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Panasonic Lumix SZ8

The Panasonic Lumix SZ8 is a point-and-shoot compact with a 12x stabilised zoom. Released in January 2014 it represent’s Panasonic’s entry-level super-zoom with the newer SZ10 above it, and the various TZ / ZS models above that.

The SZ8 may now be the entry-level option, but along with a 12x optical zoom, has a 16 Megapixel CCD sensor, a 3 inch 460 dot LCD screen and Wifi which can be used to remotely control the camera as well as share photos to your phone and the Web.

If you’re looking for an extended zoom range in a compact body at an affordable price, the Lumix SZ8 could well be the answer. Which is why I’ve compared it here with two models costing significantly more, the Canon IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and Sony Cyber-shot WX350. Read my full review to discover whether the SZ8 is a more affordable, but equally capable, alternative or if the lower price tag involves making a few compromises.

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Lumix SZ8 design and controls

The Lumix SZ8 looks a little dated, but while it might lack the class of the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, it shares similar weight and dimensions; it’s not quite so pocketable, though, as the lens bezel protrudes from the front plate by around 5mm – a snaggable surface which makes it a little more tricky to extricate from a tight pocket. Despite its longer 20x zoom the Cyber-shot WX350 is both smaller and lighter, but none of these compacts is going to be too much trouble in a jacket or even jeans pocket.

The front of the Lumix SZ8 is its best side with clean lines unbroken only by the lens, flash and AF illuminator. The top panel is also clean and simple with the shutter release and zoom collar flanked by small flush on/off button on its left and the movie record button on the right.

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The rear panel control layout is typically Panasonic with small silver coloured buttons surrounding a four-way controller. Two above it select the mode and activate Wifi; two below are for playback and the Quick menu. In a reversal of the way it works on Canon compacts, the Full menu button is at the centre of the four-way controller.

The 3 inch LCD screen has a 460k dot resolution but on first viewing my concern wasn’t with the level of detail, which is fine, but the brightness, which isn’t; dimness would be a more apt description for the view, which you have to make an effort with indoors, let alone in bright sunlight.

Thankfully, the screen brightness can be adjusted and it’s the first thing any new SZ8 owner should do. Presumably to extend the battery life, the default mode for the Lumix SZ8’s screen is Monitor Luminance off. There are three other modes; Power Monitor makes the screen about twice as bright and also increases the contrast, it’s labelled ‘brighter and improved visibility outdoors’, but I’d be tempted to use this as the default setting were it not for the battery life implications. Fortunately there’s also an Auto Power Monitor setting which adjusts the brightness according to the ambient lighting conditions. This actually works pretty well, providing a much better viewing experience in all conditions without putting too much extra pressure on the battery.

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Auto Power monitor is the default setting on other Lumix compacts I’ve reviewed and I can’t for the life of me understand why Panasonic has hobbled the SZ8 in this way. Sure it’s easy enough to change, but I wonder how many SZ8 owners will stuggle onwards, literally in the dark, not realising that the path to a brighter future is only a few short steps away in the Setup or Q. menu.

There’s one other position on the Monitor Luminance menu that’s worth knowing about; High angle really ramps up the brightness so that you get a better view with the SZ8 held at arms length above your head. The viewing angle of the SZ8 is generally pretty good, both horizontally and vertically, but this gives you a bit of extra room for maneuvre when getting those all important event shots from the crowd. Note the latest SZ10 features a smaller 2.7in screen, but it can now flip up by 180 degrees to face the subject for selfies.

The Lumix SZ8 has a built-in flash that’s sensibly positioned on the the right side of the front panel just below and to the left of the shutter release. There’s no danger of dangling your finger over it like there is with the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS.

The flash has a maximum range of 5.2 metres at the maximum wide angle position of the lens which looks to be a little more powerful than either the WX350 or the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, which quote 4.3m and 4m respectively. In the absence of ISO information (though these figures are usually provided for 1600 ISO) is difficult to make an accurate comparison, but the SZ8’s flash does provide good illumination for reasonably close subjects and fill-in. It has Auto, Auto Red-eye and Forced on modes. None of these models has a hot shoe, but the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS is compatible with Canon’s HF-DC2 external flash.

