The S80 continues the evolution of the 'S' series (which goes back to late 2001), retaining the familiar oblong shape and sliding lens cover. There's been some fairly significant changes since the S70 - the body is about 10mm shorter, the screen is a lot larger (2.5-inches versus 1.8-inches) and there's been a major re-think of the external control layout, with a new mode dial and rotating control dial, a very welcome button for setting ISO and yet another new design of zoom control. From a design point of view the S80 eschews the S70's matt-black all-over finish for a mixture of textured silver and high gloss (almost piano-style) black, with a couple of leather-finish rubber accents. Like its predecessors the all-metal body is beautifully constructed and the whole thing exudes an air of luxury. In a sea of 'lookalike' plastic cameras the S80 is a real treat, and - as I discovered when using it out and about - something of a head-turner in it's own understated way.
Although at first glance the S80 seems to be suffering from a serious plague of buttons, which can make it a slightly daunting camera to begin with. Spend some time with the S80 however, and you soon start to appreciate the level of control on offer - and how rarely you need to use menus in everyday photography.
In your hand
The S80 sits very comfortably in the hand, with the subtle finger grip on the front of the body offering just enough 'hold' for single-handed operation. That said, the new thumb-operated zoom control is a little fiddly, almost impossible if you're trying to shoot with one hand, and if you don't support the camera with your left hand it's a little too easy to accidentally press one of the many buttons that sit under your thumb. As with most cameras of this type you'll find it a lot easier to use - and a lot more stable - if you use both hands to support it.
The S80's combined battery and SD card compartment is located in the base of the camera under a fairly sturdy (plastic) spring-bound door. Fortunately both battery and card have retaining clips, so you won't lose one when changing the other. The NB-2LH Lithium-Ion battery is good for around 200 shots (using the CIPA standard) with the LCD, 700 shots using the viewfinder.
The sliding lens cover (which also acts as the power switch) is very smooth and clicks nicely into place at either end of its travel. You can power up the camera in playback (review) mode (without opening the lens cover) by pressing and holding the play button.
As with the S70, the S80 sports that rarest of beasts; a true wideangle lens. The 28-100mm equiv. range is one of the most useful - photographically speaking - you'll find on any compact camera. It's nice and bright (F2.8) at the wide end, though the F5.3 maximum aperture at the long end is less impressive - and will limit its usefulness in low light.
The camera's connections (mini USB and A/V output) are hidden under a plastic door with a rather flimsy rubberized hinge.
The small built-in flash offers the usual options (on/off/auto) and red-eye reduction (using the AF illuminator lamp). There is a +/- 2.0 flash output control and - by switching to the night scene mode - you can use slow synch flash too. The range is pretty normal for this type of camera (14 ft at the wide end, 6.6 ft at the tele end, ISO 100), and we experienced no problems when shooting quite close - the flash seems to throttle down well.
The 2.5-inch screen has fewer pixels than the S70's 1.8-inch LCD (115,000 versus 118,000), which is a pity. To be fair the screen is excellent - bright, not very reflective (so glare is fairly low), and it has a very wide viewing angle. Of course stretching so few pixels over a 2.5-inch screen means the picture isn't as clear as we'd like, but it has a fast refresh rate and exhibits no lag. The screen also gains up well in low light.
The viewfinder is the standard compact camera 'optical tunnel' type with no dioptre adjustment or parallax correction lines - it also only shows 80% of the scene. It's also small, not that clear and - as with all cameras of this type - only likely to be used when battery life is an issue or in very bright direct sunlight. The LED lamps to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece indicate camera status including auto focus lock, camera shake warning and flash status.
One of the major design changes over the S70 is the positioning of the main mode dial, which now pokes out of the right side of the camera. From here you can quickly switch between Auto, Program, Tv, Av, Manual, Custom, and Scene shooting modes, plus movies, stitch-assist and my colors. To the left of the mode dial is the new zoom rocker, and just below you can see the new ISO button.
The other new control on the S80 takes some getting used to, but once mastered proves to be a very space-efficient way of offering lots of functionality. The 'Multi Control' dial acts as a standard four-way controller if you press it at the standard 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions, allowing you to navigate menus. It also gives direct access to macro, flash, ISO and manual focus in playback mode. Finally the ring section turns, for scrolling through menus and changing settings.
The shutter release, which sits alone on the top of the camera, has a very positive 'half press' point, making pre-focus a breeze.
A final couple of buttons sit to the left of the viewfinder, above the screen. The first is a combined direct print / shortcut key. You can assign resolution, photo effect, metering pattern, exposure or focus lock, create folder or - most usefully - white balance - to the shortcut button using the record menu. The second button switches between single shot, burst and self-timer shooting in record mode, and allows you to add voice memos to saved files in playback mode.