BUILD AND DESIGN
There are three 80-level mid-range models with similar specs: the SD80, TM80, and HS80. The SD80, which we reviewed, has no on-board memory and requires an SD/SDHC/SDXC card. The TM80 is the same size as the compact SD80 and weighs 0.01 lbs more while sporting 16GB of on-board memory. The HS80 is slightly chunkier, weighs 0.15 lbs more than the SD80, and features a 120GB HDD.
The TM80 costs $499.99 at launch, while the HS80 costs $449.95, and the SD80 costs $399.99.
I prefer camcorders with little or no on-board storage because they are less expensive, lighter and compact. One accidental drop can break an HDD and corrupt any footage stored on it. However, shooting performance and output should be the same across all units in a line.
This is something you’ll definitely notice when handling the SD80. It’s on the smaller-end of the mid-range scale and feather-light. It measures 2.02 x 2.32 x 4.29 inches and weighs less than half a pound. Much of this is no doubt due to the all-plastic build that might turn off some users who prefer a more rugged and slightly heavier model with aluminum or brushed metal body sections.
There is always a tradeoff between rugged and lightweight, and while the SD80 is certainly on the lighter end of the spectrum, it still has a quality build. It survived two days of skiing in my backpack and a handful of spills on the mountain. I also gave it a few hearty squeezes to test its durability, and never did I hear or feel a creak or crack.
That said, the SD80 wasn’t built for adventure, and I don’t recommend mounting it to a helmet or handlebars for your next mountain biking excursion.
The Panasonic SD80 has a very typical camcorder design. On the face sits the 33.7mm lens and manual lens cover, video/photo light, and onboard microphone. On the back are the mode switch, record light, record button, and removable battery.
The 2.7-inch touchscreen LCD (230,400 pixels) flips out from the left side.
Hidden behind the flip-out LCD are the internal speaker, USB terminal, Intelligent Auto/manual toggle button, optical image stabilizer button, power button, HDMI out, AV multi-out (Panasonic proprietary connection), and battery release lever.
On top of the SD80 are the zoom lever and photo button. On the bottom are the SD card slot and tripod receptacle.
Ergonomics and Controls
The SD80 has a layout similar to the SDX1, which I reviewed previously. Just as with the SDX1, everything is spaced accordingly. Errant button presses were never an issue, and I loved having quick access to dummy mode (Intelligent Auto) and OIS.
Unfortunately, just like the SDX1, the SD80 has a 2.7-inch display, which is entirely too small for touch controls. The SD80 has a relatively deep menu system and a handful of manual picture controls that are all accessed and managed through the display via touch. Though responsive, the monitor is simply too small, which makes finger operation clumsy and awkward. Panasonic packs a small stylus for pinpoint selecting, which helps, provided you remember to bring the stylus along with you. But I’d rather see the display bumped up to 3.0-inches, even if it means added bulk and weight.
Given that the SD80 is what it is — perfectly palm-sized and extremely light — I could probably shoot with it all day without my hand or arm cramping up.
Menus and Modes
Accessing the menu is as simple as tapping the icon on the SD80 display. The user interface doesn’t deviate from Panasonic’s typical setup, and menu items are nicely broken down into video, stills, and camera setup submenus. The SD80 also has an information icon that when pressed explains each setting in layman’s terms, which is extremely helpful for those unfamiliar with camcorder menu jargon.
Users wishing to skip the menu can get by with Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto, which does an excellent job of choosing the correct white balance, shutter speed, and scene mode. However, those diving into the manual settings will find plenty to tweak.
From the video submenu, the SD80 offers:
- Scene Mode: Sports, portrait, spotlight, snow, beach, sunset, fireworks, scenery, low light, night scenery, night portrait
- Zoom Mode: 37x optical, 42x Intelligent Zoom, 90x digital, 2000x digital
- Record Format
- AVCHD, 1080/60i: HA (17Mbps), HG (13Mbps), HX (9Mbps), HE (5 Mbps)
- iFrame (960 x 540, for Mac users)
- Relay Record (HDD to SD, units with internal memory only)
- Facial Recognition: On, off, set (up to six faces can be programmed for automatic recognition and focus/exposure priority)
- Name Display: Displays name assigned to programmed faces
- Face Framing: Off, all, primary (only frames the preprogrammed face for the dominate face in a shot)
- AGS: Pauses recording whenever the camera is tilted downward
- Auto Slow Shtr: May slow shutter down to 1/30 to record brighter video in dark settings
- Digital Cinema Color: Records more vivid colors via x.v.Color technology
- Shooting Guide: Warns users the camera is panning too fast when the camera is moved rapidly
- Wind Noise Canceller
- Zoom Mic
- Mic Level
- Picture Adjust: sharpness, color, exposure, white balance adjustments
Many of the video modes carry over for stills, but there are some dedicated still features, including:
- Picture Size
- 4:3 aspect ratio: 2.6 megapixels, .3 megapixels
- 3:2 as: 2.8 megapixels
- 16:9 as: 3.0 megapixels
- 16:9 as: 2.1 megapixels
- Picture Quality
- Hi-Speed Burst: records 30 or 60 stills per second
- AF Assist Lamp
- Shutter Sound
When the SD80 is set to manual, users can control the following:
- White balance: Auto, sunny, cloudy, indoor 1, indoor 2, manual
- Shutter speed/iris
- Shutter speed: 1/60 to 1/8000
- Iris/gain: Close (f/16 to f/2.0), open (0dB to 18dB)
- Manual Focus
Finally, there are many other shooting features available, including but not limited to smile shot, video/photo light, shooting guidelines, tele macro mode, soft skin mode, and red eye reduction.
I have no problems monitoring action or composing a shot on a 2.7-inch display, but I will reiterate that I think it’s much too small for touch controls – especially manual touch controls that require a degree of precision.
Panasonic probably realizes this too, which is why they pack in a small stylus to help menu navigation. But as it is small and plastic, it’s easy to lose, and it doesn’t solve the underlying problem that the display is too small. I think three inches in the minimum for a touchscreen, and rival Sony has embraced that size as the minimum on its new Handycams.
It’s not all bad though. The display looks great with a fine amount of detail, which admittedly a larger screen would compromise, and users can tweak the monitor’s color and brightness for shooting in bright places.