While you certainly won't mistake it for a sleek, high-end compact, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LS80 is a camera without pretense. It's an 8-megapixel snapshot camera with optical image stabilisation and a price less than £150.
The LS80 feels comfortably small and light. It measures about 31mm deep and weighs just 177g with SD card and batteries. Its relatively slim profile design lets it fit easily into most pockets. The extra 5mm it sports over slimmer compacts lets the LS80 take AA batteries, which are generally more convenient and readily available than the proprietary rechargeable batteries most superslim cameras use.
The camera's interface is its greatest design weakness. It uses several small, flat buttons and switches that feel uncomfortable and awkward, especially under large thumbs. The layout makes it far too easy to tap an adjacent button accidentally when manipulating the four-way-plus-OK cluster.
An optically stabilised lens stands out as the LS80's most prominent feature. The camera includes a 33-100mm-equivalent, f/2.8-to-f/5.1, 3x optical zoom lens with Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilisation system that shifts lens elements to compensate for camera shake.
While many budget cameras offer some form of 'image stabilisation', those modes are usually software-based and rely primarily on increasing camera sensitivity and quickening the shutter. Most companies reserve their mechanical (aka sensor-shift), or optical stabilisation systems for more expensive models, and seldom in budget lines. However, we are seeing optical stabilisation begin to trickle down into budget models, as evidenced here.
Besides the optically stabilised lens, the LS80 presents a lacklustre feature set, including a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen, a WVGA (848x480 pixels) 30 frames per second movie mode, and a standard complement of scene preset modes.
The LS80 performed slowly in our tests, lagging behind similar cameras in nearly every category. After a 3.2-second wait from power-on to first shot, the camera could take another picture every 2.2 seconds with the onboard flash disabled. With the flash turned on, that time doubled to 4.4 seconds.
Its shutter lagged 0.7 seconds with our high-contrast target and 1.2 seconds with our low-contrast target, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In burst mode, the LS80 captured four full-resolution pictures in 2.7 seconds for a rate of 1.5fps.