Were you to set the Canon DC230 right next to its little brother, the DC220, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. Besides slightly darker accents, the DC230 looks identical to its little brother. Both DVD camcorders sport the same size, shape, and design, measuring 2.1 inches thick and weighing a relatively svelte 15.9 ounces with battery and DVD. However, the similarities run deeper than the skin. Apart from its higher-resolution 1.07-megapixel sensor and bundled remote control, the DC230 shares nearly the exact same characteristics as the DC220.
Unfortunately, that means that this camcorder shares all the same irritating design flaws as its predecessor. A flimsy-feeling joystick and three awkwardly placed menu buttons dominate the DC230's control scheme. While the joystick doesn't feel quite as bad after some practice, the three menu/function buttons remain almost impossible to access without obstructing the LCD screen. You can use the viewfinder while pressing those buttons, but that approach has its own problems since the buttons are difficult to press without shaking the camera. Also, the viewfinder is nearly flush against the camcorder's body and can't extend, so your face mashes up against the controls as you peer through it.
Very little separates the DC230 from its little brother in terms of features. Both cameras sport the same 35x, f/2.0-5.0 zoom lens, the same 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD, and the same two-channel Dolby Digital recording system. They both also sport miniSD card slots for taking still photos, but don't expect to make decent prints from the DC230's photos. Because the DC230 uses a 1.07-megapixel sensor, it can only produce 1,152x864 still photos, at best. Though there's no manual aperture control, the DC230 does have a handy shutter-priority exposure mode, and, if you use it wisely, the camcorder's pictures can turn out well enough for e-mails and Web sites. Unfortunately, you can only do so much with a 1-megapixel image. If you plan to take still pictures, you should spend the extra $150 to 200 for a dedicated budget snapshot camera instead. Even at that price, you can count on far better photos than the DC230.
Besides the higher-resolution sensor, the DC230 sports one minor upgrade over the DC220: a remote control. It's not the most surprising or revolutionary upgrade, but it helps to justify the camcorder's $50 premium over the DC220 a little bit more than if it only featured a new sensor. Considering the camcorder's slightly awkward controls, the remote control offers a welcome alternative for playback and menu navigation.
For an inexpensive, standard-definition DVD camcorder, the DC230 pleasantly surprised me with its video quality. While the bump up from 0.68-megapixel sensor to a 1.07-megapixel sensor might seem minor, that new sensor drastically improved its picture compared with the DC220. I noticed relatively little noise and artifacts, and fine details like grass and fur came out quite clear. The 35x lens focused quickly at most magnification factors and from most distances. Despite its lens' long reach, the DC230 uses a digital-stabilization system. Optical image stabilization, which shifts some of the optical elements within the lens in order to combat shake, typically works better. The DC230's system chokes down the number of effective pixels when recording to correct and reduce camera shake. It works well enough and doesn't seem to seriously affect the video, but if you want the absolute best results from this camcorder, you should set it on a tripod and manually disable the image-stabilization feature.
While the Canon DC230 doesn't have a lot of frills, it still stands out as a solid, inexpensive DVD camcorder. The slight bump in resolution over its little brother gives it much-needed improved video quality, and its modest feature set should satisfy most casual videographers and home movie buffs.