You can record in automatic mode, or switch to manual mode for increased control over the camcorder's behaviour. Instead of letting it react to light and focus changes on the fly, you can select specific settings, and the joystick on the fold-out LCD allows manual focus. It's difficult, to gauge the results on a small screen, though. This is a problem that bedevils all camcorders -- it's hard to tell with the naked eye whether the small LCD picture is sharp. You might be better off letting the camera automatically focus, and then locking that focus for the duration of the shot -- assuming you want a fixed focus distance.
You'll be forced to read the manual to adjust other options. These include spot exposure, backlight compensation, white balance, aperture, shutter speed and a variety of special effects, such as strobe, sepia and monotone. Camera options are controlled via on-screen menus. You can adjust the strength of the flash, and even bracket shots to ensure the correct exposure.
There's a built-in flash for still photography (the MG505 takes 5-megapixel still photographs), a stereo microphone and a 3.5mm jack for microphone-in. This makes the camcorder more versatile, because it gives you the option to improve the audio quality by using an external microphone. AV out and USB ports provide basic connectivity and there's a cold (unpowered) shoe on the top of the chassis. The shoe can be used to mount a gun mic or a light, although they'll need to be powered independently.
With a three second pause between being switched on and being ready to shoot, the MG505 trounces most tape- and DVD-based models for start-up time. You'll have that UFO in frame while most of your fellow tourists will be fiddling about with tapes and cursing their ancient tech.
Recording in 'Auto' mode yields decent results. The camera is easy to operate and sits comfortably in the hand. Zooming is smooth, with little of the stuttering that some camcorders are prone to.
The second thing to note is that the MG505's video is relatively free of noise and artefacting. Disappointingly though, colours lacked a certain degree of vibrancy -- unexpected behaviour from a 3CCD model. Despite this, we feel it's unlikely that you'll be a stickler for accurate colour when you're capturing family events, and for the most part the MG505 performs well.
One final caveat -- the MG505 records to a proprietary video format that is not easily edited in iMovie, Final Cut Pro or Premier. Professional users will definitely want to look elsewhere because the technical complication of converting the codec to a mainstream format is time consuming and yields mediocre results.
Though MiniDV camcorders are still our first choice for professional users, the convenience of hard-disk camcorders is getting harder to deny. For the moment, the appeal of the MG505 is limited to a certain breed of user, but things are moving fast towards tapeless production.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield