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The Panasonic SDR-H80 is a standard-definition camcorder with a 60GB hard drive for storing up to 14 hours of its highest quality MPEG-2 video. There's also an SD/SDHC card slot on the side for adding even more storage. However, the H80's main attraction is its ridiculously long 70x zoom lens, which, as you can imagine, gets you very close to your subject while you're very far away. Thankfully, there is optical image stabilization, (but really, there's no amount of stabilization that's going to prevent this lens from shaking when fully extended) and it's all built into quite a compact body. Too bad Panasonic couldn't make room for some better video quality for the H80's sub-$400 price.
|Key specs||Panasonic SDR-H80|
|Dimensions (WHD)||2.1x2.6x4.2 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||12.8 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||60GB hard drive; SD/SDHC card|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||800K pixels (290K effective, 4:3), 1/8-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution||2.7-inch LCD, 123K dots|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||70x, f1.9-5.7, 46-3,194mm (35mm equivalent, 4:3)|
|Minimum illumination||6 lux|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-2 (.MOD), Dolby Digital stereo|
|Recording time at highest quality||14 hours|
|Image stabilization type||Mechanical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life (continuous)||Lithium ion rechargeable, 1 hour, 50 minutes|
Considering the lens/storage combo in the H80, its overall design is impressively small. Though it doesn't come off as stylish as Sony's competing 60x zoom Handycam DCR-SR47, it still looks and feels good.
Controls are pretty typical for this type of camcorder and nothing is so horribly positioned to make using the H80 uncomfortable (though the Record button is a touch too close to the battery). There's a Power/Mode dial at the top back for selecting whether you want to record movies or still photos or play them back. Flipping out the LCD exposes a five-way joystick and Menu button on the left side of the screen. If you dread going into menus to make adjustments, Panasonic dots the H80 with several buttons for quickly changing between shooting options. This includes buttons for accessing manual controls, turning on Panasonic's Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, and enabling the optical image stabilization (OIS). The last one is particularly handy because you'll want to shut OIS off when the H80's on a tripod.
Inside the LCD cavity is where you'll find the SD/SDHC card slot for additional video or photo storage and an AV out.
The H80 does have a few design shortcomings worth mentioning, though. The USB port and power input are located behind the battery. This forces you to plug in the camcorder in to transfer files off the unit. The fact is, you don't want the battery dying in the middle of a transfer, but it's a little irritating to have to remove the battery every time. If you won't have access to powering the H80 and will need to move a recording from it, save to an SD card instead. Another gripe is with the manual lens cover. Not so much that it's manual, but the location at the top right of the lens is just peculiar if you already have your hand in the grip belt. Lastly the battery sticks out oddly far. We can only imagine what it would be like with an extended-life battery on back.
|White balance||Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, Manual|
|Scene modes||Sports, Portrait, Low light, Spotlight, Surf & snow|
|Focus||Auto, Manual, Spot AF, Tele Macro|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||Manual|
Panasonic included both full manual and full auto shooting options. As mentioned earlier, a single press of the Manual AF/MF button will let you control focus using the joystick. You can then move the joystick up to get control of shutter speed, aperture (labeled Iris), and white balance. From Manual mode you can also choose a Scene mode that will optimize shutter and aperture settings for what you're shooting. However, if you don't feel like thinking about settings, press the iA button and the H80 will adjust depending on the subject and recording environment as it corresponds to a Scene mode. Press it again and you'll enter a more traditional Auto mode.
If you're considering the H80 for recording clips for video-sharing sites, YouTube in particular, you'll probably be happy finding the camcorder's Web mode button. Pressing it starts a 10-minute countdown keeping your recordings within the site's upload parameters. The bundled software has "one-click" uploading to YouTube as well.
For all its features and ease-of-use, the H80 produces video typical of standard-definition consumer camcorders. Video is soft with readily visible noise and digital artifacting, a lot of purple and green fringing around high-contrast subjects, and merely OK color reproduction with highlight clipping. Low-light performance isn't great, either, but that also is expected from standard-definition models. That said, if you still live completely in a low-resolution world, the recordings are destined for video-sharing Web sites, or you simply want to capture the moment no matter how it looks, the H80 should be satisfactory. Worth repeating, however, is this camcorder's need for a tripod when using the full zoom range. The OIS system is good, but only out to about 20x unless you have incredibly steady hands and don't breathe. Otherwise, you'll be looking at a nauseatingly shaky mess.
The zoom range offered by the Panasonic SDR-H80 is incredible for the money as is the storage amount. Yes, you can shoot video of the moon and stars as well as capture sporting events from the nosebleeds and your child's play from the very, very back row. And again, if capturing those things is all that matters to you, then the H80 is worth the money. Be warned, though: the video quality just isn't there.