capsule review

JVC GR-D396US MiniDV camcorder

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The old saying “You get what you pay for” certainly applies to the JVC GR-D396US . It’s a very inexpensive camcorder, and the video it captured was distinctly lackluster. In addition, while the camcorder had good battery life and was comfortable to use, several other issues further limit its appeal.

The GR-D396US’s main problem is its video quality. It scored poorly in our tests, in both normal and low-light conditions: video colors lacked bite, and fine details got lost in haze. The low-light video was particularly unappealing; it looked almost monochrome, with even brightly colored objects looking pale and unattractive.

Among the positive factors, JVC throws in a second battery, and the battery life was already more than respectable: in our tests, a single battery lasted 106 minutes. The GR-D396US’s lens also has the longest optical zoom of the tested camcorders: at 32X, it lets you get much closer to distant objects than the 20X lenses of the Sony DCR-HC36 MiniDV Handycam (   ) and the Canon Elura 100 (   ). Unfortunately, the lens also has problems: at longer zoom settings, the edges of images became rather fuzzy and indistinct, and because there’s no optical image stabilization, the smallest camera movement leads to jittery, unpleasant-looking video.

The camcorder feels comfortable in the hand, with a tall, thin design that works well for people with large hands. The Record button sits under the thumb, and the zoom control is under the index finger. The Snapshot button (for taking still images) is right behind the zoom control: the GR-D396US can capture still images at a maximum resolution of only 640 by 480, to an SD Card; this hardly seems worth the bother.

Other control buttons are located underneath the 2.5-inch LCD, and a large Auto button above the screen toggles between the Automatic and Manual modes. However, the latter name is somewhat misleading: this camcorder doesn’t provide a full manual mode. Instead, you get some limited control over exposure, and access to manual focus. There’s no shutter- or aperture-priority mode (not surprising, as the lens has a fixed aperture), and there’s only limited control over shutter speed. The MiniDV tape is loaded from the bottom of the camcorder, and this is a real pain if you’re using a tripod: you have to remove the camcorder from the tripod before changing tapes.


Still-Image Quality Poor
Video Quality Fair
Battery Life Good

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


LCD Size 2.5-inch
Optical Zoom 32X
Still image resolution 640 x 480
Size (wxhxd) 3.8 x 2.4 x 4.5
Weight (oz.) 14.1

Macworld’s buying advice

The JVC GR-D396US is one of the least-expensive camcorders available. However, many users will find that its lack of advanced control is limiting, and its poor video quality will put off all but the most budget-minded shooters.

[ Richard Baguley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PC World, Wired , and other publications. ]

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