On the right side of the camera body behind a small door you’ll find the combined USB / A/V out / Charging port. The battery is charged in the camera using the supplied charger and USB cable which plugs into this port. The good news is that it’s a standard port, and the cable and charger are separate, so you can easily charge the SZ8 from a laptop or other suitable power source.

The Lumix SZ8’s combined battery and card compartment lies behind a sprung door in the base. The BCL-7E battery provides enough power for 200 shots; that’s ten more than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, but there are two things to note about that. The first is, I suspect that figure is arrived at with the screen in the default ‘dim’ mode, or Monitor Luminance off as Panasonic calls it it. Secondly, the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 350 HS can extend its battery life to 290 shots in ECO mode which dims the screen then turns it off after a short period of inactivity, a much smarter solution than permanently dimming the screen on the SZ8.

 

Lumix SZ8 lens and stabilisation

The Lumix SZ8 has a 12x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 24-288mm. That’s a millimetre wider than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and WX350, but makes a very marginal difference to the angle of view. At the other end of the scale it tops out at an equivalent 288mm, which sounds like more of a gap compared with the 300mm IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, but is also a small difference in terms of coverage. Of course, both the Lumix SZ8 and IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS fall well short of the WX350’s 500mm equivalent telephoto. A picture provides a more useful comparison than the numbers so in addition to my usual wide and and telephoto coverage examples the table below shows the maximum zoom range of the Lumix SZ8 and the Cyber-shot WX350.

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 coverage wide (left) and coverage tele (right)

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 coverage tele (left) compared with Sony WX350 coverage tele (right)

 

Like both the Cyber-shot WX350 and the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, the Lumix SZ8 is equipped with optical image stabilisation which moves the lens elements to compensate for camera movement and avoid camera shake at slow shutter speeds. The stabiliser has two positions, Off and On, it isn’t intelligent like Canon’s Intelligent IS on the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, but it does operate in five axes, meaning it corrects for roll, pitch, and yaw movements as well as vertical and horizontal ones.

So I was very interested just to see just how well the five-axis O.I.S. stabilisation on the Lumix SZ8 performed. To test it, I took a series of shots in fading light at progressively slower shutter speeds first with O.I.S. turned off and then with it on in continuous mode. As you can see from the crops below the Lumix SZ8 can be hand-held at speeds down to 1/15, though I was abe to get an occassional clean shot at 1/8th. That equates to a consistent four stops of stabilisation, an impressive performance which is on a par with the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS.

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 O.I.S. 4.3-51.6mm at 51.6mm, 100 ISO, 1/15th, O.I.S. off (left) and on (right)

 

Lumix SZ8 shooting modes

Intelligent Auto mode on the Lumix SZ8 uses scene detection to help to get the exposure right for specific scene types. Scene detection recognises several scene types and selects the Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, or Sunset presets where appropriate, otherwise, it uses the standard auto exposure settings. Intelligent Auto also employs Intelligent ISO which detects motion in the frame and selects an appropriately high sensitivity setting to enable a suitably fast shutter speed. Intelligent exposure sets different ISO levels for individual scene areas to produce an exposure that captures a wider range of tonal detail than would otherwise be possible. Intelligent ISO and Intelligent Exposure are also available in Program Auto mode.

What on most compacts would be called Program Auto mode is known as Normal Picture mode on the SZ8. This is the mode that provides most control over settings – mostly selected from the Q menu. While it doesn’t offer anything approaching full manual exposure control, you can at least set the ISO sensitivity.

There are 15 scene modes to choose from including, in addition to those used for scene detection, sports, Night portrait, Night scenery, two baby scene modes, pet, and Sunset. A high-sensitivity mode takes 3 Megapixel images at sensitivities up to 6400 ISO, but probably the most interesting is the HDR mode, which takes three shots in quick succession and combines them into a composite HDR shot. Here’s an example of the Lumix SZ8’s HDR mode, which automatically set the sensitivity to 800 ISO compared alongside an 800 ISO shot taken in Normal Picture (Program Auto) mode. The most noticeable difference is in the highlights in the stained glass window, which hold a fair bit more detail in the HDR shot.

