Despite ruling the roost with the very latest camcorder technology, JVC is still keeping the flag flying for tape with this entry-level mini DV model.

The price is certainly right: this is one of the cheapest camcorders on the market. The question is, with the price of HDD coming down and the new technology offering convenience by the disk load, should you bother with budget mini DV at all?

Design and layout

This is a neat, well-crafted palmcorder. Although it has more height than you would expect from a mini DV shooter, the chassis is slimline and slips effortlessly into your grip. Key controls fall easily to hand, making this a straightforward camcorder for the sort of buyer shopping at this price - the beginner or casual user.

All the work, in terms of feature selection and adjustment, is done by a four-way joystick housed on the frame of the LCD. Alongside this is the all-important menu access which lets you navigate around the array of shooting and playback functions. The rest of the chassis is relatively bare with just the zoom and the snapshot button at the top of the cam.

The build-quality is high. The camera is sensibly put together and handles very well, with the function controls providing a reassuring robustness.

Features

There are few surprises in terms of features, with perhaps the only one being the sheer number of features and functions actually available. A selection of Program AE modes work in conjunction with a full selection of manual overrides (shutter, exposure, white balance) giving you control over your footage. And if

you want to get just a little more funky, you can pick from the digital effects and wipes onboard, which include the useful and creative, such as sepia and monotone, and the absurdity and garishness of mirror and strobe effects.

The zoom is also a key talking point, and while you will want to steer well clear of the 800x digital variety, the 28x optical zoom is usable and garners impressive results with minimal shake. What you do miss out on though is a digital stills function that saves snaps to removable media. While there is a snapshot button, this only saves your pics to your DV tape.

Performance

The results are pleasing for a cam with such a small price tag. Boasting plenty of detail and a fair representation of colour, the GR-D720 revels in natural light and turns in a performance that suggests a much greater price tag.

There are problems, of course. You would be foolish to think that cams of this price don't come with a few caveats, colour bleed and some indistinct edges even in middling conditions, for example.

It would also be easy to be critical of this cam's low-light performance - colours lose vibrancy and grain pervades the picture, but that is still not enough to stop us from giving the D720 a hearty recommendation. Cams at this price point are capable of doing a certain job, in this case as an effective point-and-shooter.

For this price you have to forego a little sharpness and detail, but fortunately with the GR-D720, not so much as to cripple your movies. Audio, too, has its limitations, but results are acceptable.

Conclusion

The GR-D720 is an absolute bargain. If you are willing to sacrifice a few magnification steps on the zoom and feel a digital stills function on a cam this cheap is a little redundant, then this will be a satisfying urchase, not least because of all the money you will have saved...