Although pocket Internet camcorders have drastically reduced the entry-level price of HD video shooting, you still need to spend at least £200 to get a decent fully featured model. Panasonic’s cheapest units haven’t dropped significantly in this area. So you will need to shell out around £300 for the HDC-SD80, which isn’t quite Panasonic’s budget offering, but just a rung up.
The HDC-SD80 is not the SD90 without as many bells and whistles. It uses a smaller 1/5.8in CMOS with just 1.5Mpixels. So although it records Full HD, there’s a little interpolation involved to make up the full 2.07Mpixels of this format. Even more interpolation is involved in the maximum still image resolution of 2,304 x 1,296, which the SD80 can even manage at the same time as shooting video.The small sensor allows the SD80 to offer a hefty 37x optical zoom, and you can turn on the Intelligent Zoom function to boost this a little to 42x. However, where most systems use surplus sensor pixels for this kind of technology, the SD80 doesn’t have any, so this will reduce resolution, just not as much as a traditional digital zoom. Strangely, although the built-in lens cover is not fully automatic, it does pop open when you power the camcorder on. But you need to close it manually after you’ve turned the unit off.
Despite being a lower end model, the SD80 still offers Panasonic’s latest Hybrid OIS. This blends electronic and optical systems to provide even more powerful stabilisation, tuned to smooth out the low-frequency vibrations caused by shooting whilst walking, as well as the higher-frequency jerkiness associated with handheld work whilst zoomed in. There are two modes available, although the second of these is aimed at still image mode.