Three CCDs used to be the hallmark of professional-grade camcorders. But in 2003 Panasonic started to bring the technology down to models well under a grand. Now, amazingly, you can pick up a Panasonic camcorder with a trio of sensors for under £250 - well into bargain basement territory. The NV-GS230 is a MiniDV model, so is almost yesterday's technology. But if you're still resisting the urge to move up to high definition, or just don't want to spend that much on a camcorder, MiniDV remains a value choice.
Although the NV-GS230 incorporates three CCDs, they are rather small, which will have an impact on low-light performance. Each one is 1/6in and has a gross complement of 800,000 pixels. Panasonic aggregates these together for still images, allowing the NV-GS230 to boast 2.3-megapixels, which provides 1,760 x 1,320-resolution photos. An SD memory card slot is built in for storage.
Amazingly, despite the rock-bottom price, the NV-GS230 still has plenty to attract the video enthusiast. There's a standard accessory shoe, with both microphone and headphone minijacks to go with it. Tapes load from the top, too, so you won't need to unscrew this camcorder from the tripod quick-release to change tapes. As you would expect for a sub-£250 camcorder, image stabilisation is electronic rather than optical, but only the most expensive models use the latter. And what looks like a focus ring on the lens is merely a short hood that can be screwed off. There's also no built-in lens cover, with Panasonic opting for a traditional protective cap instead.
Manual focusing is actually performed by evoking the appropriate mode and then using the joystick. It's a little fiddly, but does the job. The joystick is also home to backlight compensation, soft skin enhancement, tele-macro, and night view mode, plus a digital fade effect for those who prefer to stick with in-camera editing. Although the NV-GS230 doesn't appear to have a video light built in, the LCD panel actually doubles for this function. Toggle 0 lux night mode, swivel the panel over to face forwards, and it turns white. This provides enough illumination for picking up some footage in darkness, but the shutter speed is dropped so low the frame rate is very jerky.