Genius G-Shot HD520
With its $139 price, the G-Shot HD520 pocket high-definition (HD) camcorder from Genius is more affordable than its competitors, such as the $200 Flip UltraHD ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), the $200 Xacti VPC-CG10 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ), the $230 Vado HD ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ), or the $160 Zi6 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ). In this case, however, it pays to fork out the extra cash for one of the G-Shot's competitors--the G-Shot's image quality lags behind the rest of the pack.
Unlike the candy bar-like shapes of the UltraHD, Vado HD, and Zi6, the G-Shot features a pistol-grip design with a flip-out LCD (its design is similar to the Xacti). The flip-out LCD can rotate 270 degress, so you can turn the display around for self-portraits. The G-Shot's LCD also make it easier to shoot subjects when you need to hold the camera over your head or closer to the ground. The G-Shot has a 2.5-inch LCD, bigger than what's usually found on most pocket camcorders. We had no problems seeing the LCD in bright sunlight.
(Image Caption: Genius G-Shot HD520)
The G-Shot saves to an SD card. The camcorder has 32MB of built-in memory, which is enough to hold 4 seconds of video at 1,280-by-720 resolution, 11 seconds of video at 640-by-480, or 39 seconds at 320-by-240.
To shoot video, you press a record trigger on the front of the camera. Press it again to stop recording. To zoom, you have to move a switch on the right side of the camera near the front, which is clumsy--and when you do zoom, the action doesn't move smoothly in and out. The flash mode button is located next to the zoom, while the Landscape/Macro toggle is on top of the G-Shot near the lens. The flash and Landscape/Marco controls aren't as vital to impromptu shooting as zoom, but their locations on the camcorder still seem oddly placed. We're used to using the thumb on the shooting hand to handle the controls on pistol-type camcorders.
The G-Shot's mode section screen is straightforward, and the built-in menu system for the settings (which you access by pressing a menu button), is reasonably easy to navigate, but the settings have some names and commands that aren't intuitive, like "Auction," "EID," and "DPOF."
You can also shoot still photos by pressing with your thumb on the Camera button, which is located on the left side of the button cluster on the back of the camcorder. Still photos can be taken at one of three resolutions: 11 megapixels (interpolated resolution), 5 megapixels (native resolution), or VGA (640 by 480 pixels). Unlike the Xacti VPC-CG10, you can't snap a picture while you're shooting a video.
To test the G-Shot for image quality, we shot video outside in bright sunlight, inside in a sunlit room, and inside at night under lamplight. We also checked skin tones by filming a human subject. The G-Shot produced very nice indoor skin tones and some good detail, but outdoors under bright sunlight the videos had too much contrast, with blown-out whites and murky shadows. And the G-Shot's clips were jaggy. Videos are saved in H.264 but as .AVI files, so you'll need the free Perian QuickTime plug-in to view the files on your Mac and to use them in iMovie.
All digital camcorders capture video data at a certain rate, and that data rate is reflected in how the movies look (though it's not the only factor that influences their quality). The G-Shot has a data rate of 6.3 Megabits per second, which is more than the Vado HD (4.3 Mbps), and Sony's Webbie HD MHS-PM1 ( Macworld rated 2 out of 5 mice ) (4 Mbps), but lower than the Flip UltraHD (9.1 Mbps), Xacti VPC-CG10 (9.3 Mbps) and Zi6 (8.8 Mbps). It's no coincidence that the UltraHD, Xacti VPC-CG10, and Zi6 are among the better pocket camcorders we've seen.
Another major sacrifice made with the G-Shot is in its recorded sound quality. The camcorder recorder only 22kHz monaural audio. Other pocket HD camcorder record using 44kHz or 48kHz stereo sound. Consequently, the G-Shot's sound lacks the richness and depth that its competitors produce.
In an effort to reduce gadget clutter, the G-Shot has two features not usually found on a camcorder. The first feature is an MP3 player mode, which you can use to play back MP3s that have been saved to the MP3 folder of the G-Shot's SD card. The included earphones look remarkably like the first-generation iPod earphones, but they don't sound as good (not that the iPod earphones sounded that great to begin with). The second feature is an e-book reader, but the manual had no instructions on how to use this feature or what e-book formats are supported--that probably doesn't matter, anyway, because the 2.5-inch LCD is too small for regular e-book reading.
The G-Shot's motion detection option is a nifty feature you won't find in most camcorders. The camcorder starts recording when it senses motion in the frame, stops recording when it no longer senses motion, and starts back up again when something moves. This lets you use the G-Shot are a security camera, but since the camcorder is on all the time, you should have the G-Shot's power adapter plugged into the camcorder.
Other features include a voice recorder, an HDMI video out port for connecting to a HDTV, and a removable rechargeable battery.
Macworld's buying advice
The G-Shot HD520 has a lot of features, but it doesn't come through where it counts the most: video image quality. After all, it is recording in HD--you'll appreciate the improvement in image quality if you spend a few more dollars.
[Christopher Breen and Roman Loyola are Macworld senior editors.]