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everiogzmz555.jpgYou don't have to carry a still camera and a video recorder. This JVC camcorder does it all, and it records right to a hard drive so you won't run out of space.

{mosimage}It's been awhile since I looked at video cameras and this JVC model shows that they have improved dramatically in the last year.  With the JVC Everio GZ-MG555, you don't have to drag along a still camera. This Everio takes great movies and does double-duty to take still photos as well.

The  JVC Everio GZ-MG555 really has great versatility. It's a full-fledged camcorder and it's also a 5 megapixel  still-capture camera. You can store photos as you take them on a SecureDigital (SD) or SecureDigital HighCapacity (SDHC) card that slides into the bottom of the camera. Or you can keep them on the Everio's built-in 30GB hard drive. There is also a built-in flash for still photos and an LED light for video. For still photos you can control shutter speed and aperture. For videos there are several good presets as well as a noise reduction feature.

The built-in hard drive is really handy. No tapes or disks to mess with. Just turn on the camera and record for up to 37.5 hours (in the lowest quality). Even in the highest Ultra DVD Movie quality you can get about 7 hours of recording time which is enough for all the usual sporting events, parties, and family get-togethers. If you need more storage space you can also record videos to the removable SD card. The battery, however, will last for only 1 ½ hours, so if you want more recording time, you will need to purchase an extra battery.

With its 10x optical zoom, the Everio delivered excellent videos and stills. Color replication was also excellent in my testing. It also performed better than most camcorders in low-light situations. The 2.7-inch LCD screen flips out and around and is very clear. There are two main navigation buttons next to the LCD so navigating the menus is fairly easy.

The Everio comes with a dock that can be used to charge the camcorder. The dock also has connections for USB, S-video, FireWire, and AV-composite so you can easily hook the Everio up to a television or other video display. Although a minor point, the dock gives you a good-looking way to keep the camcorder handy on a desk or next to the TV.

I loved the compact design and the sturdy, but lightweight quality of this camcorder. It weighs in at less that 1 pound including the battery. I recorded my mother telling stories about her youth for hours at her 90th birthday party and my hand and arm never got tired.

I also loved the quick restart. You won't miss a thing because you can simply open the LCD and be ready to shoot in about 1 second. Several other features that got my attention were the built-in sliding lens cover and the function that lets you check the remaining battery power and recording time at the touch-of-a button.

In fact, this camera has a lot of functions that can be accessed at the touch of a button. Once you learn which buttons to press, it is extremely easy to use. Although recording and playback are relatively easy, learning to use all of the camera's functionality can be problematic. Button placement and functionality is not always intuitive. For instance, in my first try at downloading movies to the computer, I put the camera in the dock and hooked it up to the computer with the USB cable. While this seemed logical, it was incorrect. After I read the instructions, I found you need to keep the camera out of the dock to hook it up to the computer.

In a similar vein, you must have the LCD screen open to press the button to download the video. Again, this seemed unintuitive to me. Unfortunately, although all the information needed is in the instruction booklet, I found it to be difficult to follow. I was left turning pages and looking at complex diagrams to find out how to perform all the tasks. Perhaps folks who use camcorders regularly will have no trouble, I beg JVC for a rewrite on the instruction booklet so the average new user can find and understand everything. Although you may be able to figure out the basic functions without much trouble, I urge purchasers who are not highly camera-literate to allow extra time for learning how to get the most out of this camcorder.

The Everio comes with several software programs that will help you download and edit your videos. Since the camera will create files in a proprietary .MOD format, you will need to use the software if you want to convert then to MPEG-2 or some other format. Although the software is good for most tasks, again, I found it confusing. There is a program called Video Director and one called Video Producer. Of course you can open each to see what they do, but I would like to have some simple documentation explaining the programs and how to use them. I don't believe that everyone who uses a camcorder knows the difference between a director and a producer.

Although I've been pretty hard on JVC for their documentation, or lack thereof, I praise them for the hardware. I was able to take some great videos and still photos with the camcorder on the default settings and that's pretty spectacular!

Date of Review: 10-04-2007

Retail price:  $899.99