With a fairly pedestrian sounding sub-5x zoom and the ever-present 12 megapixel sensor, Panasonic has wisely chosen to spotlight the performance features of the camera (image quality, fast startup and autofocus times) as a means to set it apart from the competition. Somewhat surprisingly, they left out any mention of shutter lag, but they shouldn't have.
Panasonic claims a 0.95 second start up time for the FP8, and while the screen goes live in about that time, it's a bit longer before the focus icon is presented. Still, I managed a first shot in about 1.75 seconds after power up. Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, re-acquire focus and shoot) were about 2 seconds with a SanDisk Extreme III 20MB/s card. The camera produced 3 full resolution, high quality stills at a 2.2 fps rate in burst mode, and 5 at normal quality before the buffer took a break. The monitor blacks out briefly after the first two shots in burst and lags 1 shot behind, so panning with a fast moving subject can be problematic, even for the brief period the camera can shoot at full resolution. There is a high speed burst mode that fires at about 10fps with a brief blackout at the start of the burst, but resolution is limited to 3 megapixels or less.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8||0.01|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||0.03|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.07|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8||0.27|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.28|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||0.47|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8||3||2.2|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||3||1.7|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||∞||1.1|
AF acquisition times in good light were speedy across the range of the lens - we measured a 0.23 second press to capture time without pre-focus. Shutter lag came in at 0.01 seconds - this camera proved very quick to focus and shoot, and was quite pleasant to work with in good light. When I shot the camera for its first impression piece AF performance in low light appeared to be more in line with the class as a whole. After more extensive shooting in dim light the FP8 seems to do better than I first suspected - if there's anything with some contrast in range of the camera's focus assist beam it seems to acquire fairly quickly.
There are still times when the camera struggles like the rest in really poor conditions, but overall the FP8 was consistently faster to focus than the competition when lighting was good and generally faster when it wasn't.
Flash performance with the FP8 was very good with regard to recycle times with a fully charged battery. In moderate lighting conditions at wide angle and ISO 80, recycle times were in the high 2/low 3 second range. Shots in the same conditions at telephoto recycled in under 4 seconds. Switching to auto ISO produced similar times, and shots designed to produce a full discharge (80 ISO, telephoto, pitch black conditions) ran just over 4 seconds. At auto ISO flash range varies from almost 18 feet at wide angle to a bit over 10 feet at telephoto, but shooting at the low ISO sensitivities that produce the best noise performance impacts flash range dramatically - just less than 4 feet and 2 feet respectively for wide angle and telephoto at 80 ISO.
Panasonic rates the FP8 battery for 380 shots using a CIPA standard that generally produces accurate results in my experience. Our review FP8 produced 265 shots and about 7 minutes of video before the battery "fuel gauge" dropped to the last third, so this figure seems reasonable. Carry a spare battery for all-day shooting sessions.
The Leica aspherical DC Vario-Elmar lens in the FP8 is "composed of 10 elements in 8 groups, including 1 ED lens and 5 aspherical lenses with 6 aspherical surfaces," not to mention the folding optics aspect which does away with the fixed lens barrel. In very general terms, the inclusion of aspherical elements is an attempt to optimize image quality at the edges of the frame while the ED lens is aimed at improving contrast and sharpness by reducing chromic aberration (purple fringing).
The FP8 was a bit soft in the corners at wide angle, but pretty good along the edges otherwise; corners were a bit better at telephoto and edges stayed comparable to wide angle. There was minimal barrel distortion at wide angle and a bit more pincushion distortion at telephoto, but both defects were slight. Chromic aberration was present in some images with high contrast boundary areas, but it too was slight and, overall, well-controlled.
The lens is a bit slower than the competition at both ends of the range - f/3.3 at wide angle and f/5.9 at telephoto, but this is perhaps the price you pay for optical performance that is quite good otherwise. A slower lens means the camera will have to resort to increasing ISO sensitivity to maintain fast shutter speeds sooner than the competition, bringing into play the noise problems associated with higher ISOs. The camera can focus at just under 2 inches in macro mode.
While mounting a nominally 4.6x optical zoom lens, the FP8 has another trick up its sleeve to push that ratio out to as much as 9.1x (although at reduced resolution). In any still shooting mode where you can reduce the image resolution size to 8 megapixels or lower, the FP8 will enable "extended optical zoom" and capture images from only the center of the sensor, resulting in higher magnifications from the increasingly cropped sensor. An 8 megapixel image permits a 5.7x zoom; 5 megapixels permits 7.3x and 3 megapixels or lower produces a 9.1x. Panasonic claims no loss in image quality from this process. Here are shots at the standard 4.6x telephoto zoom as well as the 8, 5 and 3 megapixel sizes for comparison.
Panasonic shared some details of their new "POWER" optical image stabilization (O.I.S) system with us, and it appears the performance gains have been realized primarily through improved efficiency rather than a radical departure from the basic design of the older MEGA O.I.S. system:
Panasonic's O.I.S system includes gyrosensors detecting handshake and the lens system shifts to compensate, helping to prevent handshake from creating a blurry image. Power O.I.S. offers double the repression power of Panasonic's previous optical image stabilization system, MEGA O.I.S. The mechanical process itself is the same, the repression power has just doubled and is now more effective for at least an addition 2-3 shutter stops.
With the ability of the FP8 to utilize that extended optical zoom, any increase in stabilization capability is a welcome addition to a camera whose telephoto can run out to as much as about 254mm at reduced resolutions.
HD video quality on the FP8 seemed on a par with or perhaps slightly better than class competition. The zoom function of the lens is available during video, but it's rapid and hard to control with regard to making a smooth transition from wide to telephoto, or vice-versa. The microphone proved sensitive but also susceptible to wind noise in light airs. Panasonic recommends a media card with at least 10MB/sec performance for video purposes.
Default images out of the FP8 were generally good as to color rendition and overall image quality and sharpness - there are no in-camera adjustments to image sharpness or contrast per se in either the shooting or playback menus. Exposure compensation is available in shooting modes other than intelligent auto.
Normal picture mode provides an expanded color palette of seven color and monotone shooting options - here are the standard (default), normal, vivid and b&w settings.
Intelligent-exposure may be enabled to expand the apparent dynamic range of the camera. Here are shots with and without i-exposure enabled.
Auto white balance did a good job with a variety of lighting conditions including bright sun, overcast/cloudy, open shade, flash and the yellow sodium vapor lamps used in many local cities to help the astronomers at the nearby Palomar Mountain observatory. The camera shot quite warm under incandescent light in the studio. There are daylight, cloudy, shade, and halogen presets along with a custom white balance option.
Intelligent multiple metering that reads points across the entire image in determining exposure is the only method available.
Panasonic didn't break any new ground with ISO noise performance in the FP8. The 80 and 100 ISO crop shots are fairly clean but look somewhat soft, with noise beginning to become apparent at 200, and to a greater extent at 400.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 800 sees a significant drop in image quality and 1600 takes another significant turn for the worse. In the 80 and 100 ISO range, the FP8 is probably average in comparison to top competitors, and perhaps as well at 200. From 400 and up the Panasonic seems to fall behind the best 12 megapixel compacts I've come across. The full frames don't look too bad across the board, which is the norm, and the higher ISOs are probably usable as long as print sizes stay small.
Additional Sample Images
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