Two years ago HDD and SD technologies were just emerging on the scene, with many companies still unsure as to how marketable the formats would be. Now, a quick glance across the ranges of the major players in the camcorder world reveals that the new storage formats are most prevalent to the detriment of the format that some consider heading for its pension able years: mini DV.
Sony boasts a fully comprehensive HDD range, Panasonic is backing SDHC as its revolutionary format and even Hitachi, for so long committed to a disc-based format, has introduced models that combine a 30GB HDD with a disc transport - a real turn up.
It is with interest then, that we take a look at the first HDD model of 2007 to arrive at the test centre, JVC's GZ-MG 30. The reason why this is a product that piques our interest is because it's from the pioneers of the hard-disk drive camcorder setup, and is the entry level model of the 3rd generation of Everio camcorders; most leading rivals are somewhat behind the curve.
The Everio range has always boasted comfortable and effective design, and the new MG 30 does not break with tradition; JVC has done enough to make improvements on what was a very user-friendly layout. The compact size of the 30 is a real boon, and it is its diminutive nature that will appeal most to the user-group that this camcorder is aimed at, the point-and-shooters.
It's not without an impressive hint of style. The silver and black finish combined with the cam's compact stature gives it a slick look. Your thumb and fingers fall naturally to the main controls at the rear of the cam, however, most of the action takes place underneath the LCD panel or the left-hand side of the frame, leaving the chassis clear of clutter.
Lift the panel and it reveals the playback/record button, menu access, the Direct DVD function - which offers the possibility of archiving directly to disc - and the Direct Back Up Event button. This is a new mode that essentially allows you to label clips and group them to a particular event, be it a birthday or a wedding.
Although a little gimmicky, if you are likely to make the most of the massive seven hours of best-quality storage capacity, any system that helps you locate footage is a good one. On the frame of the camcorder is the joystick that takes care of almost everything, from navigating all the functions to fine-tuning the manual controls.
This joystick seems a great deal sturdier than previous offerings, and you will have little trouble navigating the well-designed menu screens - despite the fact it's very small it still promises high levels of accuracy. Above this is an addition found on last year's range: a push of a button will reveal a pie chart that shows how much shooting time you have left, and approximate battery life in both a graphical representation and minutes.
This function is incredibly well-conceived and is a welcome addition to a camcorder that extols the benefits of an effective partnership of form and function. Shooting footage to MPEG2, this entry-level cam hosts in gigabytes the amount of movies or stills that you would expect from last year's top Everio cam, so already there have been significant improvements.
The Ultrafine mode, in which really you should be doing most of your recording, offers up to seven hours, while the Economy mode will furnish you with over 37 hours of movies. Other cameras in this new line-up provide a further 10GB of storage space. However, we are quite content with what's available already thanks very much - you would be hard-pushed to fill up the HDD.
Managing your files is a straightforward affair. A rudimentary tagging system is available, as previously mentioned, and there are archiving options, including the straight-to-DVD function or transfer to a PC via the USB socket. You can create playlists, making it possible to reorder clips and perform a basic edit, useful if you're outputting directly to a TV.
There is a full complement of Program AE modes and digital effects, as well as the necessary manual overrides to give you more control over what you commit to HDD, making this a well-rounded model for any shooting environment. JVC has taken the decision to leave out the docking station - found on all of this year's Everios.
Without it you lose the benefits of FireWire connectivity - the first time this connection has appeared in conjunction with an HDD cam. However, the lack of a base station has an impact on the price, which makes this a bigger draw for a wider market at large.
SDHC compatibility is an added bonus when it comes to stills, and it won't be too long before SDHC cards come in all kinds of capacities, offering users tremendous scope when it comes to storage space. Other than that, there's a whole lot of useful, but predictable features. A 34x optical zoom is a strong addition, and the F2.0 lens combines with an 1/6in CCD to create the sort of images you would expect from such an enticing entry-level shooter.
Although the list price is £449, the MG 30 can already be picked up for around £350 online - a considerable saving for such a new camcorder. But exactly what are you getting for your money? Well, worthy of note is the Everio's take on colour. The purples and reds of the flowers are vibrant, and the bold contrast makes for a very dynamic image.
Bright colours, though, are prone to bleed and while some great footage is possible, the 130 struggled with certain subjects. Skin tones are impressive and are rendered naturally. Deep blacks, however, appear a little washed out, but the MG 30 offers an extensive colour palette nonetheless. Where the cam comes a little unstuck is in the detail department.
Edges lack the necessary clinical sharpness that can be found in some tape-based rivals, and as the lighting conditions deteriorate there were evident signs of red hues, fizz and grain on the footage we shot. Image stabilisation is impressive. However, if you over-extend the very generous zoom function, a rock-steady hand will be required to capture shake-free footage and, what's more, detail suffers further.
Although the stills function is a welcome addition, don't expect too much - you're probably still better off sticking to a dedicated stills cam if you are after a particularly sharp image or have serious intentions for your snaps. The front positioning of the mic aids crisp audio pickup, and avoids cam-user heavy soundtracks, concentrating instead on what's in front of the camcorder.
More storage space, a nifty interface and bold colour performance make this a camcorder well worth recommending - we're big fans of the Everio and the 30 hasn't done anything bad to change our minds. That said, there are issues with grain and fizz, and no docking station.
This makes the cam ideal for the point-and-shoot brigade, especially with such a low price tag, but the more discerning user may want to take a look at what else will be arriving on the market in the near future.