JVC Everio GZ-E200 camcorder has low price, but many shortcomings
JVC's Everio GZ-E200 camcorder makes a fine first impression with its low price, small size, and truly impressive 40x optical zoom. That’s about the biggest optical zoom you can find on any HD camcorder anywhere, and it’s on a unit that’s petite for a barrel-style model.
This Everio measures just 4.7-by-2.2-by-2 inches and weighs 7.6 ounces (with the battery). It's similar to a pocket model, only twice as thick and heavy. Even so, you can very easily pop this camcorder into a coat pocket.
For the price ($279), this camcorder seemed almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, I found a few serious drawbacks, and for many, this little unit won’t satisfy video shooting needs. Even some of the sub-$200 pocket camcorders have features that outclass those on the Everio GZ-E200, such as a larger sensor, higher still-shot resolution, and longer battery life.
Image quality and problems
This Everio stumbles where it matters most: video and still shots. For my full-light tests, I recorded the neighborhood around my home in late afternoon. I set the video resolution to JVC’s XP setting (1080/60i at 17Mbps AVCHD), which most closely matches the Full HD setting on most camcorders. Even at this setting in full light, the results were unimpressive. The beige wall of my neighbor’s house looked washed out in places, and subjects started to blur even when I panned at a moderate pace.
I’ve seen video from some standard definition camcorders that looked almost as good. On the other hand, for my lower-light shoot, this Everio held up relatively well. As you would expect, colors looked paler and I got more blurring when moving the camcorder, but I saw few artifacts and the autofocus only occasionally struggled.
As for still shots, this Everio shoots JPEGs that max out at a mere 2 megapixels. Even most pocket camcorders let you shoot 5-megapixel and greater photos. Macworld's Test Center results reflect my take on this camcorder's video, audio, and still-shot quality. In jury-based evaluations, the Everio GZ-E200 scored near the bottom compared with other high-definition camcorders we've tested.
Full HD doesn't look full
Many factors can degrade video and still-shot quality. A big suspect in this case is the tiny CMOS-BSI sensor, which measures only 1/5.8 inches and 1.5 megapixels. Each frame of Full HD video is 2 megapixels, so this camcorder has to perform some electronic legerdemain to inflate the pixel count from 1.5 to 2 megapixels. This is like digitally extending the zoom beyond the optical limit of a camcorder, and yielding fuzzy, indistinct video. Likewise, the Full HD video from this model looks distinctly grainier than most Full HD video I’ve seen elsewhere.
Here's a surprising upside to having a small sensor: It often allows a camcorder to greatly increase its optical zoom. This lets manufacturers produce low-cost camcorders with great telephoto range, even though the smaller sensor can result in reduced image quality. This Everio’s 40x zoom is really impressive.
From my home in the East Bay hills, I zeroed in on San Francisco landmarks 10 miles away across the bay. I could actually see city folk bustling about, albeit as tiny fuzzy specks. JVC designed the zoom controls exceptionally well, letting you quickly set the desired zoom level. With a right hand finger, you can use the rocker switch on the camcorder’s top panel for quick wide-angle/telephoto adjustment, and then use a left hand finger to tap the touchscreen control to fine-tune your setting.
I found that when shooting much above 30x zoom, I had to mount the camcorder on a tripod to stabilize it so my subject didn’t keep zooming out of the frame. Problem was, when I screwed the tripod mounting plate onto the camcorder, it blocked access to the SD card slot (your only storage option—there's no internal memory). Each time I swapped cards, I had to unscrew the plate. If you plan to do a lot of tripod-mounted shooting, consider using a larger SD card. The camcorder's SDXC slot accepts cards up to 64GB.
Touchscreen menu controls
The Everio GZ-E200 has a few buttons, most of which are located in the usual, sensible places. You’ll find the wide-angle/telephoto rocker switch and the still-shot button on the top panel, and the record push button on the back panel, all within easy reach of your trigger finger.
You access most commands, however, through the 3-inch touchscreen. The screen responded well to my taps, and it was easy enough to figure out how to get around. It just takes too long.
The camcorder has a habit of making you do things twice. For example, in record/shoot mode, when you tap the menu button, it takes you to another menu button. Only when you tap the second button does it take you to the submenus. The same thing happens when you tap the camcorder/still camera icon in the screen’s upper left corner. You’re taken to another screen that asks you to choose between the camcorder or still camera mode. Why not just let us toggle between the two with a single tap? Fortunately, there’s a toggle button for that, on the left panel.
Commands shouldn’t take so long to drill down to, and on the GZ-E200, they aren’t prioritized well. For example, white-balance is a setting few casual users will ever bother with, yet JVC puts it prominently on the first submenu page. Meanwhile, you have to scroll down five submenu pages just to change the video resolution.
That may sound nitpicky—until you’re in a rush to catch a fleeting shot. Imagine being on the coast and spotting a breaching humpback whale, or you're at a soccer match at your daughter’s school, watching your budding Mia Hamm hammer in the winning goal. When every second matters, this menu doesn’t cut it.
Battery life and Mac compatibility
One way JVC kept costs down was to bundle an almost absurdly small lithium-ion battery pack. This little 700mAh pack is one of the dinkiest I’ve seen on a traditional camcorder. Not surprising that the Everio GZ-E200 conked out after 58 minutes in our continuous record run-down test—less than half of the time I'd expect on a single charge. To bring battery life up to two hours, you need to shell out an extra $65 for the 1400mAh pack (BN-VG114US).
The camcorder comes with a basic file management utility, the Everio MediaBrowser 4 that runs only in Windows, but you should still be able to get your files onto your Mac. I used the USB cable to import video and still images into iPhoto and iMovie on my MacBook Pro, and it worked just fine.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you’re looking for a low-cost HD camcorder with awesome zoom, it's hard to beat JVC’s $279 Everio GZ-E200. But disappointing image quality, short battery life, and cumbersome navigation all limit its appeal. You could bring battery life up to par with a higher-powered battery pack, but that brings your total cost to $343. At that price, you should take a hard look at Sony’s $360 Handycam HDR-CX160, which is an all-around solid budget model that comes with Full HD 60p video (the Everio shoots only interlaced) as well as 3MP still shots, a larger and more pixel-rich CMOS sensor, and plenty of onboard memory.
[Bryan Hastings is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.]