Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LS80 is a camera without pretense. It's an 8-megapixel snapshot camera with optical image stabilization and a price less than $200, you won't mistake it for a sleek, high-end ultracompact camera. Still, the LS80 feels comfortably small and light. It measures about 1.2 inches deep and weighs just 6.3 ounces with SD card and batteries. Its relatively slim profile design lets it fit easily into most pockets. The extra 0.2 inch it sports over slimmer ultracompacts lets the LS80 take AA batteries, which are generally more convenient and readily available than the proprietary rechargeable batteries most superslim cameras use. The camera's interface is its greatest design weakness. It uses several small, flat buttons and switches that feel uncomfortable and awkward, especially under large thumbs. The layout makes it far too easy to tap an adjacent button accidentally when manipulating the four-way-plus-OK cluster.
An optically stabilized lens stands out as the LS80's most prominent feature. The camera includes a 33mm-to-100mm-equivalent, f/2.8-to-f/5.1, 3x optical zoom lens with Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization system that shifts lens elements to compensate for camera shake. While many budget cameras offer some form of "image stabilization," those modes are usually software-based and rely primarily on increasing camera sensitivity and quickening the shutter. Most companies reserve their mechanical (aka sensor-shift), or optical stabilization systems for more expensive models, and seldom in budget lines. However, we are seeing optical stabilization begin to trickle down into budget models, as evidenced here. Besides the optically stabilized lens, the LS80 presents a lackluster feature set, including a 2.5-inch LCD screen, a WVGA (848x480) 30 frames per second movie mode, and a standard compliment of scene preset modes.
The LS80 performed slowly in our lab tests, lagging behind similar cameras in nearly every category. After a 3.2-second wait from power-on to first shot, the camera could take another picture every 2.2 seconds with the onboard flash disabled. With the flash turned on, that time doubled to 4.4 seconds. Its shutter lagged 0.7 seconds with our high-contrast target and 1.2 seconds with our low-contrast target, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In burst mode, the LS80 captured four full-resolution pictures in 2.7 seconds for a rate of 1.5fps.
Besides its sluggish performance, the LS80 also produces generally disappointing pictures, save one notable quality. The camera produces remarkably accurate colors that tend to appear neutral, even in awkward lighting, thanks to an effective automatic white-balance system. Unfortunately, besides color, the LS80's pictures simply don't look very good. Photos taken at the camera's widest angle suffer from considerable barrel distortion and vignetting (the darkening of corners in a picture). Noise and artifacts damage picture quality, even at lower ISO settings. Grain appears even at ISO 100, the camera's lowest sensitivity setting. By ISO 400, heavier noise, and Panasonic's attempt to suppress it, obscures, or outright ruins text, hair, and other fine details. Strong color reproduction is a nice touch, but it can't make up for the LS80's myriad other picture problems.