The FH27's shooting options are fairly bare-bones; it's definitely geared for people who prefer to shoot in auto. In the Mode menu you'll find Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, which handles just about everything for you, as well as a Normal Picture mode that gives you the most control over results, with settings for focus, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. If you like scene modes, the FH27 has 27 of them. The list includes familiar modes like Portrait, Sunset, and Night Scenery, as well as High-Speed Burst for action and High Sensitivity for low-light photos (both capturing images at 3 megapixels and below). You get a few creative shooting modes such as Pinhole and Film Grain to experiment with. A MyScene option is also available, letting you associate a favorite scene mode with a spot in the shooting modes. Lastly, there is a Movie mode capable of capturing video in up to 720p HD resolution.
While I wouldn't recommend the FH27 for regularly shooting active kids and pets, the camera is pretty quick for its class, especially in terms of shutter lag and autofocus. The time from off to first shot is very good at 1.3 seconds. The shutter lag in bright conditions (how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed) averaged 0.3 second in our lab tests and just 0.6 second in dim lighting. Its shot-to-shot times are good, at 1.6 seconds without the flash and 2 seconds with it. The FH27 can shoot at full resolution at up to 1.1 frames per second with focus and exposure set with the first shot. The camera's 3-megapixel High-Speed Burst mode can capture at up to 4.4fps. The quality is fairly mediocre, suitable for Web use or small prints with little or no cropping or enlarging.
The FH27's design isn't all that different from its predecessor, the FH20. Panasonic basically added a sliver of a grip on the front right so you have something more than the brushed metal body to hold on to. On top are a power switch, shutter release, and zoom ring, and the E.Zoom button. That last one quickly zooms the lens completely out with one touch. However, press it again and it activates the extended optical zoom that basically crops the 16-megapixel image down to its center 3 megapixels. This is not a true optical zoom, but a variation of a digital zoom, making its name misleading. Press the button a third time and the lens goes back to its starting position. That's it for physical controls, though; the 3-inch touch screen is used for everything else.
As with many touch-screen cameras, the FH27's interface can be a bit trying if you do a lot of setting changes, simply because it can take several taps to get anything done. For example, say you want to turn on continuous shooting. You start by touching the Menu icon on the screen's left side, which gets you two icons: one for shooting settings, the other for setup options. Select shooting settings and then you have to slide through the selections--four icons at a time--trying to find what you're looking for. Two screens in you reach the continuous option. Select it and you get a secondary selector to turn the feature on. From there you can half-press the shutter release to start snapping or hit a return arrow twice.
This is essentially the same process you'd have with physical buttons on a Panasonic camera, but something about using the touch interface just seems slower. But if you're not the type to tinker with shooting options then this certainly isn't a deal breaker, and if there are a couple of things you want fast access to, such as ISO, white balance, flash, or exposure compensation, you can add two of them to the left side of the screen. The right side has icons for shooting modes, playback, and a zoom control (which is cooler to look at than use; a record icon for movies would be more useful).
The rest of the touch-screen experience is pretty solid. The screen is responsive and can be calibrated to better respond to your touch. Being able to focus on a subject with a single tap is definitely a plus and tapping to focus and shoot is nice as well--just be careful not to shake the camera too much with your tap. In playback you can use the screen to flip through your photos and movie clips, make a quick crop, or tag them for sharing with the camera's embedded software.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 is a good walking-around camera, something you just stick in your pocket and use when you're out for the day and want to be able to capture some moments here and there. Someone doing a lot of indoor or low-light shooting or trying to capture active kids and pets might not be happy with it, but it's otherwise a solid choice and an excellent value.
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