camcorders

JVC GZ-MG77 Camcorder Review

August 07, 2006
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Performance

Video Performance* (5.85)*

The JVC Everio GZ-MG77 features a 1/3.9" CCD (2.18 gross MP), which is considerably larger than the 1/6" 680K CCD in the GZ-MG37. This upgrade should increase all around performance: from bright light video to low light video to still performance. Even though, the MPEG-2 compression will most likely bar this model from matching the quality of equally priced MiniDV camcorders, we’ll try to keep an open mind.

At 3000 lux, the GZ-MG77 showed a surprisingly *near-*adequate image. In other words, it isn’t as bad as we expected, especially given the poor standing of previous Everios. On the positive side, the image is bright, with bold colors that have no trouble popping out and differentiating themselves. The camcorder also managed to capture a good amount of fine detail, no doubt thanks to a higher pixel count than the lower-end Everios have.

On the downside… well, there are a few considerable downsides. For some reason, most of the Everios tend to expose much brighter than most camcorders. (In all of our testing, we shoot camcorders in their automatic modes as a standardization method.) The results are mixed: this helps colors appear stronger, but it also pushes the whites towards the blow-out range and truncates dynamic range in the darker regions. A correctly-exposed image with a slightly darker image overall would be much preferable.

Last year’s GZ-MG70, which has a slightly larger 1/3.4" CCD but fewer pixels (2.12 gross MP), also produced a slightly over-exposed image. It did not, however, show quite the same color strength, leading us to believe that the GZ-MG77 is also boosting some saturation levels. These are definite signs of improvement from last year.

This year’s GZ-MG37, the next model down, showed an abysmal color performance. Colors were pale and washed out across the spectrum. There was also a reddish hue to the grey and whites that we didn’t like. To top it all off, the picture was covered in a thin layer of fine grain noise, which we did not find with the GZ-MG77.

The DCR-SR100, Sony’s first HDD camcorder (though they have recently announced plans to release a high definition update to the DCR-SR100 this fall), runs for a few hundred dollars more than the GZ-MG77. The image quality indicates that this is money well spent. The picture is much, much sharper, with a vastly superior color performance. Fine detail capture is excellent. This is a great image all around.

Finally, we wanted to hold the GZ-MG77 up against a comparatively-priced DVD camcorder with a similar MPEG-2 compression. The Canon DC40, that company’s top-end DVD camcorder, had a darker image overall, with bold, saturated colors, particularly in the green areas of the spectrum. The camcorder had a little trouble reporting some fine details, but that seems to be caused more by a function of compression (where the image got "chunky") than imager resolution.

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Video Resolution* (12.9)*

We tested the GZ-MG77’s video resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running those stills through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 352.0 lines of horizontal resolution and 366.5 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 129008.0. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 369.0 lines of horizontal resolution and 295.7, yielding an approximate resolution of 109113.3.

This score is commensurate with other camcorders in its price range. This is about on par with most camcorders in its price class. You should consider, however, that resolution is only portion of a camcorder's overall performance.

{column='Video Resolution' models='JVC GZ-MG77,JVC GZ-MG70,JVC GZ-MG37,Sony DCR-SR100,Canon DC40'}

**Low Light Performance ***(4.25)*

We tested the GZ-MG77 at two levels of low light, 60 lux and 15 lux, in order to determine its low light capabilities. Generally, the larger an imager a camcorder has, the better its low light performance should be. Of course, there are extenuating factors, but this is a good rule of thumb when you’re shopping. The GZ-MG77 has a 1/3.9" CCD, which is on the large size. Entry level camcorders typically have 1/6" chips, and prosumer camcorders have one to three 1/3" chips.

At 60 lux, the GZ-MG77’s performance was very poor. The colors lost nearly all of their strength, and there was no internal saturation boosting or similar process to save them. JVCs are known for their powerful automatic gain, which is a digital process that boosts the overall incoming signal (also boosting the noise within that signal). All camcorders have some sort of automatic gain, but only JVC lets you turn it on and off. (Panasonic is the only manufacturer to offer manual gain control on their consumer line.) The auto gain on the GZ-MG77 clearly worked to maintain an overall brightness in the lower light conditions, but did little else to improve the image. The picture also showed some strange, blotchy noise patterns in much of the image, similar to the blue noise that frequents Sony low light images, but whitish.

Last year’s GZ-MG70 did not come as close to blowing out, and maintained a little more color information. It was certainly not a desirable image, though. Auto gain levels appeared to be slightly lower. The GZ-MG37, this year’s next model down from the GZ-MG77, was much darker, due to the smaller imager and larger maximum aperture of the lens ( F1.2 versus the GZ-MG37’s F1.8). Noise was also a problem with this image.

The Sony DCR-SR100, once again, was a breath of fresh air in a crowd of poor images. The image looks incredibly sharp and the colors are extremely well-saturated. In fact, it hardly looked different from the image at 3000 lux. There was really no comparison here. Finally, the Canon DC40, a DVD camcorder, had a darker image, dark enough that we started to lose some of the detail. However, colors were better represented.

The GZ-MG77 also offers manual shutter speed down to 1/15th of a second. This is not a setting that we would advise, as the blurring of objects at such a slow speed would make the video unwatchable. But 1/30th might be fast enough to capture slow moving or motionless scenes, as long as you were using a tripod. At 1/30th of a second, the image displayed much better colors, but the blotchy noise was still present.

At 15 lux, the JVC GZ-MG77 lost most of its color. The automatic gain clearly met its match, and it was difficult to make out any fine detail. You can make out general shapes, but not much beyond that.

Last year’s GZ-MG70 looked pretty much the same. This is not a surprise; 15 lux is difficult for any camcorder. Even the GZ-MG37 was hard to distinguish from the GZ-MG77, except for an increased noise factor.

The Sony DCR-SR100 still looks sharp at 15 lux, but most of the color information is lost here, too. Finally, the Canon DC40 was much the same. Clearly, 15 lux was the breaking point for all these camcorders.

Overall, the low light performance was weak: too bright and washed in at 60 lux, and too dark at 15 lux.

{column='Low Light Performance' models='JVC GZ-MG77,JVC GZ-MG70,JVC GZ-MG37,Sony DCR-SR100,Canon DC40'}

Wide Angle* (8.4)*

The JVC GZ-MG77 was tested for its wide angle field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios and produced results that show some 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-MG77 had 47 degree field of vision, representing a gain of 5 degrees. There was a slight amount of cropping on the top and bottom of the frame when the camcorder was switched into 16:9.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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