CES is usually the show where most camcorder manufacturers show off the first members of their new camcorder lineup. Because the innovation expectations are high, the high-end products often demonstrate noticeable improvements and fresh new features. Panasonic did just that when the company introduced the HC-WX970 and HC-VX870 models which both have 4K and Twin Camera abilities. But Panasonic didn’t stop there as they prepared a separate press release that talks about the midrange and entry-level models including the most affordable camcorder of the 2015 family – the Panasonic HC-V160. With its $229 price tag, the HC-V160 doesn’t look like it will replace the older HC-V130 model yet as that camcorder currently sells for under $150. But the Panasonic HC-V160 does represent a nice milestone – all of Panasonic’s 2015 camcorders have a sophisticated image stabilizer.
In terms of overall appearance, the Panasonic HC-V160 is a carbon copy of the HC-V130. Both entry-level camcorders weigh the same (181 grams), rely on the same 3.6V battery, and come equipped with the same 2.7-inch 230,400-dot non-touch LCD monitor. Next to the display is a pretty stylish button layout consisting of a “Menu” button on the top and an “Enter” button on the bottom. In the middle is an oval that houses the directional buttons. Panasonic didn’t alter the button and port layout on the side of the camcorder when the door is open either. The HC-V160 has a mini-HDMI port, an A/V jack and mini-USB port so you need to go for a more advanced model if you need a mic jack. The button layout is pretty basic since there is no built-in Wi-Fi so all you get is a dedicated “intelligent Auto” and manual button along with trash and power buttons. You can start or stop a recording session by pressing the record button on the back and toggle between video recording and playback using the switch above it. The top of the Panasonic HC-V160 features the zoom lever and snapshot controls which is a pretty standard layout these days.
The primary improvement that the Panasonic HC-V160 has over the HC-V130 is the added image stabilization. It might sound like a minor addition but it is actually a crucial one whether you are new to video recording or quite experienced. Having a tripod with you helps a lot in recording smooth blur-free video but hold on to the camcorder and you could experience jitters caused by the slightest handshakes. That won’t happen with the HC-V160 because it has an electronic image stabilizer. It isn’t the 5-axis Hybrid Optical Image Stabilizer you will find in midrange and high-end models but it is certainly better than nothing. Recording at the telephoto zoom levels without much shakiness is now a possibility and it is something worth having considering the minor zooming improvements. The maximum optical zoom still peaks at 38x but you can use Intelligent zoom to go all the way to 77x. The HC-V130 was only limited to 75x Intelligent zoom.
Although the Panasonic HC-V160 still uses the same 1/5.8-type BSI MOS sensor as its predecessor, the Panasonic lens has been slightly improved to make the HC-V160 a better wide-angle camcorder. The new model boasts wide-viewing angle of 32.3mm which is a pretty nice boost from 32.9mm. Landscape video recording is a lot better and you can capture more people in a scene.
Everything else about the Panasonic HC-V160 is the same as the HC-V130. The aforementioned BSI MOS sensor is back-illuminated so the camcorder can capture better low-light scenes than just about any smartrphone. It is also quite easy to record decent-looking 1080p footage with the “intelligent Auto” function. When enabled, you don’t need to sift through different scene settings as the camcorder can properly detect the appropriate environment and decide on the best settings on its own. Those with a little bit more experience can manually adjust some parameters but there is no physical control that adjusts manual settings. Newbies that want to add some fun twists to their videos can also add creative control effects. This includes 8mm movie, silent movie, miniature effect and time lapse recording.
Recording options are also the same giving you the choice of AVCHD or iFrame (MP4). Video quality maxes out at 17 Mbps 1080p so there are still some benefits in the video quality department if you opt for a more expensive Panasonic camcorder. It is also possible to take 8.9-megapixel still images with the HC-V160 although your flagship smartphone may take better quality ones than the camcorder.
The Panasonic HC-V160 doesn’t have any internal flash memory so you must resort to a memory card, preferably an SDXC one because of its high capacity and fast speeds which are necessary for adequate high-quality 1080p recording performance.
Panasonic isn’t really hyping the HC-V160 as much as the high-end consumer camcorders but the Panasonic HC-V160 does represent a nice step forward to a world where the most affordable camcorders are good enough for casual users. In fact, the HC-V130 is still a pretty good buy for under $150 but if don’t plan on transitioning to a more advanced camcorder for the next couple of years, the HC-V160 is simply the better bet. Even if you are going to use it for vacations, Panasonic HC-V160 will feel like a more complete package where you are less likely to run into a limitation. The image stabilizer should be a huge help since the video won’t suffer from shakiness if you cannot keep your hands still. The added boost to the Intelligent zoom could help in those rare situations where you really need to get up close to the subject but physically can’t and you don’t want to rely on the digital zoom. Finally, the wide-angle improvement is a nice little bonus for vacationers. Just be sure to evaluate the Panasonic HC-V270 first before buying the HC-V160 as you might be tempted to fork up an additional $70 to get Wi-Fi, touchscreen controls, 1080p/60p support and a better image stabilizer.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HC-V180K