Smartphones aim to wipe standard point-and-shoot cameras out of the market while mirrorless cameras hope to draw some attention away from the standard DSLR cameras. But where does that leave handheld digital camcorders? Modern DSLR cameras already have impressive video recording capabilities leaving professional photographers with little reason to carry around a separate camcorder. Smartphones can record 1080p video but don’t exactly have the ergonomics for lengthy video recording sessions. This is why there is still a market for budget camcorders and it is good news for companies like JVC which have a long history in making attractive camcorders in different price ranges. In early 2013, JVC announced a bunch of new Everio camcorders for 2013 focusing on refinements. The JVC GZ-EX555 belongs in the entry-level pack but it has some highly appreciable improvements.
JVC’s 2013 refresh focuses on internal improvements so the design ends up being similar to JVC’s other Everio products. It isn’t actually a bad thing because the GZ-EX555 is compact, light and comfortable to hold thanks to the hand strap. JVC can be forgiven for opting for a plastic body since this is a budget model after all but at least it feels glossy. There are not so many physical controls other than the basics because the interface is touch-driven.
The display panel is equipped with a standard 3-inch screen with 230k pixels. There are no physical controls next to the display so you are forced to learn the touch interface if you want to adjust settings and work with other controls. Fortunately, there isn’t much of a learning curve this time around because all 2013 models including the JVC GZ-EX555 have a redesigned menu interface. The new interface has an icon-driven approach so smartphone users should feel right at home.
If you didn’t purchase a cheap JVC camcorder before because you didn’t like the video quality, the GZ-EX555 could alleviate your concerns because of the improved 1/5.8-inch CMOS sensor. It has a 2.5-megapixel resolution which allows the camcorder to capture more detail. Zooming capabilities are sacrificed though leaving the maximum zoom up to just 38x instead of 40x. The Dynamic zoom is still available in case you want to go closer although it maxes out at 65x rather than 70x. It isn’t a huge difference and is worth the trade-off.
Another nice improvement is the inclusion of an optical image stabilizer which should help you shoot videos even if you zoom in. The sensor is back-illuminated as well making this camcorder a decent low-light performer.
You can really appreciate the decent video quality if you shoot video at higher video settings. In fact, the JVC GZ-EX555 offers some new options such as the ability to record 1080p at 50 frames per second and you can go as high as 28 Mbits/sec or 24 Mbits/sec at the usual 25 fps setting. You can also go for the iFrame format if you have a Mac and you wish to make it a bit easier for your Mac applications to edit these videos. 720p and 960×540 resolutions are accepted if you want to use the iFrame format.
The JVC GZ-EX515 shares these new improvements as well but it requires an SD card for storage purposes. This isn’t needed with the GZ-EX555 because it has 16 GB of onboard storage so you can record several hours of standard HD video. If you want to record more than 5 hours of HD video at maximum quality, it is best to buy a 64 GB SDXC card that is at least Class 4 (Class 10 recommended) for optimal performance.
Unsurprisingly, the JVC GZ-EX555 comes with smile and face detection which are useful but dated technologies that all camcorders should have by now. But the GZ-EX555 can detect pets as well with the Pet tracking mode and does a good job in keeping pets in focus with the right exposure.
Exploring the interface can be rewarding because you can adjust a couple of manual settings like the focus. You will have to upgrade to a higher-end model if you want to control the shutter or iris. Other features include a slow motion mode where you can record at 300 fps along with a time lapse mode. You can also turn on the built-in light or use the Gain Up and Auto Slow Shutter options to further boost low light performance. It is also possible to add fun stamps and handwriting to your videos.
Like the much of the 2012 lineup of JVC camcorders, the JVC GZ-EX555 also comes with built in Wi-Fi and it works best if you have an Android or iOS mobile device. You can put the camcorder in Wi-Fi direct mode so your mobile device can retrieve videos from the camcorder through the Everio Sync 2 app. From there you can share the video to Facebook or YouTube. The GZ-EX555 can function as an access point too so you can have the camcorder record video and let the smartphone or tablet connect to the camcorder. Your mobile device can adjust the camcorder settings remotely and view what the camcorder is currently seeing. Combined with a tripod, the JVC GZ-EX555 can essentially work as a surveillance camera. In fact, there is this nice software feature which lets the camcorder automatically send an email if the camcorder detects movement. If you have a PC in the home network, it is also possible to backup all stored videos in the camcorder to the PC wirelessly.
The GZ-EX555 is an interesting little product because it is so compact but has plenty of features including some internal storage. Even the 2012 model was very good for the price but came up a bit short in video quality. The JVC GZ-EX555 fixes that making this camcorder a near-perfect product. Near-perfect because the GZ-EX555 has a cheaper sibling which is the GZ-EX515 and it only lacks the internal storage. However, the JVC GZ-EX555 currently costs $450 while the GZ-EX515 costs $400. 64 GB SD cards are fairly cheap nowadays although the JVC GZ-EX555 can still be compelling if you need even more than 64 GB. Other than that and the lack of physical manual controls, the EX555 is one of the better budget camcorders for 2013.