Video, Audio and Stills Quality
The SD80 has a 1/4.1-inch CMOS sensor that shoots AVCHD video (1920 x 1080, 60i) at 17mbps when at the highest setting. It looks great blown up on a HD-capable monitor, with crisp details and vibrant colors. In fact, it’s some of the best I’ve seen for a camera in this price class.
The SD80 predictably suffers in low light, perhaps a little more than expected given its steady light performance, with high noise levels and a complete loss of detail. Though major colors are still discernable.
The onboard stereo microphone does a decent job of picking up audio around the camera, and the zoom mic works well to focus the sound on a particular subject. Unfortunately, Panasonic neglected to included an external mic input, which I think should be standard on every camcorder, even the Flip. The fact is that if I’m trying to record dialogue in a crowded or noisy setting, I can get better sound from a cheap karaoke mic than I can any on-board offering, even with a zoom mic feature.
The SD80 stills top out at three megapixels and isn’t particularly impressive. Blown up fully, they are grainy and flat. I don’t expect much from camcorder stills – only that they offer slightly better output than my smartphone – so I wasn’t disappointed.
Operation and Extras
The SD80 ships with an AC adaptor and cable, AV cable, USB cable, stylus, and HD Writer AE CD-ROM. In addition to an external mic input, I think every HD camcorder should ship with an HDMI cable. Some entry-level camcorder makers actually include the cable (thank you, Kodak and Toshiba), but as long as Best Buy is making money on ridiculously marked-up HDMI cables, most won’t bother.
In a nice gesture towards Mac fans, the SD80 can shoot in the iFrame format. Though iMovie can handle AVCHD, it can process iFrame quicker.
Windows users are stuck with AVCHD which, while it makes for great looking video, can be a handful for non-experienced users. Files simply can’t be dragged and dropped from the device over USB like an MP4 file. Users have to extract the files, which requires a program like the HD Writer AE software that ships with the SD80.
I’ve never been a fan of packaged software as it’s typically buggy, but the version 3.0 that ships with the SD80 seems more stable than previous versions and is acceptable. I did find that my old laptop had some issues handling the large HA video files, which resulted in jittery playback.