BUILD AND DESIGN
The FH27 is small, but not tiny, with a lightweight plastic and metal body. It has a standard rectangular shape with rounded corners and metal accents. It measures 3.9 inches wide, 2.2 inches tall and 1.1 inches deep (99 x 57 x 28mm) and its weight is a surprisingly light at 152g (including battery and memory card). Despite its light weight, the camera feels solid and appears to be well-constructed. While not ultra-thin, it's small enough to fit into a typical purse or pocket.
Ergonomics and Controls
The FH27 has fewer controls than most cameras. The camera's front contains an off-center telescoping zoom lens that slightly protrudes from the camera. At the left border is a metal strip that provides a grip for the right hand.
The flash is located in the upper center, which is preferable to upper right corner position found in many compact cameras as it's less likely to be blocked by fingers trying to steady the camera. Unfortunately, the upper right corner contains the auto focus assist lamp that also does duty as a self-timer. Its upper right position means that the lamp can be blocked by the fingers of the left hand, which could cause problems with the auto focus in low light situations.
The top plate of the FH27 contains, from left to right, a speaker, a microphone (for the camera's monaural sound), a tiny on/off switch, a metal shutter button with a zoom ring and a button for EZ Zoom, which will instantly extend the camera's optical zoom to its maximum (8x) and beyond using various cropping techniques. The buttons worked well, but I found the zoom control to be a bit fiddly, as each time I thought I'd set the zoom for where I wanted and removed my finger, the image would zoom out just a little.
One side of the camera is featureless, the other side contains the holder for the wrist strap and an AV out/USB port with a plastic cover. The camera's bottom plate contains a sturdy metal tripod socket over on one side and the battery/memory card compartment on the other side. The compartment is protected by a sturdy plastic door.
The rear of the camera consists of a 3.0-inch diameter touchscreen LCD monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio, although the image on the monitor can be set to display at 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio (with bars on the screen). The touchscreen worked well in some respects, but I had a problem with it in playback mode, which I will discuss later. To the right of the monitor is a small raised thumb grip.
Thanks to the camera's 1.1-inch thick body, the metal strip at the front and raised thumb grip at the rear, the FH27 can be shot using one hand, unlike most small cameras.
Menus and Modes
All the menus of the FH27 are controlled by the touchscreen LCD monitor. There are three basic modes - record mode, playback mode and setup mode. In all modes icons are displayed around the edges of the screen, but submenus open up across the middle. The menus are logically laid out, though some of the icons are cryptic and require reference to the manual to determine what they represent.
Record mode contains five possible sub-modes, as follows:
When in record mode you can use the touch screen to select a focus point, zoom in and out and take the picture.
Playback mode permits you to display images that have already been taken in different ways. The standard method is to display one image at a time. The user moves through the images by sweeping a finger to the left or right. I found this process to be awkward and difficult to use, mainly because I had to repeatedly sweep with my finger to get an image to move. I've used touch screens in cameras from Sony and Fuji and never had such difficulty.
The LCD monitor of the FH27 measures 3.0-inches in a 4:3 aspect ratio, though, as noted, the aspect ratio can be changed to 3:2 or 16.9 as long as you don't mind black bars on the screen. The monitor has approximately 230,000 dots and automatically adjusts to one of 11 brightness levels. The monitor can be set to high angle, which makes it easier to see when held overhead. Panasonic says that coverage is 100%. The FH27 is not equipped with an optical viewfinder.
Digital Camera Review has recently begun testing for LCD quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least 500 nits. The LCD monitor of the FH27 was found to have a contrast ratio of 175:1, and to measure 523 nits for peak brightness and 2.98 for dark, which are not very good scores. However, the monitor was not difficult to see in normal conditions though, as with all LCD monitors, it is hard to see in bright sunshine.
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