While other manufacturers have hedged their bets in the increasingly complex world of camcorder formats, JVC has stuck to its guns with the hard disk Everio and the range has gone from strength to strength.

Not one to rest on its laurels, the Japanese giant continued to set the agenda in 2007 by releasing several new models, among them the first high-definition Everio, the HD7, and the 40GB HDD/SD combo MG275, which is on test here.

Design and layout

The MG275 exhibits the same rectangular, compact styling as its predecessors, combined with just enough brushed aluminium and jet-black insets to make it a hit with the more fashion-conscious filmmakers. Good looks are complemented by good design and build quality: from the built-in lens shutter to the placement of controls, every last detail has been considered to make for comfortable, stable shooting.

Navigation through the onscreen menus is carried out with a small joystick to the left of the 2.7in widescreen LCD, and a cursory exploration of the interface is enough to see most people on their way without recourse to the manual. 

The Zoom Rocker, Record and Snapshot buttons all fall readily to hand, while less frequently used controls, such as Playback and Auto/Manual switching are located behind the LCD screen. For those who like a more ‘hands off’ approach, a remote control also comes as part of the package.

You also have the option of storing your video footage and stills to the 40GB hard drive or an SD card, with four quality settings on offer with variable bitrates between 1.5Mbps to 8.5Mbps. Recording times range from a maximum of 50 hours when shot in Economy to almost 10 hours at the highest Ultra Fine setting.

Getting your files off the camcorder is also simple thanks to the multitude of connectivity options provided. Hidden away on the chassis itself are USB 2.0, DC-in and AV-out ports, while a further DC-in, DV-out, AV-out, S-video out and USB 2.0 are all available on the bundled Everio Dock.

Features

A quick look at the MG275’s menu will tell you this is not a camcorder for hardcore video enthusiasts. However, it still manages to pack in an array of practical features and imaging technology that will spoil the average casual family filmmaker. Emphasis lies on performance, and with a decent range of manual options alongside five Program AE modes and 16:9 shooting there’s enough leeway to get creative.

The inclusion of a wide ƒ1.2 Super Bright Lens safeguards against the perennial problem of poor low-light performance. There are also numerous options for boosting the exposure without delving too far into the menus, including a dedicated BLC (Backlight Compensation) button, Spot Metering and a Nightscope setting that automatically adjusts the cam’s shutter speed – each of which is clearly indicated on the LCD when active.

To boost picture quality the MG275 uses JVC’s newly developed Gigabrid engine, which integrates various noise-reduction technologies in order to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. The camcorder uses MPEG2 compression, the same as DVD camcorders, and the two formats are very comparable when it comes to the quality of moving video.

A nice touch is the ease with which files can be managed in-camera, and anyone familiar with organising their MP3s into Playlists will be will be at home with the principles here. As well as Playlists, users can also create Events made up of footage shot on the same day to help locate files quickly.

Search facilities are refreshingly straightforward, with the multi-functional Index button proving its worth. Pressing it rotates the screen between Date Index, Event Index and Playlist, followed by a graphical display of how much battery and storage you have left – a great time-saver in many situations.

Another neat feature is the one-touch simplicity of getting your footage off your camcorder and onto a PC or DVD. With the bundled Cyberlink software installed, all you have to do is hook the cam up to your computer and press either Direct DVD to burn a disc or Direct Backup to transfer your files. Unfortunately it’s Windows only, though, so Mac users will have to use the camcorder as a mass storage device or download the compatible Pixela software that is available on the internet.

Performance

Aimed squarely at the mid-market, the MG275 has to put in a decent performance to justify the price tag. It doesn’t disappoint, capturing footage with good levels of detail when shot using the highest quality setting. The edges of images are solid and well defined, and not subject to an unhealthy degree of picture jitter, fizz or instability, while colours are, on the whole, realistically rendered.

Shooting on auto has a tendency for over-exposure, with highlights blown out and reds a little too punchy. Despite this, there is no colour bleed and users can easily avoid potential over-exposure by venturing into the simple manual settings. Auto focus is fast and accurate, correcting itself quickly when called upon during rapid panning.

When considering the quoted recording times, users should bear in mind that capturing footage at anything other than Ultra Fine is really not worth it. The Economy setting necessary to achieve the maximum 50 hours offers a quality almost akin to a mobile phone, but with Ultra Fine giving recordings up to nine hours 40 minutes there’s no need to compromise at allon quality.

Audio is clear, although on occasions suffers from some handling noise. It’s also worth noting the manual’s warning not to shake the camcorder too much to avoid capturing the noise of the hard disk on recordings, so don’t treat this cam roughly!

With a 40GB hard drive at your disposal, there’s plenty of room for still images. Resolution at the top quality setting is good, though the flash does like to go off at any given opportunity. You can, however, adjust the settings to avoid this.

Conclusion

JVC has stood firmly by the HDD format, and on the evidence here with good reason. The fact the Everio has come down in price so much since its initial launch indicates the growing affordability of hard disk, and while the same level of image quality is available for much less with mini DV, you’re paying for the format’s convenience – a trade-off with which many casual users will be happy. Add to that the fact that most people are increasingly at home with digital media, and it looks as though JVC has a winner on its hands.