Last updated on July 17th, 2017 at 12:14 pm
Last week I was running a smartphone photography workshop. A lady at the end asked me how to zoom in to capture birds and wildlife. Interesting question with a simple answer: it’s not possible.
Luckily I was just starting with the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 review and I had the camera in my bag.
Yes, you can zoom in with a mobile, however smartphones do not have optical zoom, they have only a digital one, which basically means cropping the photo.
This is not to say that the mobiles have not great cameras. On the contrary, I have in fact a few in my list of best travel cameras.
The Lumix FZ80, on the other end has a 1200mm optical zoom, or 60x. This is massive and this is where this camera is a clear winner, the really wide focal length range, from 20mm to 1200mm.
I showed the lady what I could do with the FZ80 and she was open mouth. We had a bit of a talk about the Panasonic camera and at the end she decided to keep shooting with the mobile as it is smaller and she could keep it in the pocket everywhere.
And this is fair enough, at the end of the day the best camera is the one with you and the FZ80 is certainly not pocket size
The important fact about the Lumix F80 is that it has an unbeatable price, just below $400. This is roughly half the price of a top of the range smartphone.
But how does the price compare with the quality of the photos?
I have been reviewing cameras for sometime. I actually started my adventure a long time ago with a Panasonic mobile (the CM1, great camera….and phone too, although too heavy and no zoom). The Panasonic FZ80 produces photos that are comparable with the latest mobiles, in fact the sensor (the “core” of your camera) is roughly the same size as most of the smartphones, or 1/2.6″.
And in this respect I believe the FZ80 is a camera that is very attractive to people using today the smartphone for the own daily photography and wanting to step up taking full control of the camera, zooming up to 60 times (unbelievable, I know), without investing much money.
With the FZ80 you can easily modify all of the settings through menu and a control dial. You can change the three pillars of photography (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) as on any professional camera.
In this respect I suggest this camera as a step between smartphones and interchangeable lenses. With aperture and shutter speed under control you will have an open window to the photo-creativity world. You will be able to take light trails photos in the night as well as panning moving objects or easily use exposure compensation for bird photography.
This camera has a fixed zoom lens, therefore not interchangeable, with one of the widest focal length range in the market (20mm-1200mm, or 60x). The Panasonic Z80 is dedicated to the photography amateurs that do not like to walk around with a bag of lenses. They just love to point and shoot and take a memory back home, adding however a bit a creativity.
What does it mean 20mm? It means you have a very wide lens, about 30% wider than the Samsung S8 or the Iphone 7, just to have an idea.
What does it mean 1200mm? It means a LOT! Have a check to the 2 photos below for an example.
Basically you are covered with all you need
This however comes with a compromise. You will not have the same photo quality as you may have with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. The Lumix FZ80 lens performs actually quite well when you use it in the middle of the range, between 40-50mm and 600-800mm but you start seeing the limits when you go outside this range.
Does it mean that you should better buy a DSLR? As I always say, if you have a spare $5,000, or more, you should buy a Sony a7r II. The photo quality is the best, but there is a difference of $4,600, or actually much more with the lenses to cover the 20-1200mm focal range. And I do not want to mention the weight of 600mm lens.
This is to say that with $400 you can get a camera that makes good photo, surely not at a professional quality; a camera that you can use in every situation when travelling and, once back at home, you may print your images on a lovely trip book.
I prefer to keep this review with feelings and findings, more than with technical details and graphs. A diagram of the ISO performance probably would not say that much to the most.
ISO is the third pillar of photography. It is another mechanism to add light, however artificially. You can see it as a light amplifier. The higher the ISO number, the more amplification you are doing and unfortunately the noisier will be the photo (think it as grain on the old films)
The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 works well at ISO 80 (the starting point, to be used in a bright environment like outdoor on a sunny day), it performs ok at ISO 200-400 and after that it’s not the best. Remember, you are paying $400 for this camera, you can’t compare it with the latest Nikon model.
What I am saying here is that in low light you will have a noisy photo if shooting handheld. If you use a tripod I suggest to always set ISO 80.
Having a 4k video camera for $400 is just amazing. Few cameras at $1,000 still not support it. This is definitely a big plus.
If you are a Vlogger or thinking to start a YouTube channel than the FZ80 can be the entry-level camera for you, really all you need.
4k photography is one of my favourite Panasonic unique features. They introduced it in the GX8, the Lumix flagship, and it now comes in any new model in the market. What is it? To put it simple, the camera records a 25p video and you can easily extrapolate a frame from it and save it as JPG. If you are interested to go deeper have a read to this review.
Obviously this is something you could do in post-production with all the videos but doing that in-camera in no time is unheard of.
You can also use the 4K Photo feature to perform post-focusing where you can select on your picture which area to focus and make it sharp. You can read more about focus stacking here.
I personally would go for the FZ80 because I can save $100 and I have a similar, or better, photography experience.
The FZ80 has a 1200mm zoom (or 60x) meanwhile the FZ300 can go “only” up to 600m.
The FZ80 shoot at an higher resolution of 18Mp instead of the 12Mp of the FZ300, this comes however with noisier photos, especially over ISO 400
The FZ300 is a better video camera though, with a mick jack and a tilting screen.
Also in this case I prefer the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 because I can save $150 ad I have better performance overall.
With the Lumix FZ80 I have a wider aperture (F2.8 instead of F/3.3, more light!), a touchscreen, longer exposure (60sec instead of 15sec, perfect for that water silky effect) and few other smaller advantages.
The tilting monitor of the B700 is definitely a bonus, but not a decision factor. The same applies to the 1,440mm max zoom (honestly 1,200mm is already more than enough).
This is a camera that is just perfect for the traveller that wants a wide focal length range for wildlife photography, or far away details. It’s also perfect for landscapes, another photography component during your trip.
At $400 the Panasonic Lumix Z80 is a fantastic entry level camera you will not be disappointed.
What could Panasonic improve with the next version, although hard to ask anything at this price range:
Ethics statement: The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 camera was loaned to us by Panasonic Australia. We were not asked to write about it and, most important, we were not provided any sort of compensation. All the opinions are mine, based on many years of travel photography. In the post there are affiliate links. If you buy through these link, we will receive a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. This is how we run this website and you can support it. Thank you!
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.