JVC GR-D796 camcorder

The JVC GR-D796 is an inexpensive MiniDV camcorder that shoots good-quality video and still images. Although the GR-D796 has a simple design and a user-friendly interface, it offers some advanced features, such as a wide-screen mode, white balance adjustment, and electronic image stabilization. Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or wannabe YouTube star, the GR-D796 is a good entry-level camcorder for learning the basics of videography at a low cost.

Design and usability

Sleek and smooth, the GR-D796 fits comfortably in your hand. The zoom tab is in a convenient location for your index finger. A small wheel allows you to choose between the record and playback modes with your thumb. The record button is in a peculiar shape—a stretched oval—but it’s simple enough to get used to. This camcorder lacks a microphone jack, but that’s not a feature you would necessarily expect in a low-end camcorder. A surprising omission, however, is the lack of a headphone jack to monitor your audio.

The camcorder’s control panel—a joystick and two buttons—is built in to the 2.7-inch LCD screen’s casing. The menu is straightforward and easy to navigate using these buttons, but like other camcorders that situate these controls with the LCD screen—the Canon ZR850 (   ), for example—camera shake is likely unless you’re shooting with a tripod.

The GR-D796’s control panel is very intuitive and user-friendly. One button allows you to toggle between the wide-screen and standard aspect-ratio modes. Another button brings up the menu, which you navigate using the joystick. From the menu, you can change shutter speed, adjust white balance, or enable imaging effects, among other options.

The GR-D796 also has an exceptionally powerful 34x optical zoom. This will be useful in situations when you need to record from a great distance—if you’re filming a child’s performance in a play or a graduation ceremony, for example.

Performance and battery life

The GR-D796 is an attractive camcorder, but it’s what’s inside that matters the most. For its video and still-image quality, the GR-D796 received the lowest ratings from our panel of experts out of a batch of five camcorders we tested at the same time.

With an unimpressive maximum resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, the GR-D796’s still-image quality received a Poor rating. Noise and blurriness were prevalent throughout our test shots and colors were far from accurate.

The GR-D796’s video quality was a little better, receiving a Good rating from our jury. Motion was a little rough and colors were dark, but the video overall was passable. Since the video from this camcorder appears to be a little raw and gritty, it’s suitable for projects that are made for Internet streaming or that don’t require high production values.

On the plus side, the GR-D796 had the best battery life out of the batch of camcorders we’ve recently tested. With a full charge, this camcorder’s battery lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes recording in standard-play mode before it shut down. The battery life earned a Superior rating in our testing. Another bonus is that this camcorder comes with an extra battery, which is uncommon—and very welcome.

performance

Still-image quality Poor
Video quality Good
Battery life Superior

Scale: Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor

How we tested: The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery-life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

specifications

LCD size (in inches) 2.7
Optical zoom 34x
Still-image resolution 0.3 megapixels
Size (width x height x depth) 2.4 x 4.5 x 3.8
Weight (in ounces) 14.4

Macworld’s buying advice

The GR-D796 is a humble point-and-shoot camcorder equipped with a few advanced features that make it appealing. However, the performance of this camcorder, in terms of its video and still-image quality, leaves much to be desired. With a price difference of $1, the Canon ZR850 delivers slightly better image quality, and it’s similarly easy to use.

[ Brian Chen is an assistant editor at Macworld.]

JVC GR-D796

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