camcorders

JVC GZ-MG505 Camcorder Review

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Performance

Video Performance* (7.75)*

The JVC GZ-MG505 comes equipped with three 1/4.5" CCDs, each with 1.33 gross MP. In three-chip configurations, incoming light is split by prism into red, green, and blue channels, and each is assigned to its own CCD. In video mode on the GZ-MG505, this equates to 774,180 pixels per chip, or 2,322,540 pixels in total (2.3MP) for 16:9 images. In 4:3, the resolution is count is reduced to 2,073,600 (2.01MP), or 691,200 pixels per chip. The ability to create such a high resolution still is one of the GZ-MG505’s great strengths.

At 3000 lux, it looks very sharp – there is no doubt about that. These are the sharpest images we’ve seen in from an Everio. And the colors are blasting out of the screen like the rainbow is having a blowout sale. It’s pretty intense, even more so than the Sony DCR-DVD403, last year’s top-end Sony DVD camcorder. Another surprise, this one less pleasant, is that the whites are blowing out. You want your whites bright, but not this bright. Once a pixel blows out, the information is lost. In this case, we're talking about pretty much all the white areas.

So is this a good image? Well, neon colors can impress a video neophyte (who doesn’t like bright, shiny objects?), but the seasoned shooter knows that accurate colors are more important. You can always boost colors in post-production. Our guess is that JVC figures Everio shoppers are unlikely to perform advanced editing like color correction, so why not do it in-camera? This kind of thinking is fine, if you can control the saturation levels, but there are no tools to do so (tools you typically find in several Canon camcorders). You work with the video as is, unless you want to de-saturate the colors in post. In conclusion, the video looks good, but it’s not accurate.

By comparison, the JVC GZ-MG77, the next model down in the HDD Everio series, produced a stark image by comparison. Though the chip is larger (1/3.9"), there is only one, and the colors do not come close to the vivacity of the JVC GZ-MG505. I know that we just finished saying that the colors were too saturated in the MG505, but the MG77 is undeniably dull, a fact that we pointed out in that camcorder’s review. It also showed a tendency towards overexposure, though the whites did not register as blowing out. Another big difference between them is sharpness – the GZ-MG505 is clearly outperforming in that category.

Another big comparison is between the GZ-MG505 and the GZ-MC500, last year’s top Everio camcorder, which recorded to a MicroDrive instead of HDD. JVC has since abandoned the MicroDrive format, but the MC500 gave quite a show last year, winning Best Non-Tape Camcorder in our 2005 CamInfo Selects. The MC500 also had three CCDs, the same size and resolution as the GZ-MG505. We found the apparent sharpness to match up, but the color performance was different. Last year’s GZ-MC500 had more subtle colors, and did not blow out the whites. If the chips are the same for the GZ-MG505 than the processing has been tweaked.

Sony's first HDD camcorder of the year, the DCR-SR100, is in direct competition with the GZ-MG505. We loved the SR100’s incredibly crisp image and even color balance. To the eye, it seems that Sony’s 1/3" Advanced HAD CCD (the same one found on the DCR-DVD405) beats out the GZ-MG505 in both categories. Some people will likely prefer the stronger colors of the JVC, but we have to side with Sony on this one.

Finally, to broaden the field a little, let us consider the Panasonic VDR-D300, a three-CCD DVD camcorder, the top model in that product line. The VDR-D300 had incredible sharpness for a DVD camcorder, with a color performance very similar to that of the Sony DCR-SR100. The picture was not as bright as the JVC GZ-MG505, and there was a fine but undeniable fuzz of noise. But a less contrasty image – which helped keep the jaggies at bay – and more accurate colors put it in our favor. Again, some people will actively seek out a strongly saturated image, but we prefer accuracy.

Of course, the most interesting comparison of all will be with the forthcoming Sony HDR-SR1, a high definition HDD camcorder using the new AVCHD format. We haven't had a chance to test this camcorder yet, but at only $200 more (MSRP), the GZ-MG505 will have some killer competition in the market.

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Video Resolution* (15.6)*

We tested the JVC GZ-MG505 for the resolution of its video by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the camcorder produced 401.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 388.2 lines of vertical resolution (with an average clipping of 0.60%), yielding an approximate resolution of 155745.84. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 379.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 341.5 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 129496.8.

Clipping occurs when a percentage of the image cannot be read by Imatest, either because those pixels have blown out or bottomed out. In this case, about 0.60% of the pixels in the 4:3 vertical resolution had bottomed out (all channels read zero). This should not have made much of an impact on the accuracy of the scores.

