Panasonic's SDR-H80 is a standard definition camcorder that records video to a 60GB hard disk drive (HDD). The $399 camcorder packs a whopping 70x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilizaton and a 2.7-inch LCD screen.For a full list of the SDR-H80's specifications, click here. Video samples from the SDR-H80 can be viewed on your YouTube page here.
SDR-H80 At a Glance
The Good: Light and portable, great zoom, nice optical stabilization, good feature set.
The Bad: So-so video quality, poor USB port placement.
Panasonic's SDR-H80 records MPEG-2 format video at 704 x 480 resolution with a 1/8" CCD sensor. It delivers fairly decent quality for a standard definition camcorder, although I found most of my skin tones were unduly grayish when not in direct sun. You'll notice some graininess in low light as this clip shows.
With a 60GB HDD, you can pack up to 14 hours of the highest quality video. There are two other quality modes for extending recording time, but you should steer clear of them if at all possible as they’ll further degrade video quality. Instead, if additional memory capacity is needed, the H80 accepts SDHC cards to compliment the internal hard drive.
No doubt the highlight of the SDR-H80 is its powerful 70x optical zoom lens. It will bring distant objects startlingly close, as this sample here demonstrates. Of course, as you reach the end of the zoom, the video becomes quite jerky. This is unavoidable without a tripod, even though the SDR-H80 packs Panasonic's Advanced O.I.S. (optical image stabilization). This stabilization is quite effective, however, when the lens is not fully extend, as this video demonstrates.
While hard drive-based camcorders can be a tad heavy and bulky, the H80 is remarkably portable. It weighs in just shy of 13 ounces with battery and a memory card, so it's easy to take with you. It comes in a choice of blue, red and silver.
To its credit, Panasonic also took a minimalist approach to the external controls. You'll find a mode dial for shooting video, stills and playback along with exterior buttons for engaging optical image stabilization, intelligent auto, a web-mode (for 10-minute, YouTube-friend videos), deleting stored images and engaging the manual mode.
The big knock on the SDR-H80's design is the location of the USB port. It's behind the battery. When it's time to transfer video to the PC, you have to remove the battery, connect the camcorder to AC power and plug in a USB drive. That's a pair of cables dangling out of the unit when there really should be one and it requires you to have a free outlet relatively close to your PC.
While the H80 does have a lens cover, it's not automatic, which can frustrate you coming and going if you forget to open or close it.
The SDR-H80 offers a nice assortment of manual controls over focusing, iris, shutter speed and exposure to control the look of your video.
If you want to skip the manual settings, the SDR-H80 incorporates what Panasonic dubs its “Intelligent Auto” (AI) mode. When set to AI, the camcorder can detect its shooting environment and automatically put the camcorder into the appropriate scene mode. It works quite well. There’s also a standard auto mode if you don’t want the camcorder engaged in any automatic guess work.
Most of the camcorder's controls are accessed through the 2.7-inch LCD via a small toggle joystick on the perimeter of the display. Press the joystick, and a small menu with features such as white balance and different scene modes, pop up. It would have been easier if those functions had been placed in a more traditional menu instead of the virtual mode dial that Panasonic uses. However, once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to use.
SDR-H80 Optical Powerhouse
Panasonic’s SDR-H80 is a solid standard definition camcorder, with a few limitations. It packs a decent sized hard disk drive with a very long zoom lens. It’s undermined by so-so video quality and ill-conceived battery placement, but it does delivers a nice range of features for the price.