Tech Junkie Review: Panasonic Ultra Zoom camera offers what a smartphone can’t

Technology

There’s no question about it, our smartphones have become our go-to cameras these days. While they take great pictures there are still times when a “real” camera is a better option. There are features on digital cameras that our smartphones simply can’t match.  I took the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 for a test with my family. 

The FZ80 is an “in betweeny” camera. It’s bigger than a point and shoot but not quite the size of a pro level SLR. It’s designed to be held like an SLR but in a much more compact form factor. Anyone who has used an SLR will recognize the dials, buttons and options. You can use the touchscreen on the back to frame up shots or the viewfinder hold that also has a screen inside (instead of an SLR that would let you see directly through the lens.) The FZ80 has a decent weight to it despite it’s compact size. It feels good in your hand and helps you get a nice steady shot.

The FZ80 comes in at 18.1 Megapixels for nice clear pictures. It can also shoot 4K video that in my testing looked great. Here’s a sample 4K video that I shot with the FZ80:

The standout feature of the FZ80 is the insane 60x zoom lens. This is an optical zoom. This is important to point out because so many of us are used to digital zooms that are built into our smartphones. Optical zoom uses an actual lens so you’re still getting a crystal clear 18.1MP shot even when zoomed all the way in. A digital zoom is simply cropping the picture so you don’t get the same “depth” in your pictures. You can see an example I took of our meteorologist below. The added depth from a real zoom lens gives the picture character. You won’t get a picture like this on your smartphone.

This zoom also works when recording video. If Johnny is playing outfield you can still get up and close for that perfect shot. This “long zoom” is downright impressive. It goes from 20mm to 1200mm. When zooming it just feels like it keeps going and going and going. While I’m a big fan of getting closer to your subject with your feet when possible a long zoom can be huge in tough situations. Check out this example of how long this zoom can actually go.

The one place I still think a smartphone wins is when it comes to HDR photos.  For example, pictures of the Colorado sunset just came out better on my smartphone.  The FZ80 does offer HDR but in my testing it just seemed easier to get an amazing picture of the sunset with my phone. It seems phones are better at adjusting for conditions that have bright and dark spots and it also applies a lot of post processing mojo to make those sunsets pop.  Perhaps I could get a similar result from the FZ80 but it would definitely take a lot more tweaking.

Overall – if you’re looking to step up your family photo game the FZ80 is an awesome option. I think it’s a deal for $300.  Pictures look great, 4K video is impressive and the 60x optical zoom is mind-blowing. You’ll take pictures with the FZ80 that simply aren’t possible with a smartphone.

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