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Budget camcorders might not seem flashy, but they play an important part of every camcorder line. They're designed to be no-frills, affordable products that anyone can pick up for only a few hundred dollars. Since their price is their main selling point, however, they tend to lack features found standard on higher-end models. Among Panasonic camcorders, for example, the PV-GS80 sits as the runt of the litter.
The GS80's chunky, simple design makes it look almost indistinguishable from the crowd of budget MiniDV camcorders. Thanks to the camcorder's incredibly simple control scheme, you can easily record and play videos without ever touching the menu system. If you really want to fiddle with the menus, you can navigate the GS80's settings with a small joystick set into the mode dial. The "advanced" menu holds very little in the way of video settings, and it's unlikely anyone would need to delve into the menus often.
Like most budget miniDV camcorders, the GS80 offers few, if any, impressive features. Its 680,000-pixel sensor effectively records 340,000 pixels at 4:3 and 460,000 pixels at 16:9 wide-screen. The camcorder scores some minor points for recording higher-resolution wide-screen video and not simply cropping its 4:3 video, but since both aspect ratios use such a small, low-resolution sensor, it doesn't matter much. The GS80 incorporates a 32X zoom lens with optical image stabilization, but neither the GS80 nor its big brother, the GS85, use a Leica-branded lens. Panasonic prides itself in its use of Leica lenses in the majority of its digital imaging products, so the GS80's unbranded lens secures its place at the bottom of Panasonic's camcorder food chain.
For a budget camcorder, the GS80 produces rather nice video. Colors looked neutral and accurate, and footage was relatively clean and free of grain. Of course, if you plan on watching your movies on a large, high-def television, they'll probably look awful; most budget camcorders' standard definition video tends to look blown out and jagged when upscaled on modern HD screens. Finally, the GS80 failed at recording low-light video. Even enabling Night Mode or Panasonic's Best Pix mode yields no significant difference when shooting in the in 50-watt-lamp darkness. Unless you're positive you'll always have plenty of light, consider spending about $40 more for another model, such as the slightly higher end GS85. It's essentially the same camcorder as the GS80, except for minor features like a built-in video light and an SD card slot for taking low-resolution stills. The GS80 has a still photo button, but it only captures a still image and records that still to 7 seconds of video; it's effectively useless.
The Panasonic PV-GS80 is a decent budget camcorder in its own right, but you could get a much better camera for the same or just slightly higher price. The comparably priced Canon ZR850 outshines the GS80 in almost every way.