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.
Besides its sluggish performance, the LS80 also produces generally disappointing pictures, save one notable quality. The camera produces remarkably accurate colours that tend to appear neutral, even in awkward lighting, thanks to an effective automatic white-balance system.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unfortunately, besides colour, the LS80's pictures simply don't look very good. Photos taken at the camera's widest angle suffer from considerable barrel distortion and vignetting -- the darkening of corners in a picture. Noise and artefacts damage picture quality, even at lower ISO settings.
Grain appears even at ISO 100, the camera's lowest sensitivity setting. By ISO 400, heavier noise, and Panasonic's attempt to suppress it, obscures or outright ruins text, hair and other fine details. Strong colour reproduction is a nice touch, but it can't make up for the LS80's myriad other picture problems.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS80 distinguishes itself as one of the least expensive cameras available with an optical image stabilisation system. Unfortunately, while that feature is handy, it simply can't make up for the camera's sluggish performance and poor picture quality.
If you're looking for an affordable budget camera, forego the LS80's image stabilisation and instead look to the . It doesn't include optical or mechanical image stabilisation, but it shoots faster and produces much nicer-looking photos.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday