“Speedy startups, focusing and shooting make the FP8 always at the ready.”
- Quick start-up, autofocus and low shutter lag, Excellent image quality in proper lighting, attractive design
- No lens cover, Initially unintuitive rear controls, Noise at high ISOs hampers indoor shooting
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.
Image quality is about on par from what you might expect from a camera in this price range. Outside with good lighting, the FP8 captured crisp detail and accurate color, both in normal mode and with Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto calling the shots. Panasonic’s Mega Optical Image Stabilization system also seemed to do its job – far-away street signs and license plates always seemed legible, even in shots we barely composed or shot on the move.
Inside, Panasonic’s age-old problem with noise became more pronounced. In contrast to the recently reviewed Panasonic ZS3, which shirked Panasonic’s somewhat noisy reputation with clean photos up to ISO 800, the FP8 exhibits noticeable noise at ISO 400, which becomes downright egregious at ISO 800. Although Intelligent Auto did an excellent job managing white balance and other settings, its propensity to shoot at ISO 400 and higher indoors caused visible noise in many shots.
Noise was also quite pronounced in indoor videos, where we actually preferred the output from cheaper dedicated cameras like Kodak’s Zi8. The FP8 did have some positives, though. Unlike many point-and-shoot cameras that capture video but only allow digital zooming after the camera starts rolling, the FP8 allows full use of optical zoom and autofocuses on the fly, making it feel like a real camcorder.
As a still camera, the FP8 delivers respectable, if not exactly best-in-class, image quality. But perhaps that’s missing the point. Photographers will value the FP8 for the same reason western gunslingers used to value the Colt Peacemaker: It’s quick on the draw. With the FP8 at our side, we felt ready to capture anything in an instant. Think: The difference between a picture of milk shooting out your friend’s nose, or your friend hovering over a pool of milk. And the slim body and LEDs don’t hurt its image, either.
• Quick start-up, autofocus and low shutter lag
• Attractive design
• Unique LED-backlit keys
• Excellent image quality in proper lighting
• No lens cover
• Initially unintuitive rear controls
• Noise at high ISOs hampers indoor shooting
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