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 HDR. Program Auto mode 800 ISO (left) compared with 800 ISO HDR scene mode (right)

 

The SZ8 has an excellent Panorama Shot mode which gets its own position on the Rec mode level – the one that appears when you press the mode button. In fact it works in a very similar fashion the the WX350’s, you first have to select a direction, then just press the shutter button and start panning. The SZ8 can’t shoot 360 panoramas like the WX350 and the resolution is lower, 960×3200 if you pan with the camera in portrait orientation. It does have one trick the WX350 can’t mange though, you can apply most of the Creative effects filters in Panorama shot mode with the exception of Toy and Miniature.

These, as well as a range of other effects are available when you select Creative Control mode. The SZ8 has a good selection of effects filters, the full range is Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High key, Low key, Sepia, Dynamic monochrome, Impressive art, High dynamic, Cross process, Toy effect, Miniature effect, Soft focus, Star filter and One point colour. Below you can see examples of Expressive, Sepia, Dynamic monochrome, Impressive art, Toy effect and One point colour.

 

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Lumix SZ8 movie modes

The SZ8 can record movies in 720p HD resolution at 30 frames per second and also offers VGA (640 x 480) and QVGA (320×240) also at 30fps. Movies are saved in the ageing and not very efficient Motion JPEG format at a bitrate of 28Mbit/s and saved as QuickTime files with a .mov extension in the same folder as still images. You’ll get a little over half an hour of footage on an 8GB card, but the longest continuous recording time is when the file size reaches 2GB – so around 10 minutes or so. Panasonic recommends an SD card of Speed Class 6 or higher for movies. Note the latest SZ10 is also restricted to a maximum resolution of 720p, I believe a constraint of the CCD sensor they both use.

To start movie recording on the SZ8 you just press the red record button in any shooting mode. The sensitivity and exposure is set automatically and continuous AF is enabled. The SZ8 has a mono mic and the optical zoom can be used during recording.

 

Panasonic Lumix SZ8 sample movie: handheld pan

Panasonic Lumix SZ8 sample movie: tripod pan

Panasonic Lumix SZ8 sample movie: striping

Panasonic Lumix SZ8 sample movie: indoor low light pan

Panasonic Lumix SZ8 sample movie: C-AF

 

Lumix SZ8 Wifi

The Lumix SZ8 has built-in Wifi which allows you to wirelessly browse the SZ8’s images on the larger and more detailed screen of your device and copy them, upload them to online storage or social media services (either directly or via a smartphone), or become remote-controlled by the free Panasonic Image app for iOS or Android devices. I tested the SZ8’s Wifi features using my iPhone 4S.

 

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The SZ8 lacks NFC, so you can’t bump it against an NFC-equipped Android device or iPhone 6 to initiate a Wifi connection, but the connection process is nonetheless pretty straighforward, and at its simplest involves scanning a QR code with the Panasonic Image app.

To activate Wifi on the camera you simply press the Wifi button on the rear panel. If you’re creating a new connection you can choose from ‘remote shooting and view’, ‘playback on TV’, ‘send images while recording’ or ‘send images stored in the camera’. For a smartphone / tablet connection, you should choose the first option for remote shooting and view. This then sets up the SZ8 as a wireless access point, displaying the SSID name and password, alongside them both encoded as a QR graphic. You’ll then need to start the Lumix Image app, select Wifi as your means of connection, select the SZ8 network and either enter the password, or simply point your handset’s camera at the QR code.

Once your phone or tablet becomes connected to the SZ8, you can remote control it, browse the images direct from the memory card, copy them onto the handset and if desired send them onto various storage or sharing services. You can also set the app to make a GPS log for subsequent syncing and tagging, and there’s even a feature for creating photo collages – grid layouts containing multiple shots.

The remote control feature is really neat, showing a live image on your phone or tablet’s screen and allowing you to take a photo, though remote video recording isn’t an opton on the SZ8. You can adjust the zoom remotely and tap anywhere on the live image to set the focus to that area or directly take the shot. You can adjust exposure compensation, change the AF area mode, alter the picture size, set the flash mode and set a 2 or 10 second self timer. For a reason that wasn’t obvious, though, the white balance and ISO buttons were greyed out.

You can also use a connected phone or tablet to quickly browse the images in your camera on their bigger screens without having to copy them over first. This is more useful than it sounds, allowing you to scan through a day’s shoot without having to remove the card, physically connect the camera or copy any unnecessary files.

