Small but Mighty & Wide Screen too

Jul 11, 2007 (Updated Jul 11, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Wide Screen Camcorder in an easy to handle package.

Cons:The most useful cable is noticeably missing.

The Bottom Line: I think for camcorders in this price range this is one of the best ones that there is out there.

Sometimes you decide that you need something and you don't always have a good reason why you NEED it. For me this was one of those cases. It has been several years since I have owned a traditional camcorder. My last one died probably 7 years ago and I just never gotten around to replacing it, instead I just relied upon making short videos with one of my digital cameras.

So a couple weeks ago I decided "Hey I have some extra cash burning a hole in my pocket, let's buy a new camcorder." I have worked with a few VHS, and VHS-C units; but this time I was definitely going digital. At first I was leaning towards the mini-DVD recorders. Mainly because they are mini-DVD recorders; but what I found was they were lacking on features, and they seemed to receive a lot of negative reviews because of disc issues. So then I started looking at the mini-DV and hard drive based camcorders.

Although the hard drive based units seem to offer the most bang, I really couldn't rationalize the big price tag most companies have attached to the units. Especially since they should be cheaper to make because they do not require a tape drive, encoder hardware, and the price of hard drives in the real world keep coming down. So like many other things out there, I have a big problem paying more for something that companies are just gouging the end users because they know they can. Ok, so how was that for rambling away from the point. Basically I decided I was going to buy a mini-DV tape model. I started looking around at what there was to offer out there: Sony, Canon, Samsung, JVC, and of course a lot of rebranded versions of the same units. I had finally decided on the JVC GR-D750; I liked the reviews and it seemed to have everything that I wanted. Except that when I went to look for the best price I found the GR-D770 on sale for a better price. So a quick review of the specs showed the D770 had all of the features the D750, but it was also a newer model, plus it had the ability to take photos too. Although that was not a major selling point for me, it was a nice extra feature so I went ahead a bought one.

I am really glad that I did.

Right out of the box it is easy to tell this is not like the old school camcorders. For one, it is only about 5" long and it weighs about a pound with tape and battery. The light weight makes it easy to carry and it is simple to operate without your arm getting tired. All of the necessary controls are right at you index finger and thumb. You have your choice of using either the view finder or a nicely sized 2.7" LCD foldout display when you want to shoot or view your videos. It has a nice 34x optical zoom, and they also brag it has an 800x digital zoom, or as I like to call it, the feature that I turned off. I'm just not a big fan of "digital zoom." But it is nice that they do offer the option to turn it off.

Also included on the box are a AC adapter, audio/video out connector, and a USB cable. What is missing is the IEEE or Fireware cable (yes it does have both USB and IEEE interfaces built in) which would be one of the more useful cables to include in the package. I will explain that more later.

The camcorder works like a dream. The video quality is very good, and I like the fact that it shoots in 16:9 wide screen. It has about the same start up time as all camcorders on the market you can be up and recording out of the box in less than three minutes, then you will need to stop and recharge the battery because you were in such a hurry to play with your new toy that you didn't actually charge the battery like you are supposed to.

Now for something I didn't realize until I got it home. This unit is a dual media camcorder. It records video to mini-DV tapes and photos to an optional SD/MMC card; and if you have a card in the slot you can take photos and record videos at the same time. Granted the images are only 640x480, but it is a nice little feature to have and play around with.

Back to why an IEEE cable would be more useful than the included USB cable. The USB cable will allow you to look at the files on the card slot when you plug the camcorder into your computer, you cannot view the video playback on your PC using that cable. With the IEEE cable (and Nero Vision or other comparable video editing or encoding software) you can view, capture, and interact (play, rewind, fast forward, stop) with the camcorder; and easily copy your video to your PC to allow you the ability to edit it and burn it to DVD. Granted the cables are around $4, but still it would have been nice to have had it in the box.

As with most units on the market today, this one also has a good low light mode using IR assist, and it has a nice little high intensity LED on the front of the unit you can also turn on to add some extra illumination to things close to you. If you switch the camcorder out of auto and into manual mode, you can play with the various settings and create some very nice video recordings. Odds are you are not going to become the next Steven Spielberg with this camera, but it will handle all of the needs of the average home user such as myself.

Once the camcorder has completed its boot cycle after you turn it on, there is very little delay between pressing the record thumb button and the unit actually recording. I was expecting the usual one or two second delay and was surprised to see that it went right to recording. The zoom button takes a little getting used to because it is very sensitive. The first few times I used it I zoomed way too fast, for the most part it is not a big deal until you play it back on a large TV, then it feels like you are sitting on a roller coaster. The playback controls on the camcorder are oddly not marked as those controls, since they serve double duty and they provide different tasks in playback and record modes. They are only marked for what they do in record mode. Although this is not that big of an issue once you learn how to use them, it can be confusing if you are looking for a button marked "play" and you haven't glanced through the manual yet. The LCD is very sharp and provides an extremely clear image both in record and playback mode.

This camcorder has a nice feature that I have not seen on every one on the market. The heads up display information that shows up on the LCD display does not show up on the video or IEEE output. When you are transferring the video over you do not have the "play, stop, or seek" symbols on the screen when you are changing modes on the camcorder. They are only on the LCD display or viewfinder windows.

Overall I am very happy with the unit although I have only had it for a couple weeks I can already see that I am going to enjoy playing around with this camcorder. Of course that means that I am going to irritate a lot of my family members at holidays and other events when I keep shoving a camera in their face. But I am sure they will be less upset after they get their copy of the final DVD that I will give them.

I would highly recommend this unit to anyone that is thinking of buying a camcorder, or looking to update their 10 year old unit.

On a side note, Sam's club has an 8 pack of the Maxell hour MINI-DV tapes for just under $20. So far this is the best in store price I have found.

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