Wide-screen video is all the rage these days. With high-definition, 16:9 televisions becoming more and more popular, it’s easy to see why even budget MiniDV camcorders such as the JVC GR-D370 are starting to include wide-screen modes. This model is actually an upgraded version of JVC’s GR-D350, which costs only slightly less and is nearly identical, save for the D370’s wide-screen support and a video light.
At less than a pound and just 2.3 inches thick, the GR-D370’s slim frame is small and light enough to carry in a handbag or backpack. Unfortunately, the small form factor means cramped and awkward controls for large hands, but the camcorder is a good match for smaller to more average-size palms.
The GR-D370’s features are standard for a compact, budget camcorder. Its sensor is a puny 680,000-pixel CCD, with just 340,000 effective pixels for both stills and movies. While you get a relatively powerful 32X optical zoom lens, there’s only digital rather than optical image stabilization, so you’ll get a fair amount of jitter at maximum zoom unless you’re using a tripod. The camera also accepts SD cards for recording still images, but the tiny sensor means your photos will really be suitable only for e-mailing, not printing.
Aside from its budget price and high-powered zoom, another potentially appealing feature of this camcorder is its aforementioned wide-screen support. Unfortunately, the camcorder’s 4:3 LCD and viewfinder make it a little awkward to use. The GR-D370 records 16:9 video with the corresponding wide angle of view, but it displays on the LCD as very distorted 4:3 footage. It looks fine when played back on a widescreen TV, but standard TV users will probably miss the letterboxing effect we’ve come to expect from most widescreen camcorders.
The GR-D370’s other big quirk is its electronic viewfinder. Rather than automatically switching on when the LCD is closed, you must extend the eyepiece to enable it. Even when the power switch is on, the camcorder sleeps when both the LCD and the eyepiece are closed. It’s quite a nuisance until you get used to pulling the eyepiece out before you close the LCD.
As with most budget camcorders that have small CCDs, video quality leaves something to be desired. Details are softened to something approaching fuzzy oblivion. Videos shot outdoors are washed out, while indoor videos suffer from noisy, blocky blotches.
At less than $400, the JVC GR-D370US faces a variety of competition from budget camcorders such as the Sony Handycam DCR-HC26 and the Canon ZR600. We’d like to say it that rises above the fray to make it the value proposition it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately, there’s just not enough here to recommend it over other camcorders in its class.