Admittedly, it was hard to know what to expect from Panasonic's newest series of compact digital cameras, the FS models. Marketed as slightly down-market takes on the high performance, high style, easy-to-use theme established in Panasonic's ultracompact FX line, how much these cameras would sacrifice in terms of build quality, especially, was anyone's guess.
After a weekend with the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3, concerns about this camera looking, feeling, and performing like a budget unit have largely been put to rest. For a quick run-down of what the FS3 has to offer, take a look at our video overview:
On the shooting side, performance is predictably quick – precisely what we've come to expect from Panasonic. Enabling the Quick AF feature (which keeps the AF system continuously engaged regardless of whether the shutter button is half-pressed) speeds things up further, making focus lock instantaneous under good light in many cases. Of course, the toll for this luxury will undoubtedly come in the way of reduced battery life, but the extent of the damage has yet to be determined.
Panasonic's screens of late have been among the best in the business, and the FS3 wears one of the sharpest and most fluid displays out there. While it doesn't have the phenomenal punch of the screen on the new Lumix TZ5, performance is certainly well above average for this class of cameras.
While everyone who played with our FS3 test unit over the past few days has been favorably impressed with its classic stylishness and solid build quality, all is not perfect for the new Panasonic. For a pocket camera, the plastic LCD cover is alarmingly easy to scratch. After only a few days of careful use, tiny scratches are already beginning to appear on the screen, suggesting that an investment in a good protector film would probably be money well spent.
In terms of ergonomics, buttons, while well made, will feel tiny to those with larger fingers/hands, and the interface could do a better job of centralizing important adjustments (I wish ISO adjustments were placed higher in the menu hierarchy, for starters). Even so, the overall user experience is very straightforward, with Intelligent Auto options providing solid, predictable point-and-shoot performance most of the time.
Panasonic's latest-gen Venus Engine IV image processing has been billed as providing better noise reduction (resulting in better fine detail in low light shots) and more dynamic color reproduction, addressing the two primary gripes with Panasonic point-and-shoot image quality heretofore. As always, I'll withhold any definitive judgment until we've had time to do all of the usual testing, but initial indications from ISO 1600 show what appear to be cleaner, more detailed low light images.
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Based on some very positive first impressions, I'm interested to see what else this high-style pocket cam has to offer. Look for a full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS8 in the coming weeks.
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