When you see an image you like, just tap it and the Lumix Image app will let you save the original to your device or start uploading it to one of the social, sharing or storage services installed on your device. Or of course once the image is copied into your device, you could just exit the Panasonic app and handle it direct from whichever sharing or storage app you like via your phone’s gallery.

By comparison with the Lumix SZ8, the Sony WX350’s Wifi implementation is fairly basic. The WX350 has NFC for quick and easy connections and provides remote control as well as upload to a smartphone. The controls on offer are similar to the SZ8, but there’s no tap to focus feature. The WX350 lacks the SZ8’s support for upload to sharing websites and other thing lacking from the WX350 Wifi set up is the ability to make and apply a GPS log form your phone to pictures on the camera card.

Like the WX350, the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS has NFC, and its Wifi features are quite similar to those on offer from the SZ8. Neither can be used to remotely shoot movies, both offer GPS tagging from a smartphone track log. Two significant differences, though, are that the Lumix SZ8 allows tap to focus and it’s Web upload doen’t require an intermediary platform in the way that the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS requires Canon’s Image Gateway.

 

Lumix SZ8 handling

The Lumix SZ8 is a little slow out of the blocks, taking the best part of three seconds from when you turn it on to be ready to take a shot. The zoom is swift, covering the 12x range in around two and a half seconds, but it has a serious glitch. If you zoom all the way in then immediately attempt to zoom back out again, nothing happens. At either end of the range, you need to pause for about a second, if you attempt to zoom too soon it just doesn’t work. Once you’ve discovered this you can make allowances, but it’s irritating at best.

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As you’d expect, the Lumix SZ8 has face detection autofocus which is the default AF mode in intelligent Auto exposure mode and can be selected in other modes. If there are no people around, Intelligent auto mode switches to 9-area AF and this too can be selected from the Q.menu in other exposure modes. Lastly there’s 1-area focussing which uses the central portion of the screen for focussing. By maintaining half-pressure on the shutter release you can align the subject for focussing, then recompose your shot, but the SZ8 lacks the AF tracking mode offered by both the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and WX350.

 

Lumix SZ8 Sensor

The Lumix SZ8 has a 16 megapixel CCD sensor which produces images with maximum pixel dimensions of 4608×3456. Photos are saved in JPEG format at a single quality/size setting and files are on average between 3 and 4MB. The sensitivity range is 100 to 1600 ISO (6400 ISO in 3M high Sensitivity Scene mode) and the shutter speed range is 8 – 1/200 (60s in Starry sky scene mode).

Keep reading to see how the quality of the Lumix SZ8 measures-up in practice at a variety of focal lengths and lighting situations!

 

Lumix SZ8 vs IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS vs Sony WX350 JPEG Quality

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To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Panasonic Lumix SZ8, the Canon IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, and the Sony Cyber-shot WX350 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

All three cameras were set to their maximum wide angle setting. At 24mm the Lumix SZ8 goes a tiny bit wider than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, and the Sony WX350, but in practice the difference is very small and it proved impractical to zoom the SZ8 in by such a small amount. All three cameras were set to Program auto mode.

For this test the cameras were mounted on a tripod and image stabilisation was disabled. The ISO sensitivity was manually set to the lowest available setting and all other settings were left on the defaults.

The image above was taken with the Lumix SZ8. The camera was set to Program Auto (Normal) mode and with the sensitivity manually set to the base 100 ISO setting the SZ8 selected an exposure of 1/250 at f7.8. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS also set to its base 100 ISO sensitivity metered 1/1250 at f3.6 and the Sony WX350, metered 1/1250 at f3,5 and 80 ISO. As usual the crops are taken from the areas marked in red above.

The Lumix SZ8 gets of to a shaky start with a crop from the edge of the frame that looks a little blurry. Things improve by the time we get to the second crop though, with sharper edges and more detail. This crop still looks a tiny bit soft though and the stonework in the church tower and the roof tiles in the foreground lack definition.

The third crop is also good, you can make out the white column of the lighthouse and there’s a hint of detail in the rocks on which it stands, but the Lumix SZ8 falls short of really punchy detail. In the final crop from the right edge of the frame the fuzziness returns, though it’s not nearly as severe as it was in the first crop from the other side.

