The premise of Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FP3 is sound: a slim, attractive camera that's fast, easy to use, and has a touch-screen interface for an extra cool factor. Basically it's what you'd want in your other pocket--the one that doesn't have your camera phone in it. In fact, the company's advertising campaign for it (at least here in New York City) features the tag line, "If it has a ringtone, it's not a camera." The FP3 is definitely better than the average camera phone. However, while it's a fine option for stepping up from a camera phone, its MSRP is about $30 to $50 too high for what's being offered. Also, anyone accustomed to the snappy response of a smartphone touch screen will likely get frustrated using the FP3's. And since that's what seems to be its main selling point, you'll probably want to keep shopping or at least wait for the price to come down.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.9 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4x, f3.5-5.9, 35-140mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 300 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC cards|
|Bundled software||PhotofunStudio 5.0 (Windows only)|
The FP3 is a stylish ultracompact camera--at least from the front. Available in red, silver, blue, and black versions, the aluminum body feels and looks good and the slide-down lens cover is not only a nice touch, but turns the camera on and off quickly. The lens is internal, so there's nothing to extend from the body when it's switched on. However, as is the case with all internal lens cameras, it's very easy to end up with fingertips in your shots if you're not careful with your left-hand grip. The back of the camera is considerably less interesting.
The camera's controls are what Panasonic calls "hybrid," meaning that it uses both hard buttons and a touch screen for operation. This combo interface is generally simple enough that out-of-the-box use shouldn't be a problem for people familiar with digital cameras. A vertical row of clearly labeled buttons to the right of the 3-inch LCD accesses playback, shooting modes, display settings, main menu settings, and Panasonic's Quick Menu button (Q.Menu) for shooting-mode-sensitive options. Press what you want and then move over to the touch screen for whatever you want to do next. The interface uses well-sized icons and text, so finding what you want to poke isn't an issue. However, the interface is approximately a second behind your taps, which isn't ideal for quick setting changes. Then again, if you don't change any settings, this won't matter. Other than settings, the touch screen can be used for targeting the autofocus simply by tapping on your subject as well as browsing images and movies in playback.
The rest of its physical controls are on top. Along with sliding the lens cover up and down, there's a button for powering the camera on and off; to the right of that is the shutter release and zoom ring. There's also a small button for quickly changing to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode (iA) that determines the most suitable Scene mode and helps correct any blurring, focus, and brightness issues. Though you could argue that a button for going to Movie mode might be more useful, the use of iA allows you to quickly switch between the iA mode and any of the other three mode options. This means if you do a majority of your shooting in iA, you can set the camera to Movie mode and then use the iA button to quickly switch between the two.
On the right side is a small door covering two ports: DC in and USB/AV out. The memory card slot and battery, which must be removed for charging, is in a compartment in the bottom of the camera protected by a locking door.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Manual|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture (program AE), Scene, My Scene, Movie|
|Focus modes||Face AF, 9-point Multi AF, 1-point AF, Touch AF, Macro|
|Color effects||Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||5 photos|
Shooting options on the FP3 are basic. In Normal Picture mode you get the most control over results with settings for focus, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure. If you like scene modes, the FP3 has 24 of them. The list includes familiars like Portrait, Sunset, and Night Scenery, as well as Hi-speed Burst for action and High Sensitivity for low-light photos (both capturing images at 3 megapixels and below). A MyScene option is also available, letting you associate a favorite scene mode with a spot in the shooting-modes. The fully automatic iA mode gets a spot on the shooting menu, too. Lastly, there is a Movie mode capable of capturing in up to 720p HD resolution.
Though it boasts Panasonic's Sonic Speed AF system, the FP3's shooting performance is pretty average. The one thing it does do fast is start up; slide down the lens cover and fire in 1.1 seconds. The shutter lag in bright conditions (how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed) averaged 0.5 second in our lab tests. However, in dim lighting it only increased to 0.7 second, which is good. Its shot-to-shot times are slow, though, at 2.8 seconds without the flash and 4.5 seconds with it. The FP3 can shoot full-resolution bursts up to five shots at 1.1 frames per second. The camera's 3-megpixel Hi-Speed Burst mode can capture at up to 4.6fps. The quality is fairly mediocre: suitable for Web use with little or no cropping or enlarging.