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Call it Steven Spielberg syndrome -- or Tutankhamen disease -- but I take documenting life



Other people take snapshots or make simple home videos. I shoot photographs and create films; nevermind these works of art are miraculously almost always about me, my friends and family.

I am such a personal auteur that when a major change comes to video cameras -- my filmmaking weapon of choice -- I pay attention.

The new news in video is that cameras are losing their hard-media tether.

For better or for worse, making videos will no longer require tape, digital video discs and other formats.

New world of movie-making, take one!

Picture This

Consumer-grade video recorders, which are marketed under the ludicrous rubric of "camcorder," got their start back in 1983 when


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got the brilliant idea to combine a camera (the "cam") and the then-separate magnetic tape video recorder (the "corder") into a single handheld unit for consumers.

The camcorder was a hit. Betacam became the industry standard for both pros and consumers. And after Sony's success, JVC, Panasonic, Toshiba and others crowded into the camcorder market.

Now video recorders are standard in cell phones, and phone makers like Nokia, Motorola and LG are solidly in the portable video game.

And since today's still cameras take videos as well,


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are also in the market. It's only a matter of time before


sticks a video cam into the iPod.

All of these players pushed innovation through the camcorder, and tape was eventually replaced by different media -- MiniDV and digital video disc, among others.

But that was a mere detail; the home-video routine has remained as it was in the days of Ronald and Nancy. You pointed. You shot. You recorded. You took a tape, MiniDV or DVD and you went from there.

But no longer. Starting early this year, camcorders went digital.

Digital Revolution

Units now come armed with hard drives similar to those found in computers. Video data is stored on a spinning hard disk and solid-state memory, just as the iPod stores music and digital cameras store pictures.

Hard-disk-drive camcorders, in theory, are smaller, sleeker, quieter and come packed with digital features like still photography, digital editing and on-the-fly viewing.

There's only one problem. Picture quality.

Early hard-drive camcorder images are awful. I mean horrifying. The picture quality makes decades-old VHS look like high-definition film. Not only that, the camcorders I saw are bedeviled by finite storage capacity, limited battery life and ridiculous features I don't need. (Please tell me why I must have crummy wipe and fade controls?)

But we learn to forgive in consumer electronics. So when JVC sent over its latest hard-drive camcorder, the new three-chip Everio GZ-MG505 ($1,599), I figured it was time to take another look.

So off I went for a fall walk along the Maine shore. In general, the Everio G is an acceptable unit. It captured the Pleasant Point gut road nicely: bright blue sky above and the sea to my left.

The camera was light and easy to carry: a burnished black canister, with a lens on one end, just bigger than half a can of Coke and about as heavy.

Excellent fit and finish is what you would expect at this price. And it is good.

I found the essential controls for shooting and zooming easy and intuitive. A nicely film-proportioned 16-by-9 aspect ratio viewing screen pivoted cleanly from off the side of the unit.

The Everio's decent 10-times zoom enlarged our famous neighbor Andy Wyeth's monster of a boat blasting up the river; though the image quality was less than ideal (more on that later).

And the advantages of the digital hard drive are clear: You have direct control of the shoot in real time. Shoot, list and organize on the fly. Very nice.


But there are issues.

First of all, picture quality. It has clearly taken a major step forward from early hard-disk recorders. But would I call it good? Absolutely not.

JVC uses a proprietary image compression system called Megabrid. I realize I am a compression snob, but even discounting that, this algorithm is not there yet.

Both on the camera's LCD display and on my good old RCA home display, the colors were a mess. I found the greens particularly harsh in the worst fluorescent light, in-the-office sort of way.

And get this, JVC expects you -- after dropping more than $1,500 -- to buy backup batteries and a separate charger.

I couldn't care less about the money. But please, don't nickel-and-dime me. Sell me what I need to make the system work, not one battery that lasts 45 minutes and no backup charger. And why -- to lower the price from $1,600?

Worse, there was no image stabilization system on the camera I tested.

This by-now standard feature of electronically smoothing moving images was notably absent.

Since a camera this small is almost impossible to hold still, my test pictures had that circa-1964 World's Fair blur. "Oh, honey, if you look carefully, when the shaking stops, that's the Unisphere." Please.

The Everio G is not a disaster. In fact, it is a decent second camera. Get it for the kids or the significant technophobe other. It's that simple. I could even see it as a travelcam; it's that portable.

But if you're there to get the shot, a living breathing reification of your one and only stroll through this marvelous earth, I would stick with a traditional tape or at least DVD recorder -- or be willing to spend 10 times the price of an Everio G for a professional-grade hard-disk video recorder.

My memories are worth it. And so are yours.

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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.