In an increasingly packed compact camera market, some of the most exciting snappers have been coming from manufacturers perhaps not traditionally considered as photographic innovators. Casio and Samsung are producing consistently interesting cameras, and Panasonic's Lumix range is always worth a look.
With high expectations, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 steps on to centre stage. It's a 10-megapixel compact point-and-shoot that's currently available online for around £170.
The FS5 is available in red, black and silver. It's light and pocketable, but a raised screen bezel and lens ring give it a chunkier profile. The matte silver metal frame and chrome accents give it a slick look, although we're not keen on the silver bar at the front. As a design detail it's lumpen, and as a finger-grip it's next to useless.
Still, there are plenty of other details that we do like: a hinged door covers the connections instead of a flap of rubber, while the memory and battery card slot has a locking switch. Instead of a nasty flat switch, there's a pleasingly round collar rocker switch for the zoom. Plus, there's a handy 'easy zoom' button that makes the zoom leap out to its 4x full extension with one touch.
Leica continues its partnership with Panasonic on the wide-angle lens, which has a 35mm-equivalent of 30mm. The 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen feels small, which we find is the usual result of surrounding the screen with a black bezel.
Shooting is made really easy by the quick menu button. As on Casio compacts, shooting options are on a handy on-screen menu bar. Where Casio places this at the side, Panasonic has put it on the top, making space for more options like white balance, burst mode and ISO speed. There's no aperture or shutter priority, unfortunately.
The menus themselves are quite long, but are clear and use vertical tabs rather than horizontal, which reduces superfluous scrolling through menus to get to the next tab. This wealth of options includes the ability to set different date and times for holiday snaps, and the choice of metric or imperial measurement -- although we've no idea why.
Other features include face detection, two burst modes, 22 scene modes and continuous autofocus. This last feature constantly looks for a subject to focus on instead of waiting for you to press the shutter button halfway. We think Panasonic's Mega OIS is one of the best image stabilisation systems going. There are two options available, or the system can be turned off.
There are also plenty of choices in the playback mode, including the ability to delete single pictures, all pictures, or, usefully, choose multiple images.