Depending on how you use your photos, you'll either be thrilled or disappointed with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15. For its sub-$180 price, you get a nice-looking ultracompact with plenty of automatic shooting options and a couple of noteworthy features such as the 29mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 5x zoom. Its shutter lag is a bit too long for moving subjects and its photo quality a bit too imperfect for large prints. But if your subjects are still and your prints are smaller than 5x7 inches, you'll probably like the FS15 quite a bit.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15|
|Dimensions (WHD)||2.1x3.8x0.9 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4.9 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||5x, f3.3-5.9, 29-145mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/640x480 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 330 shots|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCard|
The FS15's brushed metal casing--available in blue, black, and silver--with chrome accents keeps it from looking too generic. The blue version will probably get you some second looks, but it otherwise looks the part of the basic point-and-shoot that it is. It's reasonably thin and lightweight, too, so no problems putting it in a pants pocket or small bag.
The camera's controls are simple enough that out-of-the-box use shouldn't be a problem for those familiar with digital cameras. A switch for powering the camera on and off is on top, next to 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. While you could argue that a button for going to Movie mode might be more useful, the use of an iA allows you to switch between any two modes. 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 back to the top right of the LCD is a switch to go from shooting to playback. Below that to the left is a Mode button. Again, it's all pretty simple. The only confusing bit may be the Quick Menu button (Q.Menu) on back at the lower right. This brings up a vertical bar of shooting-mode-sensitive options. If what you're looking to adjust isn't there, a general Menu/Set button sits at the center of the four navigational buttons that double as exposure, flash, macro, and timer controls.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Custom|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Scene, My Scene, Movie|
|Focus modes||Normal AF, Macro AF, Zoom Macro AF, Tracking AF|
|Metering||Face, AF Tracking, Multi (11 point), 1 point|
|Color effects||Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||5 photos (standard compression); 3 photos (fine compression)|
The FS15 is heavy on the auto-shooting features, so don't expect controls over aperture or shutter speed. In Normal Picture mode you get the most control over results with settings for focus, light metering, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure. You also get access to Panasonic's Intelligent ISO for limiting the sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 400, 800, or 1,600. (Because of the poor photo results at ISO 1,600, we recommend using the ISO Max 800 setting for low-light situations and ISO Max 400 for bright conditions.)
If you like scene modes, the FS15 has 26 of them. The list includes familiar ones like Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scenery, and more unusual artistic options like Pinhole and Film Grain (though the last two are limited to shots 3 megapixels and below). A My Scene option is also available, letting you associate a favorite scene mode with a spot in the shooting-mode menu. The fully automatic iA mode gets a spot on the shooting menu, too. There is a Movie mode capable of capturing VGA-quality video clips. There's no use of the optical zoom while recording, though.
The FS15's performance falls in line with a majority of sub-$200 cameras. Start-up time is 2 seconds with shot-to-shot times averaging 3.1 seconds without flash and 3.3 seconds with. From focus to capture in bright lighting conditions is a long 0.7 second; in dim lighting the time goes up to a more typical 1 second. The only thing the camera does well is burst shooting at 1.8 frames per second.