1700 Valley Rd.
Wayne, NJ 07470
For many video enthusiasts, small camcorders mean convenience. Case in point: the new JVC GR-D33 is a compact Mini DV model with a nice selection of manual controls and very impressive image and sound quality, especially when you consider its low price. Though it does have a few quirks–such as the bottom-loading tape door–it offers tremendous value to the point-and-shoot videographer.
The JVC Digital Camcorder Has The Goods
One can't help but wonder just how much smaller cameras are going to get. JVC's GR-D33 is definitely among the smallest of the Mini DV camcorders–not just in size, but price, too.
Looking over the JVC digital camcorder, it has the usual amenities–flip-out screen, traditional viewfinder, and all the camera controls in the usual places for consumer cameras, including the manual focus wheel (meant to be used by the right index finger) next to the still photo button. The GR-D33 also has manual white balance control and a manual exposure control of sorts–not a true manual iris control, but an "exposure value" plus and minus, which is very handy for adjusting exposure but not as useful for manipulating depth of field. To its credit, the GR-D33 does have an Iris Lock feature, which allows you to maintain the same aperture while adjusting shutter speed and/or gain.
Nobody likes smashing his or her nose up against the rear-mounted battery on a camera. To avoid this, JVC created the GR-D33 with a traditional telescopic color viewfinder. The viewfinder also doubles as a "standby" button. When pushed in (and the LCD screen is closed), the JVC digital camcorder turns off, and conversely when the viewfinder is extended, if the power button is still in the on position, the camera comes back online.
Another nice power saving feature is the use of two high-intensity LEDs for an on-camera light rather than halogen or other filament bulbs. They output a surprising amount of light and don't affect the battery life nearly as much as traditional lights. Surprisingly, the light put out by the LEDs is not only bright enough to illuminate well within ten or fifteen feet, but is slightly in the blue spectrum. The slight blue shift in the light makes the colors seen by the camera come out more vibrant, and seemingly a bit truer.
The image quality is great for the price. It wasn't long ago that a consumer couldn't even come close to touching the image quality that this camera offers for less than two thousand dollars. In low light, the camera adjusts nicely, balancing between shutter speed, aperture and gain with a decent response time.
Unfortunately, making a camera smaller means fitting the same amount of controls into a reduced surface area. It should come as no surprise, then, that the control buttons on the very compact GR-D33 are very close together. As a result, when focusing with the manual focus wheel, you may find yourself accidentally pushing the photo button. The focus wheel has incremental stops, which is very convenient for the menu functions, but sometimes can be a little bothersome compared to a smoother analog dial for focusing. The zoom lever is a bit touchy and awkward, and if you're a long-fingered videographer, you will have to put a significant bend in your finger to operate it. These are all minor concerns, however, and are part of the trade-off you must accept whenever you purchase a small camera like the GR-D33.
As previously mentioned, probably the least convenient thing about the GR-D33 is its bottom-loading tape door, which requires you to remove the JVC digital camcorder from the tripod before you can change the tape–a monumental inconvenience, to be sure.
Event shooters and prosumers: this camera is not for you. Although the picture quality is good, and the camera is feature rich; the sheer fact that it is bottom-loading negates mounting the camera to tripods, jib arms, stabilization systems, and the like. However, soccer parents and business folk, take note: this camera is an excellent choice for you. It's small, so it can fit in a purse, briefcase, suitcase or backpack easily; it's got a nice lens and a decent set of manual controls; it shoots great video; and it's very affordable.
Ty Audronis is a producer, editor, animator, and consultant for film and video specializing in visual effects.
Format: Mini DV
Number of CCDs: 1
Size of CCDs: 1/6 inch
Pixels on CCD: 680,000
Shutter Speed: Auto/manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/60
Lens f Stop: f/1.6
Program Exposure Modes: 9
Optical Zoom: 16:1
Focal Length: 2.7mm to 43.2mm
Image Stabilization: Electronic
Manual White Balance: Yes
Viewfinder: 0.24" color LCD
LCD Monitor: 2.37" LCD
Video In: Composite
Video Out: Composite
Mono/Stereo Recording: 12-bit or 16-bit Stereo
Microphone In: No
VU Meters: No
Manual Audio Level Controls: No
Headphone Jack: No
Still Shot Media: n/a
Memory Card Included: n/a
Wireless Remote: No
External Battery Charger Provided: No
Battery Type: Lithium-Ion
Tape Loading Configuration: Bottom
Onboard Video Light: Yes (LED)
Accessory Shoe: No
An excellent choice for the point-and-shoot crowd.