AGC was able to scrape some color information together from what is, we grant, a very low light level for a camcorder to be performing at. As you can see from the image beneath it, one cannot even make out the label at 15 lux with the AGC off.
JVC GZ-MG37 at 15 lux with the Auto Gain Control (AGC) off
The MG30 was largely the same, though again, not quite as sharp or in focus. The Sony HC26 had even less color information, though the image was brighter. The HC96, on the other hand, was still able to produce some fairly bold colors, though the saturations levels were obviously pushing their capacity. The Panasonic D100 had a fierce torrent of noise but was brighter than the MG37. The Panasonic SDR-S100 had an almost identical image to the MG37.
In summary, the MG37’s low light performance is par to slightly below par for a camcorder with a 1/6" chip. It doesn’t help that the image wasn’t that good in bright light to begin with.
Wide Angle* (9.4)*
The JVC GZ-MG37 was tested for its wide angle field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios and produced quite impressive results that should appeal to the consumer who is looking to shoot footage in both formats. When shooting in 4:3 aspect the camcorder had a 47 degree field, which is fairly standard. When shooting in 16:9 the GZ-MG37 had an impressive 55 degree field of vision, which will definitely provide a noticeably different frame. There was a slight amount of cropping on the top and bottom of the frame when the camcorder was switched into 16:9.
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