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Looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 you wouldn't think there's anything special about it; you'd think it's just another ultracompact point-and-shoot. To some extent that's true, but it actually attempts to address a common complaint plaguing most cameras of that type: slow performance. The FP8 starts up in less than a second, has a lower-than-average shutter speed--at least in bright lighting--and can shoot at nearly 2 frames per second. It also has a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 4.6x zoom, which is internal--a blessing and a curse. The FP8's battery life is exceptional, too, and it's simple to use. So yes, it doesn't look like much, but it's actually a very good ultracompact camera for snapshooters.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.8 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.3 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)||4.6x, f3.3-5.9, 28-128mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 380 shots|
|Storage media||SD, SDHC|
The FP8 is available in red, silver, and black versions, which is nice since the design is less than exciting. It is compact and lightweight, though, so sliding it in a pants pocket or small bag isn't a problem. 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 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 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 the 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; to its right, a Menu/Set 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, the Menu/Set button will bring up the rest of your options. Four navigational buttons double as exposure, flash, macro, and timer controls. All of the buttons glow an attractive blue when touched, which will help in dark lighting, as long as you memorized what button does what function, because the labels do not light up.
On the right side is a small door covering three ports: DC in, USB/AV out, and component out. The only cables included, however, are USB and AV. If you want DC power or component out, you'll have to buy them separately.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8|
|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, 11-point Multi, 1-point, 1-point (high speed), Spot, Tracking AF, Macro|
|Metering modes||Intelligent Multi|
|Color effects||Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||5 (standard quality), 3 (fine quality)|
The FP8 is principally a point-and-shoot camera, with no 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. (Due to the poor photo results at ISO 1600, I recommend using the ISO Max 800 setting for low-light situations and ISO Max 400 for bright conditions.) If you like scene modes, the FP8 has 28 of them. The list includes familiars like Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scenery, and more unusual artistic options like High Dynamic Range, 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. Lastly, there is a Movie mode capable of capturing some very good video at HD quality and you get use of the quiet optical zoom while recording.
For its price and size, the FP8 has first-rate performance. Throwing the power switch will get you up and shooting in less than a second, though it takes a touch longer to focus and capture the first shot--1.7 seconds. The shutter lag in bright conditions averaged 0.4 second in our lab tests and it felt fast compared with other cameras in its class. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as quick to focus and shoot in dim lighting--a more ordinary 0.8 second. Its shot-to-shot times are pretty good, though: 1.9 seconds without the flash and 2.4 seconds with it. The FP8 can shoot in bursts of three or five shots, depending on the quality setting, and does so at a fast 1.9 frames per second.
Overall photo quality is very good from the FP8, though those planning to make prints larger than 8x10 inches will be less happy with the results. Like most cameras in its class, the FP8 produces its best photos below ISO 200. The results are decent from ISO 200 all the way up to ISO 800. Detail is strong and subjects are sharp, but when viewed at 100 percent, things look a little overprocessed. Photos above ISO 800 are fairly unusable; there's a lot of graininess, color shifting, and yellow splotches throughout pictures. While it's simple enough to say, "Keep your sensitivity setting at or below ISO 800," the camera is first and foremost a point-and-shoot camera. Panasonic's otherwise reliable Intelligent Auto mode is overcautious, favoring higher ISOs, and in that mode there is no way to set a limit on sensitivity.
The wide-angle lens exhibits some mild barrel distortion on the left side and there is also a little pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. Though the occasional test shot showed chromatic aberration, it was only noticeable in larger prints. Sharpness is consistent edge to edge, too. Colors were generally accurate, bright, and natural. Exposure was very good, too, but the auto white balance leaned toward warm when not under natural light.
The HD video quality was very good and, again, you do get use of the near-silent optical zoom.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 is a solid snapshot camera. It's faster than many of the cameras in its class, has a nice wide-angle lens, and a long battery life. It's also not much to look at and has a tendency to pick higher than necessary ISOs, which wouldn't be so bad if it had better photo quality at its highest ISOs. If you don't care about its design and aren't afraid to take advantage of its Normal Picture mode, it's definitely an ultracompact worth considering.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
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