Panasonic Lumix SZ8 review - Verdict

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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