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.
Those who like scene modes will be pleased to know that the DMC-FP8 has 28 of them. The list includes familiar options, like 'portrait', 'landscape' and 'night scenery', and more unusual artistic choices, like 'high dynamic range', 'pinhole' and 'film grain' (the last two are limited to shots of 3 megapixels and below). A 'my scene' option is also available, letting you associate a favourite scene mode with a spot in the shooting-mode menu. The fully automatic intelligent-auto mode gets a spot on the shooting menu, too. Finally, there's a movie mode capable of capturing some very good video at a high-definition resolution of 1,280x720 pixels, and you get use of the quiet optical zoom while recording.
For its price and size, the DMC-FP8 offers first-rate performance. Throwing the power switch will get you up and shooting in less than a second, although it takes longer to focus and capture the first shot -- 1.7 seconds. The shutter lag in bright conditions averaged 0.4 seconds in our lab tests and the DMC-FP8 felt fast compared with other cameras in its class. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as quick to focus and shoot in dim lighting, taking a more ordinary 0.8 seconds. Its shot-to-shot times are pretty good, though: 1.9 seconds without the flash, and 2.4 seconds with it. The DMC-FP8 can shoot in bursts of three or five shots, depending on the quality setting, and does so at a fast 1.9fps.
The DMC-FP8's overall photo quality is very good, although those planning to make prints larger than 8 by 10 inches will be less happy with the results. Like most cameras in its class, the DMC-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 per cent, images look a little over-processed.
Photos above ISO 800 are fairly unusable -- there's plenty of graininess, colour shifting and yellow splotches throughout pictures. 'Keep your sensitivity setting at or below ISO 800' is easy to say, but this is first and foremost a point-and-shoot camera. Panasonic's otherwise reliable intelligent-auto mode is over-cautious, favouring higher ISOs, and, in that mode, there's no way to set a limit on sensitivity.
The wideangle lens exhibits some mild barrel distortion on the left side and there's also some pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. Although the occasional test shot showed chromatic aberration, it was only noticeable in larger prints. Sharpness is consistent from edge to edge, too. Colours are generally accurate, bright and natural. Exposure is very good, but the auto white balance leans towards warm when not under natural light.
The HD video quality is very good and, again, you do get use of the near-silent optical zoom.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 is a solid snapshot camera. It's faster than many of the cameras in its class, has a good wideangle lens and offers long battery life. It's not much to look at, however, and it has a tendency to pick higher-than-necessary ISOs, which wouldn't be so bad if it delivered 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 ultra-compact worth considering.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet