We've previously reviewed this camcorder's cheaper sibling, the MC200. The MC500 exceeds it in performance and image clarity by a noticeable margin. This is largely down to the MC500's three CCDs (Charge Coupled Device) -- it uses three entirely separate sensors that respond independently to red, green and blue light. Because of this colour separation, the picture recorded to the MC500's internal microdrive is better than anything a single-CCD system is capable of.
The most convincing reason to consider the MC500 is its size. Unlike most camcorders, it will fit in your pocket. Because of this, you'll find yourself taking the MC500 camcorder to places you would never take a full-sized one. Carrying it around is barely more of a commitment than carrying a large wallet.
The MC500's chassis design reminded us of the massive Panavision cameras that Hollywood movie studios use to shoot feature films. Although the MC500 is tiny, it does share a few features with the full-sized professional 3CCD camcorders. These features include a manual focus ring and widescreen lens hood. It may not challenge the performance you'll get from something like the Canon XL2, but for a handheld consumer camcorder, it definitely has an indie-filmmaker vibe.
As with the MC200, you'll find yourself using inventive new shooting positions when holding the MC500's small body. The lens and grip parts of the MC500 swivel on a pivot, which lets you angle the viewfinder independently from the lens itself. This is especially useful when shooting over the heads of crowds, or tracking low shots. It also makes it easier to shoot footage surreptitiously and it's ideal if you want to video an interview subject without intimidating them with a full-sized camcorder pressed to your eyeball.
The LCD display on the MC500 is bright and visible despite the small chassis. This is critical because using the LCD is the only way of framing your shot -- the camcorder has no standard viewfinder. The MC500's hand-grip didn't cause any discomfort, even when shooting for long periods. It's possible that you'll forgo the hand grip completely and hold the camcorder as arbitrarily as you would any small object -- there is next to no weight to the thing (400g).
The internal Microdrive is easily removed from the chassis. A catch releases the drive cover and the Microdrive ejects when you press a PCMCIA-style button. You can also eject the MC500's battery, but you won't need to do this unless you have extra batteries to swap it with. There is no external charger included with the camcorder, so unless you buy one separately, you'll have to leave the battery in the camcorder to charge it.
The MC500 uses three 1/4.5-inch 1.33-megapixel (1363x975) CCDs to capture your video. This senses 4:3 (full-frame) video at 960x720 pixels and 16:9 (widescreen) video at 1280x720pixels. Although the effective resolution is slightly lower, this is still an impressive feat for such a small device. That the MC500 supports widescreen is in itself impressive -- some full-sized camcorders fail to achieve this.
In a bright environment, the MC500's three CCDs will capture good colour detail, although low-light recording without the built-in headlight is dreamlike and blurry. This is a common problem with DV camcorders, although the MC500's three CCDs mean that video shot in low light is far better than with a single-CCD model.
Perfunctory information about your recording is shown on the camcorder's screen, including time, date and battery level. As you would expect from a 46mm LCD, the icons on the MC500's display are small, but they are legible. You can alter settings via a series of on-screen menus, but a rotary dial on the side of the camcorder determines shooting modes. The dial switches recording from Movie to Photo modes as well as a number of preset modes like sports and night-time.