With top-notch picture quality for its class, excellent close-up features, a burst mode that can grab five shots in two seconds, and versatile shooting options that include a power-saving economy setting and a superfriendly Simple mode, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC50 will appeal to snapshooters who want quality and convenience in a compact package. Unfortunately, significant shutter lag, middle-of-the-pack performance, and a lack of manual controls will send some snapshot photographers looking elsewhere. Not the most compact 3.2-megapixel shooter around but still easily portable in a jacket pocket, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC50 has an average-looking, 7.5-ounce silver-toned plastic body. On top of the camera, a zoom toggle encircles the shutter release so that both fall under your index finger. The only other top-mounted control is the power switch; even the power-on LED has been relegated to a well-designed back panel that uses a minimal number of buttons and dials to accommodate other functions.
The clever design requires just three buttons, a mode dial, and a four-way cursor-control pad. The button trio arrayed below the 1.5-inch LCD consists of a Delete key; a Display key that turns the LCD on and off and activates a rule-of-thirds-style grid; and a Menu key that provides access to recording, setup, and playback menus designed for easy navigation.
On the right side of the back panel are a knurled mode dial with nine shooting and playback options and a burst-mode button at its center, and a cursor control pad that rocks four ways to activate double and triple functions assigned to each direction. For example, pressing up on the cursor pad cycles between exposure compensation, a three-shot autobracketing mode, and white-balance adjustment. When the desired control appears on the LCD, you press the pad left or right to make the adjustment. Used alone, the left cursor sets the self-timer to either 2- or 10-second delay, while the right control selects the flash mode. A downward press of the cursor pad activates Review mode.
Simple mode, represented by a heart symbol on the dial, is a no-brainer mode in which the cursor pad offers only a backlight adjustment; the self-timer can be set only to 10 seconds; electronic flash modes are limited to on, off, and red-eye reduction; and the picture-review mode is simplified. Even the menu system is idiot-proofed. Descriptions such as Enlarge, 4x6, and E-mail replace resolution numbers, and more-complex setup options are hidden entirely. Simple mode is great for beginners or those occasions when you lend your camera to a friend and don't want to take the time to explain how to use it.
Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC50 makes the majority of the shooting decisions for you, it offers options that will suit most picture-taking situations. For example, the mode dial switches between Normal and Simple modes, a macro setting, portrait and landscape options that minimize and maximize depth of field (respectively), and a night-portrait mode that uses a relatively slow shutter speed to add detail in the background, even when the flash is used. There's also a two-level economy mode that saves power by using tricks such as dimming the LCD and shutting it off entirely if the camera is idle for 5 to 15 seconds.
Other little touches make this camera fun to use. For example, the autoreview has an optional setting that displays each image at normal size for 1 second after the shot is taken, then switches to a 4X enlargement for an additional second, giving you the chance to check focus. During normal review, the image can be magnified 2X, 4X, 8X, or 16X with the zoom lever, and the LCD also displays a little navigator window representing the full image area, with a scrollable outline showing the part of the picture currently enlarged.