Keeping standard-def camcorders competitive with cheaper pocket video camcorders capable of 720p high-definition video has basically come down to two features: storage and optical zoom. The JVC Everio GZ-MS120 packs the same 35x optical zoom as 2008's Everio GZ-MS100, and, although there's no internal storage in this model, there are dual SD/SDHC card slots. That's one slot more than its rivals, allowing you to go up to 64GB of storage should you want it. The MS120's video isn't half bad either, considering its £210 price.
Those who are thinking about getting a Flip Video-style mini-camcorder but who can live with a larger size should consider the MS120. Despite not technically being in the same category -- it won't fit in a trouser pocket -- you get much more camcorder for your money with the MS120 and its video is YouTube-friendly, with some assistance from the bundled software.
Even though the MS120 is compact, it's very comfortable to use. It also looks and feels good, despite being entirely plastic. The battery takes up most of the back, but there's just enough room for the record start/stop button to the right of it.
On top are the zoom rocker and a snapshot button. You can take stills while shooting video, but there's also a tiny switch on the left side of the body that gives you access to more snapshot features. Photos are at a 640x480-pixel resolution and typical quality for SD camcorders -- good enough for the Web or very small prints.
To the left of that switch sits a button to flip between play and record, and a power button, although the camcorder can be turned on and off just by opening and closing the LCD display. Then there's a row of one-touch buttons -- upload, direct DVD and export -- that work in concert with the bundled software. For direct YouTube uploads, you need to install this software -- you can't do it from just any computer. A pleasing touch is that, if you know the clip is destined for YouTube, you can press the upload button before you start shooting and the MS120 will automatically limit the movie to 10 minutes, meeting the site's length requirements.
Also on the top left side of the body are the two SD/SDHC slots. Each slot can take up to a 32GB card. In the menu system you can designate one slot for videos and one for photos. Should you be recording and run out of room on one slot, however, the MS120 can be set to automatically switch to the other slot and continue recording. It's not instantaneous, though, so you will miss some of what you were recording.
The only part of the design that's weak is the strap. It's an interesting design, functioning as both a wrist strap and grip belt, but it's thin and low on the body, so you're always fighting to keep the camcorder upright.
Lastly, JVC's 'laser touch' controls system isn't for everyone -- it uses a combination of buttons and a touch-sensitive slider to navigate options and settings, rather than a touchscreen interface or joystick. But JVC has tweaked the system on the MS120 and it's now more straightforward, has more features, and, combined with a slightly reworked menu system, is more pleasurable to use. We still wish you could tap the strip to select things instead of going over to a separate 'OK' button, though.
Added features include a strip to the left of the screen for controlling zoom and a record button below the screen. This makes it possible to comfortably control the camcorder while holding it with your hand uppermost -- perfect for shooting subjects like small children and animals.
Shooting options are better than expected for what's essentially an entry-level camcorder. While the MS120 performs well in full auto mode, at the push of a touch-sensitive button you can switch over to manual control for focus, brightness, shutter speed and white balance.
You also get a few recording effects, including 'classic film', which skips frames to give video that old-movie look, and 'strobe', which makes recordings look like a series of consecutive snapshots. Other options include a handful of scene modes and backlight compensation. All in all, it's a good set of features.
The MS120 records MPEG-2 video. Shooting in 'ultra-fine' mode, it comes in at 8.5Mbps. That gives you a little less than 15 minutes for every 1GB of storage. It's the only setting you'd want to record with, but there are three more shooting options, going down to 'eco' at 1.5Mbps for up to nearly 20 hours of recording time on an 8GB SDHC card.
If you intend to use the camcorder for sharing video on the Web and you primarily plan to shoot outdoors during daylight, the MS120 will produce satisfying results. Our low-light videos were above average quality, too. Save for some purple fringing that's typical of this class of camcorders, the results are good enough to view on larger TVs -- just don't expect HD detail and clarity. Colours are pleasing, with acceptable white balance in natural light. There are no incandescent or fluorescent presets for white balance, but the manual option is available and there's a halogen setting for use with the built-in LED lamp up front.
The dual SD/SDHC card slots may be something of a gimmick, but they work, potentially giving you more storage than other manufacturers' camcorders. Other than that, the JVC Everio GZ-MS120 is a fairly typical SD camcorder.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet