If Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FP8 looks a lot like the rugged TS1 the company launched earlier this year, it’s because the two cameras have a lot in common. Although the FP8 won’t survive a dip in the drink or a drop to the floor like its brawnier brother, both use a unique folding-optic design that eliminates moving parts outside the camera. And priced at $300, this stripped-down, classed-up model is $80 cheaper. Does the basic camera design hold up when deprived of its tank-like cladding? We found out.
Features and Design
Panasonic’s FP8 offers a 12.1-megapixel sensor, 4.6x zoom, a 2.7-inch LCD screen rated 230K pixels, Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization, and a 28mm wide-angle lens.
Unlike the bulk of pocket shooters you see today, Panasonic’s FP8 lacks the gigantic center lens that pops out of the front like a cannon barrel when you turn it on. Instead, it captures through a squared-off-looking Leica 28mm wide-angle lens in the upper right of the camera, where you might ordinarily find an optical viewfinder. Internal folding optics allow the FP8 to zoom all the way to 4.6x without anything extruding from the camera. However, unlike similar cameras like Sony’s TX1, the FP8 has no sliding lens cover to protect the lens when not in use.
In the TS1, that design gave the camera extreme durability. In the FP8, it’s all about speed. Panasonic claims the cameras goes from off to ready-to-shoot in 0.95 seconds, since nothing has to mechanically shoot out of the body.
Dimensions, Weight and Size
The rest of the body adopts the same deck-of-cards dimensions as most other point-and-shoots: 2.35 inches tall, 3.77 wide and 0.80 deep, with a reasonable weight of 0.29 pounds. It feels quite at home in a pocket, although the lack of lens cover will definitely make you wish for a carrying pouch. Not surprisingly, the lack of armor makes the FP8 slimmer, smaller and lighter than the bulked-up TS1.
The FP8 controls closely resemble what you might find in any product of this class, but a few things stood out. Panasonic opted for LED-lit rear controls, which look quite sharp and make the camera easier to operate in the dark. However, only the tiny linear buttons get illuminated – the icons for what they do have been printed on the body itself and remain hard to see in dim conditions. Until you’ve memorized the controls, the illumination contributes more to style than ease of use.
Unintuitive Directional Controls
Since the four-way directional controls resemble crosshairs, rather than a donut, Panasonic has gouged out the center select button and relocated it above the pad. This can initially be quite disorienting and unintuitive, compared to the near-universal donut design, but we eventually adjusted.
Always at the Ready
Although Panasonic advertises the 0.95-second startup times quite flagrantly, it can be somewhat misleading: The screen will fire up in about a second, but it won’t actually snap a shot until about 1.6 seconds from off to image captured. But we’ll forgive the technicalities. It’s quick. In practical terms, if you flick the FP8 on as you pick it up, it’s ready to frame the shot by the time you can point it in the right direction, and ready to shoot a split second after it’s framed. Snappy autofocus times and extremely low shutter lag (the time between shutter press and image capture) further this camera’s aptitude for spur-of-the-moment shots.