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If Picasso had designed a camcorder during his cubist period, the JVC GR-X5US might have been the result. While most camcorders go for an organic, curved look, the GR-X5US has a boxy look that breaks the rules of camcorder design. And the experiment is not completely successful: some aspects of the design don’t work that well, and there are missing features.
Indeed, the alternative design of the GR-X5US is a double-edged sword. While putting the LCD screen on the back of the camcorder gives it a wider viewing angle than most camcorders (and also makes waist-level and over-the-head shooting easier), this positioning leaves no room for a viewfinder. And while the LCD screen is adequate for most uses, it gets a little hard to see in direct sunlight.
Having no viewfinder means that you can’t use one when you want to conserve the battery, which is a big problem. In our tests, the battery ran out after a paltry 49 minutes—not even enough to fill a MiniDV tape. While that might be adequate for a day’s shooting, you’ll need either a spare battery or an extended battery for anything more. JVC does offer high-capacity batteries (one with twice the capacity costs $90), but these add significantly to the camcorder’s weight.
The cubist design also means that you’ll need two hands for anything more than basic operation. While the Zoom, Still Photo, and Record buttons fall under the fingers of the right hand, most of the other controls require the left hand, as they’re located on the left side of the camcorder body. These include buttons for setting the exposure mode, controlling manual focus, and accessing the on-screen menu. You alter the settings and move through the menu via a control dial on the front left side of the camcorder—another interesting idea that doesn’t work that well: twisting the dial involves awkwardly reaching around the camcorder.
However, the camcorder is comfortable to hold, and the main control buttons are easy to reach without moving your hand, which is good for steady video capture. At a little over one pound, this camcorder is also pretty light.
The GR-X5US takes attractive video—the video we captured in our tests looked great, with strong, bright colors and plenty of detail. Although we didn’t rate it as highly as the video that Panasonic’s PV-GS500 ( ) and PV-GS300 ( ) captured, it did very well in both our normal- and low-light tests. The 3-CCD design of the camcorder no doubt helped here; with one sensor each for red, blue, and green, the camcorder can capture more color and detail than single-sensor models.
It can also capture still images at a 5-megapixel resolution, and its still images looked very attractive. A camcorder such as this isn’t going to replace a dedicated still camera, but it’s nice to have the option of shooting decent-quality still photos. You can’t, however, capture both video and high-resolution stills at the same time.
|Video Quality||Very Good|
Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor
|Still image resolution||2,560 x 1,920|
|Size (wxhxd)||3.6 x 3.5 x 3.7|
Macworld’s buying advice
The JVC GR-X5US has an interesting design, but it may not be to everyone’s taste, and its poor battery life and the omission of a viewfinder are serious problems. At $1,300, it’s also expensive. While it’s undeniably a good camcorder, it really isn’t worth the extra cash: most people would be equally well served by buying a less-expensive camcorder and spending the money they save on a decent point-and-shoot still camera.
[ Richard Baguley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PC World, Wired , and other publications. ]JVC GR-X5US MiniDV