We've been eagerly awaiting a chance to get our hands on the JVC HD Everio GZ-HD7 hard drive camcorder, and now that we've had one here for the past few days, we were not disappointed. Here are our impressions of its usability, picture quality and overall design.
Holding the camcorder is a delight. It feels like the designers of this device have carefully considered the user, because this little camcorder fits perfectly in the hand. Nice usability touches such as powering the camcorder on when you open its 16x9 widescreen display, a little focus assist button up front right where you need it, and our favorite, an easy-to-use focus ring, add a lot to this overall user-friendly package.
Navigating the menus is easy, too, where you can either control them with little buttons beside the viewscreen, or use buttons located on the camera body. A slight distraction is the red pilot light on the camcorder itself, making you think at first that you're recording. But there's a red REC indicator on the viewscreen that shows you when you're actually recording onto the unit's 60GB hard drive.
And yeah, there's the big plus with this camcorder: There's no tape involved. All your footage is recorded on that 60GB hard disk. The hard drive can store nearly five hours of footage at its highest- quality setting, gathering video with three CCDs and laying it down at a full 1920x1080i. It uses electronic pixel shifting to spread out the pixels, but the result is ultra-high quality. No, it's not up to the standard of professional-level 3-CCD camcorders such as the Panasonic HVX200, which uses similar raster-stretching techniques, but then you can buy three of these JVC HD Everios for the price of one of those.
Looking at its picture in a 720p monitor, we realized that yes, this is the real thing: tack-sharp HDTV with a camera small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Never have we seen such great video coming out of a camera so small and so cheap. It doesn't feel cheap, though, and we were also highly impressed with its f/1.8 - 1.9 Fujinon zoom lens, 10x optical glass that's plenty fast and crispy-critter sharp.
There is image stabilization on board, too, but we didn't get as much benefit from that as we have in Sony and Canon camcorders in the past. Since we like to use a tripod as often as possible anyway, that's not a huge factor for us, especially when the lens zoomed all the way out. But still, trying to zoom all the way into its full 10x length made for some really shaky looking shots. We agree with David Pogue that this Everio's image stabilization leaves much to be desired.