The SD80 is, like many SD card-based camcorders of recent years, a light and small camcorder, measuring in at 51.5x59x109mm and weighing a scant 192 grams. If you've used any camcorder in the recent past, the SD80's learning curve shouldn't be too steep; most of the controls are based on the touchscreen, with buttons only for recording, power, image stabilisation and turning the intelligent auto features on or off.
The right side of the camcorder features the AC power in a socket hidden behind a stiff plastic flap. This concerned us slightly; it felt as though, over time, it'd be quite easy to break the flap off entirely. We tested the SD80 concurrently with Panasonic's hard drive-based SDR-H101 and HDC-HS900, both of which use a more robust sliding AC power cover. Next to them, the SD80's pop-out flap felt loose and cheap.
The SD80 comes with no external charger, and the battery sits in a somewhat inelegant way at the back of the camera. The battery slot is just an aesthetic problem, but those with larger hands may find that the battery protrusion makes it hard to hit the record button all the time; we certainly did.
The SD80 is an SD card-based camcorder with a 33.7mm f/1.8-4.0 wide-angle lens and 42x optical zoom, rather more uselessly hyped as being capable of up to 2000x digital zoom. Pixel count is rated at 1.50 megapixels (1.12-1.30 megapixel effective for video shooting).
It's capable of full HD video recording as well as still shooting, albeit predictably at a much lower 3-megapixel maximum resolution. The front LED light is rated at 1400 lux. Standard recorded files are in MPEG4-AVC/H.264 format.
First-time users getting hold of the SD80 will find it easy to pick up and learn. The touchscreen menus are logically laid out, and there's an awful lot of automated control on offer, from facial recognition to soft skin modes for shooting. It's also possible to switch the camcorder over to intelligent auto mode, where it'll take care of almost all of the variables on offer, including whether to fire up the front-mounted LED light.
The SD80's intelligent auto mode analyses the ambient light, and switches on the front-mounted LED light if it feels that the scene you're trying to shoot is too dark. We were rather split on the utility of this feature. You can always turn it off entirely, but, when it was on, we often found that it'd fire up the light directly at people we were trying to film. It's a very bright LED, and thus often rather blinding in operation, especially as you can't give subjects a warning that it's about to come on if you've left it in automatic mode.
The 32x optical zoom handles smoothly, for the most part. On one of our test trips with the SD80 in a public park, we were able to capture footage of a model helicopter being flown above with a surprising level of crispness, and, even at maximum zoom, the image stabilisation did a very good job of keeping our hand jitters under control.
Sitting price-wise, as it does, at the intersection of more fully featured prosumer models and the really cheap entry-level camcorder range, the SD80 offers a fair balance of quality and features that should enable amateur videographers to improve their shooting skills without overloading them with features that they won't use or grasp fully. We'd advise some in-store testing with the unit to see if it's a comfortable fit in the hand, however, given the issues that we had with reliably hitting the record button.