We've previously taken a look at this camcorder's more advanced relatives, the GZ-MC500 and GZ-MC200. Like these camcorders, the MG20 is hard disk-based. However, unlike the MC range, the MG models have fixed hard disks that cannot be removed from the chassis (well, certainly not without a great deal of warranty-violating tinkering).
Casual users will find the MG20's nine-hour footage capacity is more than enough for general use, but compulsive videographers will be better off opting for a removable hard-disk camera, or sticking with miniDV tape for now.
The MG-20 uses a single CCD (Charge Coupled Device) to record video images. Unlike a 3CCD camcorder, the MG20 uses just one CCD to sense red, green and blue light. This makes for a more affordable device, but does compromise image quality, especially in difficult lighting conditions. Because a single CCD system records all three colours with a single sensor, the picture recorded to the MG20's internal microdrive can't quite match that of the 3CCD MC500.
The overwhelming reasons to opt for the MG20 are its size and impressive record times (25 hours in low quality). Not much bigger than a can of Pepsi, this camcorder will fit in a jacket pocket -- albeit with a noticeable bulge. As a family video camera, the MG20 is hard to beat. It's light years ahead of tape-based miniDV camcorders in terms of usability and convenience. Picture quality isn't bad either -- it approximates DVD. However, aspiring filmmakers will find their tools elsewhere. The obfuscated editing process and absence of FireWire won't impress those who use Premier or Final Cut Pro.
The MG20's chassis is utilitarian and relatively compact. The body is finished in a low-key, muted metallic silver, making the camcorder slightly less attractive to opportunist thieves. There's a sturdy grip on the right-hand side of the camcorder -- if there's one thing JVC has got nailed, it's ensuring that these camcorders don't accidentally drop out of your hand. The shooting position is comfortable. As with all hard-disk camcorders, the small chassis means that you naturally find a good grip.
You'll notice that you develop strange new shooting methods when you're clutching the MG20's small body. This camcorder's small size lends itself to more adaptive grip techniques and you may end up not using the official hand strap at all -- instead your hand roams free.
Unlike the camcorder bodies in the MC range, the lens and grip parts of the MG20 do not swivel on a pivot. Instead, the approach is more conventional. Still, the flip-out LCD viewfinder itself will pivot, letting you shoot high over the heads of a crowd, or low down, while twisting the viewfinder to match your line of sight.
The LCD display on the MG20 is crisp and sharp in almost all lighting conditions. It's a good job too, because this is the only way to monitor your footage while you're shooting it -- the MG20 doesn't have a traditional viewfinder. The internal hard drive is not easily removed from the chassis -- we didn't even attempt to, as this will invalidate the warranty. If you're looking for a more expandable camcorder consider the MC400 or 500. If you're interested, the internal 20GB drive sits in the right-hand side of the chassis, under the hand grip, hidden away from prying fingers.
The MG20's battery clips onto the rear of the camcorder. Once you've attached it, you probably won't need to remove it again. There is no external charger bundled with the MG20 and the power adaptor plugs directly into the camcorder to charge the Lithium-ion cell.
The MG20 uses one 1/6-inch 340,000 pixel CCD to capture your video. This senses 4:3 (full-frame) video at 720x576 pixels, but doesn't capture 16:9 (widescreen) video. This is strong performance from a small device, but those with widescreen televisions may rue the absence of widescreen capture from the MG20. If this is important to you, the MC500 is worth considering as an alternative.