Looking at the 12.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8, you wouldn't think there's anything special about it -- it's appears to be just another ultra-compact, point-and-shoot camera. To some extent that's true, but it attempts to address a common complaint of most cameras of its type: slow performance.
The £200 DMC-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 wideangle lens with a 4.6x zoom, which is internal -- something that's both a blessing and a curse. The DMC-FP8's battery life is exceptional, too, and it's simple to use.
Small and lightweight
The DMC-FP8 is available in red, silver and black, which is good news, since the design is less than exciting. It's compact and lightweight, so sliding it into a trouser 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. As is the case with all internal-lens cameras, however, 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 so 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, which 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 intelligent auto allows you to switch between any two modes. This means that, if you do the majority of your shooting in intelligent auto, you can set the camera to movie mode and then use the intelligent-auto 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, and, to the right, a 'menu/set' button. Again, it's all pretty simple. The only confusing part may be the 'quick menu' button 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 the 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 the dark, as long as you've memorised what each button does, because the labels don't 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.
The DMC-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, colour 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 1,600, we recommend using the 'ISO max 800' setting for low-light situations, and 'ISO max 400' for bright conditions.