So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
JVC Everio GZ-HD3
- External mic jack, 'professional' design, image quality should impress most users
- Minor performance issues, a bit bulky
The GZ-HD3 is a solid HDD camcorder that will satisfy in most of the areas that count. Despite a few design issues, it offers a respectable performance for the asking price.
Price$ 1,849.00 (AUD)
The GZ-HD3 is a relatively affordable entry into the high-definition HDD camcorder market. With an RRP of just $1849, it is certainly a lot cheaper than JVC's previous HD effort, the Everio GZ-HD7, yet ironically, its cost-cutting methods come at a heavy price.
Unlike the standard-definition Everio range -- which is basically identical apart from memory size -- the GZ-HD3 is a poor man's version of the GZ-HD7. It has been stripped of a number of significant features, making for a markedly less attractive product. For instance, the GZ-HD7's focus ring is absent from this model, forcing you to fiddle with a miniature directional stick at the edge of the LCD screen. Naturally, this is a far less intuitive or effective method, and will see most users stick to auto focus; which performed averagely at best. While not as erratic or sluggish as some other units we've looked at, it still occasionally struggled to lock onto a subject, causing several seconds of blurry footage. Experienced videographers and budding filmmakers are therefore advised to steer clear.
But the cuts don't stop there. In addition to no focus ring, the GZ-HD3 lacks an optical image stabiliser, a professional Fujinon HD lens, dedicated buttons for aperture priority and shutter speeds, or the ability to record in 'full' 1080p HD -- again, these are all features that were present on the GZ-HD7. While this is sure to annoy advanced users, the casual demographic are unlikely to be fazed much and will probably enjoy the camera regardless. (Mind you, the same thing could be said about many camcorders that cost half the price.)
In terms of actual camera components, the GZ-HD3 fares pretty well against its more expensive cousin. Both models sport the same 3CCD sensors and come equipped with a 60GB hard drive that is capable of storing between five and seven hours of video, depending on the selected quality. Once your hard drive is filled up, you can copy the files to your PC or write them to disc (Blu-ray and DVD are both supported). Curiously however, the docking station packaged with previous Everio units has not been included here. Instead, all cables connect directly to the camera, including a HDMI port for high-def playback. Rather spiffily, an external microphone jack is also included, as well as a video light for shooting in dim conditions.
Considering its entry-level price point (for a HD camcorder) and relative lack of features, the GZ-HD3 is a surprisingly bulky camera. Compared to other high-def HDD units we've reviewed, such as the Canon HG10 and Sony HDR-SR7E, its overall dimensions feel a little bloated. While some might appreciate the added weight and professional feel this affords, we personally prefer something we can throw into our jacket pocket and forget about. Despite this one issue, the unit is nicely designed and should pose few problems during basic operation.
When it came to video performance, the GZ-HD3 impressed us, yet failed to astound. As with the GZ-HD7, we encountered several problems in our test footage; mostly to do with image noise and motion blur. Fast moving objects -- such as brightly coloured cars -- occasional exhibited streaking, though to be fair this is probably only noticeable on especially large displays. Meanwhile, our indoor footage was a little too grainy for our liking, especially under dim lighting.
On the plus side, we were quite pleased with our outdoor shots, with images appearing sharp and crystal clear. We were also happy with the overall appearance of colours, which remained well saturated and true-to-life; especially in sunny conditions. Basically, while it's not exactly perfect, the GZ-HD3's output should satisfy all but the pickiest of users.
Like the rest of the Everio range, the GZ-HD3 can record data to SDHC/SD memory cards. This format is ideal for storing your digital photos (results are worthy of 4x6in prints) and will also come in handy if you unexpectedly run out of hard disk space. Unfortunately, you will need to purchase this media separately, as JVC has skimped out on including a 4GB card.
When it boils down to it, we're not altogether sure which unit represents the best value for money. On the one hand, the GZ-HD3 is attractively priced and is capable of matching the HD7 for image quality, but on the other, it lacks many of its predecessor's premium features. If we were forced to decide, we reckon the GZ-HD3 is probably the better buy, but only for those who aren't interested in manual shooting.
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