The NV-GS230 shows Panasonic's usual generosity of functions when you switch to fully manual mode, which unlocks a host of extra capabilities. White balance options include automatic and manual, with only two presets for indoors and outdoors. But shutter speed can be adjusted from 1/50th to 1/8000th of a second, and iris from F/16 to F1.8, with up to 18dB of video gain on top. Best of all, the shutter and exposure options can be configured separately, too. Canon only provides aperture priority modes, and Sony doesn't include manual shutter control in its recent consumer models at all. Neither manufacturer offers the manual gain of the Panasonic, either.
The remainder of the functions require a trip to the menu. Here the five scene modes can be found, including Sports, Portrait, Low Light, Spotlight, and Surf & Snow. The menu also includes a selection of useful functions. Turning on Zoom Mic locks the audio into the video zoom, focusing sound recording on the same distance as the visuals. The Wind Cut feature attempts to reduce the effects of wind noise. As an alternative to DV's 16:9 option, Cinema mode shoots 4:3 video but letterboxed with black bands above and below to make the visible area a 16:9 strip in the middle.
Thanks to the three CCDs, the NV-GS230 is capable of excellent colour fidelity in good lighting. The image is very sharp, although this appears to be electronically enhanced as there is a little ghosting round the edges of objects. There isn't much evidence of noise, though. This is still the case in lower light, although colours wash out quite a bit. Dropping the light still further causes a significant decrease in quality, with most of the colour information lost and a lot more grain evident.
The image quality is still slightly better than Canon's MD160, in low light, with a little more colour retained. But whilst the NV-GS230 easily outperforms the MD160 in good lighting, the difference is much more marginal as illumination drops. This is still a budget camcorder, after all. It's not going to be much use for recording a romantic candle-lit dinner, and footage shot in a dimly illuminated room will be rather grainy too. But holiday footage in Spain should look great.