Compromise isn't always a bad thing, particularly when it comes to camcorders. After all, they can be very expensive items, and if you're not careful, you could easily end up wasting a whole sack of cash on features you don't really need and picture quality you'll never really take full advantage of.
If you're just looking for something to film family videos, it's likely you'll want a good balance of quality, convenience, features and, above all, value. At around £300, the JVC Everio GZ-HM330 could well be one to consider.
When budgeting for a new camcorder, the trick is to try and have a very clear idea of what it is you want from your device and how you're going to be using it. It's very easy to get distracted by the latest snazzy features, colourful designs or impressive specs, but the truth is, for most 'normal' users, there are probably only a handful of core requirements. Is it easy to use? Is it small and light enough to carry around? Does it record good quality images and sound? If you can tick all three of these off your checklist, you're most of the way towards making your purchase decision.
There are, of course, different degrees of small and light. The Everio GZ-HM330, for example, might seem a little bulky if you've been eyeing up the latest pocket camcorders, such as the Flip Video or JVC's own Picsio range. It doesn't have a cool candybar design, either. The Everio's silvery body is somewhat functional, but the device is hardly ugly and it fits snugly in your palm. One small but useful element of the design is the grip belt, which can be easily transformed into a handy wrist strap by detaching the front part. The GZ-HM330 is also exceptionally portable compared to most other traditional camcorders, despite the fact that it already has 8GB of internal storage on board (plus room for more via an SDHC slot).
Pocket camcorders tend to be ultra-easy to use, often with only a handful of basic controls to contend with, while high-end models seem to make things more complicated than necessary for most people by offering lots of manual options. The GZ-HM330 strikes a good balance between the two, with full auto mode for straightforward pointing-and-shooting, and the option for more control over your pictures should you want to explore this aspect at any point.
The science bit
Where the GZ-HM330 beats most pocket video cams -- and many traditional camcorders at the budget end of the scale -- is picture quality. The Everio combines a Konica Minolta HD zoom lens with a decent-sized image sensor to record high-definition pictures at up to 1080i. It uses JVC's HD Gigabrid Premium II Engine to process footage as 24Mbps AVCHD-standard files, which produces far superior results compared to the process used by lower-end models, even those that claim 'full' 1080p resolutions.
Indeed, we were very pleased with our test footage. The GZ-HM330's picture was detailed and sharp, while colours were very realistic. Some may prefer a stronger colour palette but, for our money, we thought the GZ-HM330's image had a more natural feel to it than even more expensive models.
On top of that, the 30x optical zoom is pretty powerful for a camera of this price. Features such as an image stabiliser, HDMI output, face detection and Dolby Digital stereo sound provide a solid base of genuinely useful functions.
During our tests, we did find we occasionally needed to twiddle the Everio's manual settings in order to get the optimum image for a given situation. For example, if you move from a naturally lit exterior to a light-bulb-illuminated interior while in auto mode, you may well be left with an overwhelmingly orange image. This can easily be fixed, though, by adjusting a mixture of shutter speed and white balance.
The GZ-HM330 almost certainly wasn't designed with manual controls as a main priority -- there are no 'proper' manual buttons or dials. The only way to adjust settings is to keep trawling through the on-screen menus, and this is somewhat exacerbated by a slightly awkward blend of button pushes and finger swipes. We're not convinced by JVC's Laser Touch Operation (which is basically a touch-sensitive strip running down the left-hand side of the screen), but at least the interface isn't completely unnavigable.
More of a downer is the GZ-HM330's photo quality. Anyone looking to combine the duties of a video cam and a compact stills camera will likely be disappointed with the Everio's skill set on the photo side. Images are low-res for a start -- only up to a maximum of 2 megapixels (1,920x1,080) at full quality. Detail is low and edges look rough -- snaps taken on the GZ-HM330 aren't really up to print standards.
If you're not looking for high-resolution still photography, the JVC Everio GZ-HM330 proves you don't have to compromise too much in order to bag yourself a decent camcorder at a reasonable price. It's easy to use, easy to carry and video quality is very high for a camera of its price. At the time of writing, JVC is offering the GZ-HM330 in a bundle with two 16GB SD memory cards for just £320 through the company's own online store, making it an even more sensible purchase.
Edited by Emma Bayly