When I'm asked to recommend a compact camera, Panasonic is often a name that springs immediately to mind. We have been pretty impressed with the performance of Panasonic compacts in the past, and luckily, the SZ8 joins that ranks of decent performing, but simple-to-use cameras.
Colours are bright and punchy directly from the camera, without displaying too much saturation. Detail is resolved well by the 16 million pixel sensor, especially in good light. If you look at an image at 100%, there's some degree of image smoothing, especially if you look towards the corners of the frame. However, it's not unusually bad for a compact at this level, and the overall impression of detail is good.
At the telephoto end of the optical zoom, there is some loss of detail, but the optical image stabilisation does a great job of helping you to accurately frame the image. As we tend to find with most compact cameras, the digital zoom should only really be saved for if you desperately need to get closer to the subject, as image quality suffers considerably.
Generally, the camera's all-purpose metering system does well to produce accurate exposures in the majority of conditions. Even when dealing with high contrast situations, the SZ8 copes pretty well. You might find in certain conditions you need to dial in a little exposure compensation, but I hardly touched that setting during my test of the camera.
The camera's automatic white balance system doesn't fare quite so well, erring towards incorrect yellowish tones when shooting under artificial lighting. You can switch the white balance mode to a more specific setting if it's proving to be problematic while shooting in Normal mode.
A wide range of digital filters are available on the SZ8, and it's worth experimenting with the different ones available to see if you like them. My personal favourites are Toy Camera and Cross Process, but it will of course be down to personal preference. Unfortunately, there's no way to keep a "clean" version of the image should you decide that you don't like the filter some way down the line.
Noise isn't particularly apparent at lower sensitivity values of around ISO 100 or 200, but if you start to use mid-range, such as ISO 400, noise and loss of detail is visible in certain areas of the scene. Crank that up further yet to ISO 800 and even at normal printing and web sizes, you start to see a degradation in quality.
Focusing is generally quick and accurate, locking onto a subject relatively easy. In lower light, as we might expect, it takes a little longer to lock onto the subject, but it's rare for a false confirmation of focus to occur. If you activate the macro focusing mode, you can get very close to your subject to fill the frame with plenty of detail.
If you're looking for an easy-to-use compact camera to complement your smartphone by way of a better zoom, then the SZ8 is an affordable and well-specced option.
Images are bright and punchy, with good detail in bright light, and a decent performance at mid-range sensitivities. If you're shooting in very dark conditions, it's probably best to use the flash to avoid using those high sensitivities if you can.
On the plus side, autofocusing speeds are quick, while the general operation of the camera is swift and getting to know the camera doesn't take much practice.
The inbuilt Wi-Fi is a doddle to set-up and use thanks to the QR code displayed on screen when you press the dedicated Wi-Fi button. While I'd always like to see more control afforded to you when using the remote control from your phone, it's very handy for selfies, group portraits or just the odd awkward shot where you wouldn't otherwise be able to compose effectively.
The camera's performance at sensitivities like ISO 800 is a little disappointing, so it's best avoided if possible. There's also no touchscreen, which we can see being off-putting to those coming from a smartphone background.
A simple, easy-to-use compact, with a decent range of features such as Wi-Fi and digital filters that should keep most people happy. It's a shame it's not a bit better at low light shooting or I'd be able to recommend this more highly. If you're looking for something for nights out, parties, holidays and family shots though without having to rely on your smartphone keeping enough battery charge, this is a good buy at current prices.