When Panasonic announced the Lumix DMC-FP8 (henceforth the FP8) in late July, a casual glance might impress onlookers that here was another rectangular, standard zoom compact digital with the 12 megapixel sensor resolution that seems to be almost obligatory in this class. More astute observers might have wondered where Panasonic put the lens, since the front of the camera was remarkably clean and appeared to house only a flash, an assist lamp and an electronic viewfinder.
Turns out the FP8 doesn't have a viewfinder but it does have a 4.6x Leica foldable optic zoom lens tucked into that small rounded rectangle on the upper right front of the body. Foldable optic means, among other things, that this lens never protrudes from the camera, zooming through its 28 to 128mm range (35mm equivalent) from behind the clear cover of the housing. Here's what that lens can cover in the real world:
Panasonic also put in "high speed auto focus (AF)" and their new POWER O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) system that "doubles" the shake repression power of their earlier system, MEGA O.I.S. The processor is the current generation Venus Engine V, there's a 2.7 inch LCD monitor, approximately 40MB of internal memory and 720p HD video capability. The camera accepts SD/SDHC memory media and Panasonic includes a battery, battery case and charger, USB and A/V cables, basic printed operating instructions, CD-ROM software, a CD-ROM of complete operating instructions, and a hand strap with each camera.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The FP8's rectangular aluminum body fits the general "deck of cards/pack of cigarettes" size template that has been the standard for this class of camera for some time. It may be a bit slimmer than many competitors, but this difference doesn't really impact its shirt-pocket portability. The lack of a large, round lens centered on the front of the body is easily the most distinguishing characteristic and the camera has a solid, well-built look and feel. There are silver, black and red bodies available, depending on the sales area.
Ergonomics and Controls
Some subtle rounding and contouring of edges and a sort of terraced slope approach to the upper camera back are about the extent of the FP8's concessions to making the camera feel secure in the hand(s). The sloped part works well, but the attachment lug for the wrist strap protrudes from the right front of the camera body and lies right under the middle finger of the right hand during shooting. There are two ways to look at this - the protruding lug offers an additional bit of security in the grip, or an uncomfortable annoyance. I tended to find the latter more applicable.
The location of the lens on the FP8 brings up some potential to partially obscure its operation by users who tend to wrap their left fingers around the front of the camera when shooting, so a bit of attention to grip with the left hand is in order for you folks.
Aside from the relocation of the "set" button from the center of the directional buttons, control layout is straightforward and typical. Power, zoom/shutter, and intelligent auto buttons are arrayed across the top right of the camera body, with the record/playback selector switch just below on the sloping portion of the camera back.
The 2.7 inch LCD dominates the camera back and a vertical array of eight lighted control buttons sit alongside. The buttons illuminate briefly upon power-up and again when one is pushed, but the illumination is not sufficient to render the button descriptions legible in dim light - you'll need to push one and bring up the associated camera function unless you've committed the layout to memory.
The intelligent auto button is the selector for the camera's full auto shooting mode (all other shooting modes are selected via the control buttons on the camera back): a push of the button translates the camera into full auto, and a second push returns it to the previously selected mode.
Menus and Modes
Menus in the FP8 are fairly intuitive, which is good since the basic printed user's manual provided with the camera mentions the existence of "my scene" and "motion picture" shooting modes but offers not one word of advice on how to proceed if you've selected them. I had the same gripe about the Canon SX20 IS - a partial manual in the box with the complete document elsewhere - but this looks to be the way the industry is heading. At least Panasonic included a CD of the whole manual with the camera.
FP8 shooting modes are simple - much like Henry Ford's Model T that could be had in any color "so long as it is black" - the camera can shoot in any mode so long as it is automatic.
One of the scene modes is "photo frame" which provides the user three options to overlay a frame-like border on images - here are two of those.
The 2.7 inch LCD monitor is of 230,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. In addition, there is an LCD mode available in the quick menu that has three additional brightness settings including one designed to work at high angles of view. Any of the settings could be overcome by the right combination of bright outdoor lighting conditions, but the monitor was not too bad in all but the worst outdoor conditions.
Monitor coverage is listed as 100% - there is no viewfinder.
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