The SD80 offers four HD recording formats, all of which operate at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and use AVCHD encoding. Data rates range from 5 to 17Mbits/sec, although the top 24Mbits/sec afforded by AVCHD isn’t available. Like other recent Panasonic models, you also get an iFrame format option, which records H.264 at 960 x 540, a quarter of Full HD, and is included for Mac compatibility. Footage is captured to SD memory cards, with a single SDXC-compatible slot available and Class 4 performance required, so cards up to 64GB can be used. At the top HA video quality setting, a 64GB card will be enough for 8.5 hours of footage.
Despite the budget orientation, the SD80 still incorporates a touchscreen. This opens up a world of touch-operated functions. These include AF/AE tracking, where you specify a point to use as a reference for focus and exposure, which is then tracked across the screen as it moves. The touch zoom provides another way to operate the telephoto. Gliding your finger towards the centre of the frame zooms in, and gliding it away zooms out. Touch Shutter will be familiar to users of some mobile phones. Simply touch the screen to select a reference point for focus, after which a photo is taken automatically. Finally, the optical image stabiliser lock enables even more powerful smoothing when shooting whilst zoomed in.
The touch screen is used for almost all functions, with just a switch on the rear to cycle between camcorder, photo and playback modes, plus buttons under the LCD to toggle image stabilisation on and off, and select manual or auto settings. In automatic mode, the SD80 uses Panasonic’s increasingly sophisticated iA system. This detects conditions and sets the scene mode accordingly, for example invoking Portrait when faces are picked up, Scenery when there’s an expanse of bright sky, or Low Light in poor illumination. If you do want a little more control, without going fully manual, the usual array of scene modes is also available, including favourites like Sport and Portrait. There are 11 options here, making this a fairly comprehensive selection.
However, there is also a manual mode, which offers the same level of configurability we’ve come to expect from Panasonic camcorders. You can focus manually using a slider, which is pretty fiddly, but at least there’s an assist function to help you, which fringes areas in focus with blue. You can adjust the shutter from 1/8,000th to 1/50th (or 1/25th in slow shutter mode), iris from F16 to F1.8, and then add 18dB of video gain on the top of a fully open aperture. Best of all, you can adjust shutter and iris independently.