Keeping standard-def camcorders competitive against cheaper pocket video cams capable of 720p HD video, such as the Kodak Zx1, 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 MS100, and though the company left out internal storage from this model there are dual SD/SDHC card slots; the AU$699 MS130 comes with 16GB of built-in memory and a single SD/SDHC slot, but is otherwise identically specified. So with its extra card slot, the MS120 can go up to 64GB of storage should you want it. Oh, and its video isn't half bad either, considering its sub-AU$600 price.
Design and features
Even though the MS120 is compact, it's very comfortable to use, and does look and feel nice, despite being entirely plastic. It's also available in three colours: black, blue and red. The battery takes up most of the back and there's just enough room for the record start/stop button to the right of it. On top are the zoom rocker and a photo snapshot button. You can take stills while shooting video, but there's also a tiny switch on the left side of the body giving you access to more snapshot features. Photos are 640x480 and are 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 — though the camcorder can be set to turn on and off when you open and close the LCD. Then there is a row of one-touch buttons — Upload, Direct DVD, and Export — that work in concert with the bundled software. This means to do the YouTube direct uploads you need to install this software, so you can't just do it from any computer. What is nice 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, thereby 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 designate one slot for videos and one for photos. However, should you be recording and run out of room on one slot, the MS120 can be set to automatically switch to the other slot and continue recording. It's not instantaneous so you will miss some of what you were recording, but it does switch.
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 are not for everyone, including this reviewer. That said, JVC tweaked the system on the MS120 and now it's easier to use, has more features attached to it and, combined with a slightly reworked menu system, it's actually more pleasurable to use. We still wish you could tap the strip to select things instead of going over to a separate OK button. Added features include using the strip to the left of the screen for controlling the zoom and a record button below the screen. This makes it possible to comfortably control the camcorder while holding it overhand — perfect for shooting subjects like small children and animals.
Shooting options are actually a bit better than expected for what's essentially an entry-level camcorder. While the MS120 performed well in fully automatic 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 an old movie look, and Strobe that 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 nice set of features.
The MS120 records MPEG-2 video (MOD) of which the Ultra Fine version comes in at 8.5Mbps. That gives you a little less than 15 minutes for every one gigabyte of storage. Honestly, it's the only setting you'd want to record at with the MS120, but there are three more 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 primarily plan to shoot outdoors during daylight, the MS120 will produce satisfying results. However, our low-light videos had 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 high-definition detail or clarity. Colours were 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.
Yes, the dual-SDHC card slot is a gimmick, but hey, it works and it allows you to grow your storage larger than other manufacturers' camcorders. Other than that, the JVC Everio GZ-MS120 is a fairly typical standard-def camcorder.