So an all-round average performance from the Lumix SZ8 with the kind of detail you’d expect from a 16 Megapixel compact sensor, but nothing outstanding. Compared with the crops from the 16 Megapixel IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, the Lumix SZ8 crops look soft and lacking in detail. Yes, the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS are softer at the edges than the middle, but not to the same degree and the sensor is delivering more to begin with as evidenced by the more detailed second and third crops. While there’s no doubt you need to be looking at 100 percent crops to see it, the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS lens and sensor combination produces sharper more detailed images than the Lumix SZ8.

The Sony WX350 has a higher resolution 18.2 Megapixel sensor that prouces a slightly smaller crop area with correspondingly larger detail. and like the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, the Sony sensor is producing more detail and the lens is delivering sharper edges.

Scroll down the page to see how these models compare when zoomed in to 120mm, and 300mm equivalent focal lengths.

 

Lumix SZ8 vs IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS vs Sony WX350 Quality

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right)at 80 ISO

 

Lumix SZ8 vs IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS vs Sony WX350 Quality at approx 120mm

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For this next test I zoomed all three cameras in to an equivalent focal length of around 120mm. As before the cameras were set to Program auto mode where they each selected the same f5 aperture.

 

At this focal length the first crop from the Lumix SZ8 is again comparitively soft and blurry, only this time it looks a little worse than at 24mm. But, the Lumix SZ8 improves significantly in the middle of the frame to produce a much cleaner result, though not quite as detailed as the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS.

At this middling focal length, the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS performs much the same as it does at its maximum wide angle. There’s a slight degradation in quality at the edge of the frame compared with the middle and its worse on the left hand side than the right. In the middle of the frame there’s a good level of detail and things look nice and sharp though.

The Sony WX350 gets off to a good start at this focal length with a nice sharp crop from the edge of the frame, but there’s a slight clumpiness to the Sony crops which is obscuring the finer detail. Where the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and Sony WX350 were neck and neck at the wide angle setting, here the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS definitely has the edge. The Lumix SZ8 comes in third, but, in the middle of the frame at least, it has closed the gap on the other two models.

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right)at 80 ISO

 

Lumix SZ8 vs IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS vs Sony WX350 Quality at approx 300mm

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For this final test I zoomed the Lumix SZ8 in to its maximum 288mm focal length. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS was also zoomed to it’s maximum – a tad longer at at 300mm and the Sony WX350 was zoomed in to match the same angle of view. As before, all three cameras were set to program auto mode and the crops are indicated by the red rectangles.

 

As a quick glance at these crops will reveal, there’s a loss of finer detail which produces an impressionistic result. This affects all three models to a similar degree and is most likely a result of atmospheric factors as much as lens and sensor performance.

That said, it’s clear that the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS produces a cleaner and more detailed result than the Lumix SZ8 which is soft and lacking in contrast. The sony WX350 on the other has has produced quite punchy detailed crops which I think, at least in the centre of the frame, show a little more detail than those from the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS. It’s also worth pointing out that the Sony WX350 still has a way to go before reaching its maximum 500mm equivalent focal length.

 

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left) and IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre) at 100 ISO, Sony WX350 (right)at 80 ISO

 

Lumix SZ8 vs IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS vs Sony WX350 Noise

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To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Panasonic Lumix SZ8, the Canon IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, and the Sony Cyber-shot WX350 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

All three cameras were set to their maximum wide angle setting. At 24mm the Lumix SZ8 goes a tiny bit wider than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, and the Sony WX350, but in practice the difference is very small and it proved impractical to zoom the SZ8 in by such a small amount. All three cameras were set to Program auto mode. For this test the cameras were mounted on a tripod and image stabilisation was disabled.

The image above was taken with the Lumix SZ8 set to Normal Picture (Program Auto) mode and at its base 100 ISO sensitivity setting it metered a shutter speed of 1/6 at f3.1. Also at 100 ISO the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS metered 1/5 at f3.6 and the Sony WX350, at its base 80 ISO sensitivity, metered 1/6 at f3.5.