{column='Video Resolution' models='JVC GZ-MG505,JVC GZ-MG77,JVC GZ-MC500,Sony DCR-SR100,Panasonic VDR-D300'}

**Low Light Performance ***(6.25)*

The JVC GZ-MG505 was tested for its low light performance by shooting in two light levels, 60 lux and 15 lux, which might be colloquially recognized as "room lit by a shaded table lamp" and "a little brighter than a cake full of birthday candles." Somewhere in between these levels, you typically see the fall-off point of most camcorders. CCDs do not see light like the human eye. They are far less sensitive, and require a good deal of electronic enhancement techniques to produce a decent picture.

At 60 lux, the GZ-MG505 yielded an outstanding color performance. While we knocked the oversaturation in bright light as being too far off the accuracy mark, in low light the enhanced colors pushed through the darkness to produce an exceedingly strong image. These are no more accurate than they were before, but color is often the first casualty of low light, and JVC clearly took steps to prevent that here. The result is a little color bleeding, but it’s worth the sacrifice for the color. Noise levels are definitely noticeable, but not overwhelming; they looked particularly strong in the greys and reds. The camcorder is equipped with the 3D Noise Reduction system, which JVC claims to decrease noise by 30%. It looked good, but 30% is probably a little high.

The JVC GZ-MG77 strongly contrasted with the MG505. Working with a single CCD, the MG77 had a mere fraction of the color. The whole image looked washed out and overexposed. The apparent sharpness was about the same, though. The 3-chip configuration of the MG505 certainly accounts for a portion of the improved color performance, though we believe that the way in which that information is getting processed and enhanced is also a major factor.

The JVC GZ-MC500, last year’s top of the line Everio, did not seem to process color the same way. The image is certainly bright, but it actually resembles the GZ-MG77 more. The colors are washed out – none of the saturation of the GZ-MG505. Though it has a similar three-CCD configuration, it does not seem to follow identical input or output methods. In layman’s terms, the GZ-MG505 looked better.

The Sony DCR-SR100 again produced a sharper looking image, and was great in 60 lux light. The color balance was slightly skewed to produce a strong yellows and weaker reds. Luminance, or brightness, was about the same between both camcorders. For what you lose in color strength with the DCR-SR100, you make up for with accuracy and strength. Sony wins by a nose.

The Panasonic VDR-D300, the 3-CCD DVD camcorder, was just too dark at 60 lux to keep up with this crowd. It was also fairly noisy.

The JVC GZ-MG505, like all the Everios, offers a few options to play with low light performance. The first is the Auto Gain Control (AGC), which can be turned on and off. Most consumer camcorders do not allow you to modify the gain at all; Panasonic does offer full manual control from 0dB to 18dB. The camcorder ships with the AGC defaulted on, with good cause. You want it on. But just in case you’re wondering, here’s the image with AGC off.

The camcorder also gives you manual shutter speed control. The default is 1/60th of a second. Anything slower than this and you start to see blurring when objects move. 1/30th gives more time for light to enter, and trailing shouldn’t be too bad. 1/15th looks great for completely still shots (including a still camcorder – use a tripod), but the trailing will become too much to ignore.

Then, as expected, somewhere on the way between 60 lux and 15 lux, the JVC GZ-MG505 hit its wall. The 15 lux image is too dark to use. You can make out shapes, but not much beyond that. Nearly all color information is lost. If the 3D Noise Reduction was at work, it was too hard to tell, as there was little brightness to make the noise stand out.

JVC GZ-MG505 at 15 lux with AGC off (above)

The GZ-MG77, which exposes higher, was brighter than the GZ-MG505, but was not really better. You could make out a little more fine detail in high contrast areas. This performance, too, was a wash.

The JVC GZ-MC500 was also brighter, and actually retained more color, but could hardly be considered a desirable image. Finally, the Panasonic VDR-D300 produced an image quite similar to the GZ-MG505. The noise was more pronounced here.

Overall, in moderately low light, the JVC GZ-MG505 will probably bowl you over with the strength of its colors, even if they aren’t completely accurate. But in very low light, it bites the dust just like every other camcorder.

Wide Angle* (8.4)*

The JVC GZ-M505 was tested for its wide angle field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios and produced results that show a notable gain in horizontal resolution in widescreen mode. When shooting in 4:3 aspect the camcorder had a 42 degree field. When shooting in 16:9 the GZ-MG505 had 53 degree field of vision, representing a gain of 11 degrees. There was also a good deal of cropping on the top and bottom of the frame when the camcorder was switched into 16:9 indicating that this camcorder utilizes a crop and zoom technique to achieve a widescreen aspect ratio.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the JVC GZ-MG505, take a look at these other camcorders.

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto/Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio/Playback/Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons/Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings