Design and features
The Panasonic HDC-HS80 fits comfortably in the palm of the hand, but its exterior appearance is by no means inspiring. The design is clumsy and not sleek like some other models within the same price range, and space could have been better used by making the LCD screen larger. The body is also somewhat flimsy and the plastic feels cheap to the touch. To make matters worse, the default sound effects made by the menu functions are annoying and adds to the overall displeasure of using the screen. However, the menu starts up quickly, which helps to somewhat alleviate the irritation caused by the other quirks.
Touchscreen implementations are often hit or miss, and the HS80 tends to fall into the slow and unresponsive category, which makes for a frustrating experience. Sifting through a long series of buttons to get to the option you're looking for is a very tedious exercise. There is an in-built LED flash-light on the front of the camera, which is very useful for filming close ups in the dark, although it doesn't have a lot of range and so becomes fairly useless beyond 2 metres.
There is a 34x optical and 42x digital zoom using Panasonic's intelligent zoom technology, which interpolates the missing image data when zoomed in. It's the same feature as found on the company's range of compact cameras and works well to extend the range of the zoom.
The HS80 uses a hard drive (120GB) as well as the flexibility of SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, which is useful for transferring large amounts of footage from the camcorder.
|Sony HDR-CX130||Panasonic HDC-HS80||Canon Legria HF M400||Panasonic HDC-HS900|
|30x optical zoom||37x optical zoom||10x optical zoom||12x optical zoom|
|MemoryStick Pro Duo/SD cards||SD cards||120GB internal storage/SD cards||220GB internal storage/SD cards|
Performance, image and video quality
The HS80 provides adequate video quality with warm colours, especially in ample light conditions. The camera has a full set of effective manual controls, although a dial for lens focus or exposure could have improved the manual functions of the device. Having all the controls contained within the touchscreen was frustrating, and a simple manual dial could have gone a long way, especially considering how irritating the sound effects can become over a long period of time.
The HS80 is a standard performer; while fulfilling all the criteria satisfactorily, it only just "does the job" in everyday settings. The overall appeal is rather underwhelming if you're looking for a more sophisticated device. If you are looking to shoot both video and still images in equal measures, the HS80 isn't the camcorder for you; while it performs satisfactorily as a video camera, it leaves a lot to be desired in the still-image department.
In dark conditions the video quality falters and, while the LED light might be useful for close-up shots in low light, it fails to perform at any greater distance. A low light setting also produces extreme amounts of grain and artefacts in the shadows. Furthermore, the focus is disappointing in the dark, making the footage almost unusable if you're filming in low-light situations. So if you're looking to film in the dark, pack flood-lights to brighten up the location. Or alternatively, consider the Sony HDR-CX130, or other cameras in this range that generally perform better.
The image stabiliser is one good point in favour of this Panasonic camera. It works effectively throughout the full range of zoom, although the focus can get a little soft towards the long end of the lens. It could have been sharper in places, but it ticks the boxes overall.
The design of the HDC-HS80 camera is unappealing, as it lacks the modern sleekness of its competitors, and the video quality, while satisfactory, doesn't live up to other cameras within its range. The external LED light and image stabiliser are saving graces for this Panasonic device, although they can't make up for the sheer irritation of the camera's screen and menu features, which make the whole user experience rather unpleasant.