The Lumix SZ8 has the same 16 Megapixel resolution as the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, but the sensor technologies differ. The SZ8 has a CCD sensor, where the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS uses a back-illuminated CMOS sensor for claimed better low-light performance at higher sensitivities. At its base 100 ISO setting the Lumix SZ8 crop looks softer, but no noisier. at 200 ISO there’s a little bit of smeariness creeping in, though, and by 400 ISO there’s visibly less detail. Either the Lumix SZ8 sensor is generating more noise, or the noise supression isn’t so effective at dealing with it, or both. The 800 ISO crop is also worse than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS for the same reason, but by 1600 ISO both sensors are producing so much noise it makes little difference.

The crops from the 18.2 Megapixel Sony WX350 show a smaller area with larger detail. The Sony WX350 crops are smoother and less grainy than those from the Lumix SZ8, it looks like the noise suppression is more aggressive, but there’s still more detail in the WX350 crops than those from the SZ8. Again, unless you’re pixel peeping 100% crops you’re unlikely to notice, particularly at the base ISO sensitivity setting, but from 200 to 800 ISO the WX350 has a definite advantage.

Lastly just to note that the Lumix SZ8 tops out at 1600 ISO where the Sony and Canon go one step beyond to 3200 ISO. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and Cyber-shot WX350 also have low light composite modes. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS’s Handheld NightScene mode sets the ISO automatically, here I’ve included a crop from the test scene shot where it selected 1250 ISO. The WX350’s Multi Frame Noise Reduction is more versatile, allowing you to manually set the sensitivity, but as the 1600 ISO example shows, it’s not necessarily better in terms of quality.

Now you can check out my Lumix SZ8 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my verdict.

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Above: Sony WX350 (right) at 80 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 100 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 200 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 400 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 800 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 1600 ISO

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Above: Lumix SZ8 (left), IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS (centre), and Sony WX350 (right) at 3200 ISO

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Above: IXUS 265HS / ELPH 340 HS Handheld Nightscene 1250 ISO (centre), and Sony WX350 MFNR 1600 ISO (right)

 

Lumix SZ8 verdict

The Lumix SZ8 is an affordable point-and-shoot compact with a longer zoom range than most models at this price-point. For this money you’re normally getting a shorter zoom range, and rarely enjoying features like built-in Wifi.

The SZ8 has a 16 Megapixel CCD sensor which produces great quality images. Its 3 inch 460k dot LCD screen works well when the brightness has been boosted and the Wifi works with Panasonic’s excellent Image App for sharing photos and remote shooting.

Occasionally, the SZ8’s budget credentials leave it wanting. Its 720p video quality leaves a lot to be desired, it has mediocre continuous shooting, poor battery life and can only shoot short 10 minute HD video clips. But if you can live with those shortcomings it offers a great alternative to more expensive compact zooms. I should also add the major upgrade on the newer SZ10 is a screen that flips forward to face the subject for selfies.

 

Compared to IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS

On the Surface, the Lumix SZ8 has a lot in common with the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS. The two are similarly proportioned (the extra 4mm thickness on the SZ8 is all lens bezel) and are within a few grams of each other in weight. They both have a 16 Megapixel sensor, they share the same screen dimensions, both have built-in Wifi and they even provide a similar number of shots from a fully charged battery.

But look a little closer and significant differences begin to emerge. The Lumix SZ8 has a CCD sensor which, doesn’t match the high ISO noise performance of the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS and doesn’t quite match its image quality. It also suffers from vertical purple streaking on movies when shooting subjects with bright highlights like sunlight reflecting on water.

Both have 460k 3 inch screens, but the one on the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS is brighter, more contrasty, and has a wider angle of view. Both models are Wifi equipped but the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS also has NFC so if you have an NFC equipped phone all you need do to establish a connection is tap the two devices together. In its favour the Panasonic Image App is more full featured allowing more versatile remote shooting and direct upload to sharing and social networks

Both have capable point-and-shoot Auto modes with scene detection, but the Lumix SZ8 has a much wider range of effects filters including Miniature mode which, as on the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS, you can use for movie recording. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS miniature mode is more versatile though, with a moveable in-focus area and a choice of playback speeds. The SZ8 has nothing to match Creative shot, a short and simple root to creative compositions and effects on the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS. Unless you’re fond of panoramas, in which case its very capable panorama mode will more than compensate.

