Pocket-sized JVC Everio GZ-V500 offers large-camcorder features, trade-offs
Ever had a hard time trying to choose between a pocket camcorder and a more capable but bulkier traditional model? So have I, which is why JVC’s new Everio GZ-V500 caught my eye. Into this mid-priced model, JVC tried to pack some big camcorder prowess into a pocket-sized case. It partly succeeds, but with some downsides.
At 4.5-by-2.3-by-1.5 inches, this Everio is as pocket-able as the pistol-grip pocket cams we’ve looked at recently, like Panasonic’s HMX-WA2 and Toshiba’s Camileo P100. At the same time, it comes with big-camcorder features like a decent optical zoom (10x), large aperture lens (F1.2), and optical image stabilization. The hand strap and flip-out screen let you hold the camcorder with both hands, making it easier to stabilize and thus shoot more smoothly than with a pocket model. Instead of the more typical rounded barrel-style body, this Everio has a flat, thin squarish body. It’s not the sexiest model to come down the pike, but it’s very portable; you can easily slip it into a pants or shirt pocket. This little Everio is dense, weighing eight ounces (with the battery), and feels solid and durable.
Video quality is mediocre
What most of us hope to get from a traditional camcorder is sharp, crisp, video. Like many smaller camcorders, the Everio GZ-V500 falls a little short in that regard. For my tests, I set the video resolution to JVC’s XP setting (1080/60i at 17Mbps AVCHD), close to the typical Full HD setting you find on most camcorders. Even at this setting in strong late afternoon light, the subjects lacked crispness, colors looked pale, and subjects started to blur even when I panned and tilted fairly slowly. This could be due in part to the relatively small CMOS-BSI sensor, measuring slightly under a quarter inch. This Everio's video quality also failed to impress Macworld's Test Center jury, which gave it a merely average rating.
To this camcorder's credit, the image quality the camcorder offers is mostly preserved in lower light shooting. I shot the low-light tests just after sunset, with plenty of ambient light still remaining, but no direct sun. Images looked a little fuzzier and less distinct, and I saw a little more motion blur, but colors didn’t look much worse, and the auto-focus worked almost perfectly.
The video light works better than most I’ve seen, brightly lighting the subject area three to four feet away. Most such lights work for only a foot or two from the subject.
I shot stills at the maximum 11 megapixel setting. They looked fine on the small screen but a little fuzzy when viewing them full-screen on my 20-inch monitor. This is not a total surprise, because the sensor offers only 3 megapixels of actual still-image recording area. This Everio has to perform some pretty heavy pixel prestidigitation to pump up the picture to 11 megapixels, so expect compromise in still-image quality. On the plus side, it was refreshing to use a camcorder that actually shoots pictures with the correct exposure level and colors. In our formal lab-based tests, the white background of the sample shots actually came out white, with none of the bluish tint that plagues the still shots of many consumer camcorders, and the Everio GZ-V500 rendered colors more accurately than most.
The Everio GZ-V500 has a smooth uncluttered case, sporting just five buttons. You get the usual trio of controls on the top and back panel: The wide-angle telephoto rocker controls video and photo shutters and the power and optical image stabilization buttons on the side panel. You access all other controls through the 3-inch touchscreen. I found the screen properly responsive to my taps, but the menu system needs streamlining. At least two menu operations include needless steps. You have to tap through two menu buttons to get to submenus, and tap twice to switch between video and photo modes. JVC could have easily made these two functions one-tappers.
Just too precious
Front and center in the menu system are controls for adding cutesy animations to video, like streaming hearts and musical notes, and also for elaborate smile recognition operations, including the ability to selectively focus on one smiling head out of a crowd of smiling heads. These are functions most people will use rarely, yet the company made menu shortcuts for them. I hope in future models, JVC will let us choose our own menu shortcuts.
The handwriting feature is unique and a good idea, but not well thought out. You can use the supplied stylus to make annotations on the touch screen while recording video, such as drawing an arrow pointing to a subject in the video while you’re recording. Unfortunately for 90 percent of us, the screen placement favors left-handed writers. Plus, it’s super easy to lose the very small stylus. It’d be great if JVC built a stylus “silo” into the camcorder, like what you find on many smartphones and tablets, so the stylus is always close at hand.
The Everio GZ-V500 offers manual settings, but they are a major pain to use. Tailored settings include those for focus, brightness, shutter speed, and aperture, as well as presets for scenes and white-balance. Each time you want to change a setting, you have to tap at least five times to drill down to the relevant menu. This makes manual operation wildly impractical, especially for users on the move, who must constantly change focus, shutter speed, and aperture settings. Same for the video light, which really could have used its own button. Instead, you have to drill down into the menu to turn it on and off. There is an auto-on setting but I quickly turned it off. It’s easily confused, turning the light on and off at inappropriate times.
You also need to manually open and close the lens cover. The camcorders reminds you to open the cover when you turn it on—as if you couldn’t tell already by the black screen—but I’d also like to see a reminder to close it. It’s easy to leave the cover open after a shooting session, exposing the lens to damage.
Sensible port placement
I appreciated that JVC moved all four ports—for miniUSB, miniHDMI, AV, and power adapter—to the back panel, instead of the more common placement on the LCD-side panel. This helps keep attached cables out of the way when you’re trying to use the touchscreen. The tripod mounting screw hole is also well placed, allowing continued access to all ports and the SD memory card, even when the plate is attached. This camcorder provides no onboard memory, so you may be swapping cards frequently.
The lithium-ion battery lasted a respectable hour and 37 minutes in our run-down tests. Contrary to what the user manual tells us, you can’t buy an optional higher-capacity pack. The on-board software (Everio MediaBrowser 4) runs on Windows only, but using the USB cable, I easily imported video and still images into iPhoto and iMovie on my Macbook Pro.
Macworld’s buying advice
The $449 JVC Everio GZ-V500 offers a decent 10x optical zoom and fair battery life. But this compact camcorder delivers merely so-so video quality without the option to shoot in progressive mode, it lacks onboard memory, and navigating its on-screen menu can be a little clunky. Consider the Everio GZ-V500BU if you're looking for some big-camcorder talent in a near-pocket-sized model, and are prepared to make some compromises.
[Bryan Hastings is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.]