Remember when programming your VCR was the most complicated thing you'd ever done? Using Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LS80 comes close to that, with a plethora of modes and menus. Once you get everything figured out, however, you'll like what you see.
While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS80's boxy design won't win any beauty contests, it's easy to hold, set, and shoot, even one-handed. It's available in silver and hot pink. All controls are well marked and accessible, although having two Menu buttons can be confusing. It's the only camera in the roundup with a specific digital zoom button, which can be accidentally activated instead of the optical zoom lever. We especially liked the power and shooting/playback switches that click into position, as well as the convenience of the separate memory card door on the side of the camera.
Despite its high resolution, Panasonic's 2.5-inch LCD screen streaks and smears when panned quickly. But it is bright and legible, even in sunlight, and the colors displayed were fairly accurate.
Too Many Menus
With Menu, Q Menu, and Mode buttons, we quickly became confused about which button activates what command. The Mode button displays the Recording mode, with two obvious choices (Scene Mode and Motion Picture) and two enigmatic (Intelligent and Normal Picture) choices. In Intelligent mode, the camera's built-in iSCN (Intelligent Scene Recognition) automatically assesses the subject, compares it to its database, and selects the related settings. Like theCanon PowerShot A580, the DMC-LS80 has both optical image stabilization plus the ability to reduce blur and motion jitter by automatically increasing ISO and shutter speed when it detects motion (Panasonic calls it Intelligent ISO). They work well together, although boosting the ISO can degrade image quality.
The button in the middle of the rocker switch is labeled both Menu and Set. What options it displays depends on which mode is selected. The DMC-LS80 features 21 different shooting modes, including Aerial Photo, Baby1, and Baby2, plus Hi Sens. (Sensitivity), which can boost the ISO to a remarkable 6400 (but it greatly increases noise while reducing the resolution). The Q Menu button lets you select a variety of shooting settings, such as antishake, single or multiple frames, and resolution.
No Face Recognition, but a Fast Shooter
While it lacks built-in face-recognition technology, the DMC-LS80 does an excellent job of quickly analyzing up to five areas and accurately averaging the focus point. It also features an autofocus mode that continuously focuses, rather than only when the shutter is depressed halfway. The camera focuses down to 2 inches without having to activate a specific macro mode. Boot-up time was a little slow on our tests, at 1.8 seconds, but in Continuous mode, it's rated to shoot up to seven shots per second (four at full resolution), while we were able to shoot a single-frame shot every 1.5 seconds.
Solid Still Image and Video Quality
We were pleased with the DMC-LS80's image quality. Our still-life shots were crisp and clean, with good colors, excellent exposure, and nice contrast and brightness. The DMC-LS80's intelligent ISO set the correct sensitivity levels for our indoor shots, though it tended to blow out highlights on our outdoor sunlit subject. Video quality was excellent, and, like theCasio Exilim EX-Z9, the DMC-LS80 can capture footage in widescreen format at a full 30 fps.
The Panasonic delivers fast performance and very good image quality. But its power and versatility are offset somewhat by overly complicated modes and menus.