The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS outperforms the Lumix SZ8 with a 1080p30 full HD mode compared with 720p30 on the SZ8. It also provides one of the simplest ways to make a movie of an event or day’s shooting in Hybrid auto mode, now readily available on the mode switch. The IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS also boasts faster full resolution continuous shooting, even though it couldn’t match the quoted 3.9fps speed in my tests.

Depending on where you shop, the Lumix SZ8 costs around 25 percent less than the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS. If you’re on a budget, the SZ8 is a less expensive compromise, it’s a good little compact, but it lacks the quality of the IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS in a number of key areas.

See my IXUS 265 HS / ELPH 340 HS review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony WX350

The Sony WX350’s 20x optical zoom has a range of 25-500mm and really puts it in the compact or pocket super-zoom category. But despite the longer zoom it’s smaller and lighter than the Lumix SZ8 and it packs better performance into that more compact frame. Of course, it also costs a fair bit more, so is it worth spending the extra?

If it’s all about the zoom you should check the first page to see how much closer that 500mm lens actually gets you. With the WX350 you’re not going to pay for it in terms of a bigger, heavier body and in fact the build quality of the Sony model is a little better, it feels more robust. The WX350 has an 18.2 Megapixel sensor, the additional resolution means you can print bigger or crop in to give you even more of a ‘zoom’ advantage, but more importantly the WX350’s back illuminated CMOS sensor, produces slightly better quality images and doesn’t suffer from purple streaking on video like the CCD sensor in the Lumix SZ8.

Both models provide a good combination of auto and creative shooting modes and both have excellent panorama modes. The WX350’s Superior auto mode stacks composite images to produce better results in low light and for backlit subjects and it does it automatically. The Lumix SZ8’s HDR mode is a lot more limited, plus you have to know when to use it and select it from the scene mode menu. The WX350 leaves the Lumix SZ8 standing when it comes to continuous shooting, with a 10fps full resolution burst mode compared with 1.2fps on the SZ8.

Both cameras have built in Wifi, but only the WX350 has NFC for easy connection to suitably equipped smartphones. Both provide basic remote shooting using a smartphone and both allow you to transfer photos wirelessly to your phone. But the Lumix SZ8 is more versatile, allowing you to tap to focus using your smartphone’s touch screen. It also allows direct upload from the camera to social networks and photo sharing sites and you can tag images with GPS data from your phone’s GPS track log.

There’s a big difference in quality between the WX350’s best quality 1080p50/60 movie mode and the MJPEG 720p30 mode on the Lumix SZ8. The WX350 also offers a raft of other modes in AVCHD and MPEG4 flavours compared with only VGA and QVGA options on the SX8. You also get stereo mics on the WX350 where the SZ8 records only mono audio. The WX350 also has the Motion shot video feature, which creates a sequence of fast-action, superimposed images to demonstrate motion of a subject through the frame.

To sum up, the WX350 offers more features, better performance and a longer zoom range, but at a price premium. As usual, you need to ask yourself the hard questions and decide whether they’re worth the extra cash outlay.

See my Sony WX350 review for more details.

 

Lumix SZ8 final verdict

The Lumix SZ8 is a great value buy, a compact zoom with a middling 12x range that can be had for the price of a budget compact plus an SD card. It makes a lot of sense, but only if you know what you’re sacrificing by forgoing something a little more expensive. If you want a compact that’s as good at shooting movies as still photos, the SZ8 isn’t it. On paper its 720p video sounds respectable, but see the quality and you’ll be disappointed.

As usual, it’s a question of where your priorities lie. If you love to shoot movies it’s an easy decision against. For others decent Wifi features are a lot more important. Ordinarily I’d hesitate to recommend a model with such poor video quality, but the SZ8 is a solid performer in every other area, so I’m going to put my reservations to one side. With that one caveat, I’ll recommend the SZ8 as a great value 12x compact zoom. It’s also worth looking out for bargains as the newer SZ10, with its selfie-screen, takes the attention.

 

Good points
12x stabilised optical zoom.
Good Wifi features.
In-camera battery charging.

Bad points
Poor quality 720p30 video.
10 minute HD max recording time.
Dim screen in default mode.
Poor battery life.

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