There's no easier way to describe the MD160 than to say that it looks like a camcorder. There's simply nothing that exceptional about its design. It features all the simple things you'd expect, such as a foldout and flip LCD display, which in the MD160's case is a 2.7-inch Widescreen model. Basic recording controls sit on the right hand side of the top of the camera. Then again, if a design isn't broken, why fix it? The real strength of the MD160's design lies in the fact that it's easy to use, and it's this kind of market that Canon squarely pitches the camera towards.
With a scant carrying weight of only 380 grams and overall body dimensions of 57mm by 92mm by 119mm, the MD160 is a light and generally easy to hold camera, even if you've got larger than normal hands or chubby fingers. One design point that we particularly like is the snap-up lens cover. Rather than supply an easily lost (or constantly dangling) lens cover, the MD160 instead uses a shutter window built into the lens housing. Certainly, the first time you switch on the camera it may be a bit confusing (or embarrassing), but thereafter it's a real boon.
The MD160 is a MiniDV Camcorder that, at the time of writing, sits at the upper end of Canon's DV tape camcorder range. Those who want a little more quality may wish to look at the MVX430 (AU$799), while those on a tighter budget could consider lower end models such as the MV920 (AU$499). As a DV camcorder the MD160 is arguably a little behind the times. Many manufacturers, including Canon, are placing more of an emphasis on either hard disk or DVD recording models, or making the slow shift towards consumer-level high definition camcorder. There are a few standout technical points on offer, however. The MD160 features a 1-megapixel CCD, meaning it's slightly better at taking still images than many camcorders. Images are saved to an SD/MMC card slot that sits under a rubber flap just underneath the zoom controls. The MD160's included zoom is an impressive 35x, although you'll seriously need a tripod of some sort at higher magnifications to avoid an unruly level of jitter. There's no facility to attach an external microphone, or indeed any other accessories beyond a tripod, but that's not all that unusual in the low-to-mid consumer ranges of many camera manufacturers.
Bearing in mind that the inherent technical limitations of the MD160 limit it to standard definition shooting only, we were mostly pleased with the MD160's overall performance, especially given its particular market slant of being easy to use. Put the camera into Easy shooting mode, and it's a remarkably simple camera to operate, and for the most part it'll make intelligent choices in terms of focus and image stabilisation. The controls are well situated, and the zoom operates smoothly, but with enough resistance in the zoom control to avoid too many sudden twitchy movements. If you're an incurable tweaker you may find the MD160 a little maddening; the menus are a touch slow and don't autoscroll from bottom to top, making some selections a little more tiresome than they really need to be.
At AU$699, the MD represents acceptable but not stellar value if you're just starting out in the camcorder market. It is worth bearing in mind that similar models with DVD recording are available for only a slightly larger initial outlay -- even Canon's own DC100 DVD Camcorder will only cost you AU$150 more -- and that the market is undoubtedly shifting towards high definition cameras. If you're happy shooting in standard definition, and are looking for an easy to use camera as long as you trust its automatic selection choices, then the MD160 is certainly worthy of consideration.