Hi-def may rule the camcorder roost but there's still room in the digital pecking order for trusty old MiniDV. It offers the best quality of the standard def formats and, with prices tumbling, a capable cam is now cheaper than a plate of Raymond Blanc's chips.
For a spot of holiday filming, the MD160 will wipe the floor with the likes of even the best mobile phones or cheapo SD card based cam. Besides price, one of the benefits of going for a standard def cam rather than HD is that tonking great zooms are par for the course. You'll be lucky to find anything over 10x on an HD shooter, but the MD160 packs a healthy 35x. Any more and camera wobble will obliterate the shot.
Speaking of which, the Canon does pack an Electronic Image Stabilizer, which does its best to contain shake but loses some resolution in the process. It’s surprisingly effective but struggles at full zoom.
The body is the standard plastic fare but generally comfier than an old sofa. The controls are well placed, with the record button directly under thumb and a decent zoom rocker. You can control its sensitivity via the menus, so you don’t find yourself jumping in for a close-up of granny's chin hair every time you nudge the rocker.
There are switches up top to flick between tape and SD card – a handy option for taking quick YouTube ready clips – and for jumping between Program and Easy mode. The latter is seriously fool proof and makes everything as simple as pressing record.
Less well placed is the QuickStart button which puts the camera in stand-by. Pressing it again instantly fires it up to immediately start recording with the eagerness of a doped-up racehorse but it's awkward to reach with your hand strapped in, making it less useful than it could be.
On the menu
The menu controls are exactly where we want them – on the screen itself. Almost everything is done using the simple joystick. In Program mode there's plenty to fiddle with, from tweaking the auto exposure, to correcting the white balance, even changing the shutter speed. All very commendable but with no hot shoe, external mic jack or even headphone socket, this probably isn't the camera to take on Tarantino with.
What you do get is DV-in which makes it possible to archive edited footage back to tape in full quality using the Firewire cable – a major bonus over other budget models.
For the money we were impressed by what we got out of this cam. Canon's DIGIC DV produces excellent colour. Even in low light it was passable – or at least better than most in this price range. The on board video light isn't up to much but will help at close range. As ever, the Canon lens is sharp and we had no issues with clarity, looking great on our trusty widescreen CRT telly.
It won’t hold a candle to an HD model, but for budget shooting we think you’ll struggle to find better.