JVC's Everio GZ-MS100 is a compact, budget SD-card-based camcorder capitalising on the trend of one-touch upload of video to the internet; the big YouTube sticker on the back of the camcorder's LCD and the YouTube branding on the box are kind of a give-away. Its other main selling point is the Laser Touch interface, which attempts to inject some gee-whiz factor into an otherwise staid operation, namely navigating the setting menus.
Taking its design cues from the Everio G Series hybrid camcorders, the MS100 (part of the Everio S Series) is smaller at 54mm wide by 68mm high by 111mm deep. Its traditional horizontal body design is atypical of fashionable YouTube camcorders, such as Sony's limited-edition Net-Sharing Cam, which tend toward the shape and size of a deck of cards. This does mean the MS100 is bigger and heavier (though it weighs only 270 grams with battery), but it allows for a debatably useful 35x zoom lens and a higher-resolution 680,000-pixel CMOS sensor (340,000 effective) compared with VGA-resolution (307,200 pixels) on most of those models. The MS100 is also around twice the price and for these reasons — size, chassis, components, and price — the MS100 shouldn't be judged against the VGA camcorders, but against models like the Canon FS100. By those standards, the JVC looks considerably less impressive.
Even as small as the MS100 is, it's very comfortable to use and does look and feel nice, despite being entirely plastic. The battery takes up most of the back; 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 cannot take stills while shooting video, forcing you to flip a tiny switch on the left side of the body. Photos are 640x480 and are typical quality for SD camcorders — good enough for the web at small sizes, barely.
Above that switch sits a button to flip between play and record, and below it is one for changing out of Auto mode to Manual. Then there is the ballyhooed one-touch Upload button and its partner Direct DVD button. This one-button YouTube upload, though, really just connects, transcodes, and uploads via the bundled Windows only Cyberlink software. It certainly doesn't relieve you of having to be in front of your computer to keep the process moving from start to finish. This is not really any different than the MS100's competitors, except that some of them have the software built into the camcorder so you don't have to worry about where the software's installed.
Then there are the Laser Touch controls. Down the left side of the flip-out 2.7-inch LCD is a touch-sensitive strip that sort of takes the place of a joystick or directional pad. However, those generally have five directions used for selecting things, whereas the strip, while responsive and pretty — it lights up a brilliant blue when stroked — only handles scrolling up and down, or for adjusting focus, exposure, and shutter speed in Manual mode.
Below the display are five Laser Touch buttons: OK/display, three that are context-sensitive, and Menu. We're sure that after a couple months of use, you'll have no problem remembering to go from Menu to OK to scrolling to OK to scrolling to OK to scrolling and to OK one last time, but for us it seemed like a lot of jumping around to change the white-balance setting. Aside from all the menu diving, the Manual mode is definitely a plus for the MS100. It's also what you have to be in to access scene programs like Sports, Snow, Spotlight, and Night. It should be noted that little of this is discussed in the skimpy user guide.
The camcorder records MPEG-2 video to SD/SDHC cards. The Ultra Fine setting comes in at 8.5Mbps, giving you a little less than 15 minutes for every 1GB of storage. Honestly, it's the only setting you'd want to record at with the MS100, but there are three more options going down to Eco at 1.5Mbps for up to nearly 20 hours of recording time on a 16GB SDHC card.
If you stick to the intended use of sharing video on the web and you primarily plan to shoot outdoors during daylight, the MS100 will produce satisfying results. Viewed full screen on a computer monitor, footage is rife with blocky artefacts and noise, but taken down to YouTube proportions the results are considerably better, save for some high-contrast fringing. Colours were pleasing with acceptable white balance in natural light. Indoors is another story, as the overall results are not all that enjoyable and there is no option to change to incandescent or fluorescent presets. There is a manual white balance you can tweak for better results and a halogen setting, likely for correcting the light from the weak built-in LED light at the front of the camcorder.
A couple other things are worth mentioning. There is no optical image stabilisation, just digital, so extending out to 10x, let alone 35x, results in a shaky mess without a tripod. The zoom rocker itself tends toward touchy, but with some practice can be steadily controlled. Also, there's a wind-cut filter you can turn on for the stereo mic under the lens, but it proved just about useless.
The JVC Everio GZ-MS100 should satisfy a majority of budget-conscious users who want a simple and small flash memory-card-based camcorder in a traditional horizontal chassis for getting videos up on the web. Those who intend to view video on a TV or even full screen on a computer monitor will not be happy with this model though.