Seemingly nothing more than a middle-of-the road pocket camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25 has some surprising features. The FS25 comes off the assembly line with a 12.1 megapixel CCD sensor, a 5x optical zoom, a new and advanced Intelligent Auto Mode, AF tracking, an Intelligent Exposure Mode, high ISO capability of 6400, and a 3.0 inch LCD.
The FS series from Panasonic are a step below the FX series models, and are squarely positioned for the beginner. With its small form factor and brushed aluminum good looks, the FS25 is a great travel companion that is neither cumbersome, nor too advanced for the basic shooter. Although the FS25 is intended for beginner to intermediate shooters, features like AF tracking and Intelligent Exposure Modes round out the camera with some bells and whistles not typically found in this class, giving it a slight edge in today's competitive market.
The FS25 does lack some features like HD video capability (it captures 848x480 at 30 frames per second), but it has a nice Leica DC Vario-Elmar Lens 29-145mm that offers a wide to telephoto range that will be sure to appease most shooting scenarios. From the outside the FS25 looks great on paper, but how well does it perform and how good is the image quality? With a 12.1 megapixel sensor, sometimes too many pixels on a tiny sensor chip can be more of a liability in terms of noise. Some camera manufacturers have been able to suppress this with their processing engines, so we will take a look at how the Venus Engine IV performs when the FS25 is pushed past normal ISO ranges.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The FS25 is an attractive camera with a nice compact brushed aluminum and plastic combination body. It measures 3.82 inches wide and 0.86 inches slim, making it easy to fit in a jean pocket or just carry it around in your hand.
The FS25 is slightly different than its predecessor the FS20, which has a 10.1 megapixel sensor, 30mm wide-angle, a 4x optical zoom and slightly larger dimensions than the FS25. However, it does share Intelligent ISO, a 3.0 inch LCD, the same image sensor size except for resolution, and SD card compatibility.
The overall dimensions are great for a travel camera, which you can keep by your side and pull out whenever you find a photographic moment. The FS25's build and design is a combination of sleek detailing and a small form-factor.
Ergonomics and Controls
The 3.0 inch LCD occupies a large portion of the FS25's back panel real estate, and though a 230,000-dot resolution is only satisfactory, it provides a large enough space to review images. The button layout is comprised of a four-way controller with a joystick, shutter, zoom lever, Intelligent Auto button, a toggle button between shooting and playback, Mode button, Display changing button, Menu/Set button and Quick Menu/Delete button.
The buttons are laid out like those of most digicams, but the joystick is added, which makes it a slightly different way of controlling menus and functions of the camera. Overall, the layout is functional, but the buttons are rather recessed and small for someone who may have clunky fingers like me, making it easy to accidentally press two buttons instead of one.
When placed in your hand, the FS25 may seem small and uncomfortable to hold because the 3.0 inch LCD gives only enough room for a tiny thumb rest on the back. The front of the camera has a small finger bar that also feels awkward to hold when shooting. It seems that the smaller you go, the less comfort you get.
Menus and Modes
The general operation of the FS25 is slightly different than most point-and-shoots, mainly because of the joystick control. You are best served if you take a few minutes to play with the different buttons until you get a feel for the menu system. Reading the manual will easily alleviate any frustration with control. If you've used the FS20, the same button layout has been added to the FS25, so you shouldn't have any problem getting around the menu system.
One of the most helpful modes I found was the Quick Menu button, which allows you to access the Mega Optical Image Stabilization modes, single shot to burst mode, AF modes from Tracking to the 11-area/points, White Balance, ISO, Intelligent Exposure, different image sizes from 12 to 0.3 megapixels, and an LCD mode that lets you change the backlighting of the screen or set it for taking a picture at a high-angle.
I can also say that I appreciated the Intelligent Auto Mode button on top of the camera next to the shutter - it allowed me to quickly toggle between IA and automatic without menu diving. There is also a Mode Button that lets you change from Normal AF, IA, Night Portrait, Scene Mode that allows you to access 26 different shooting scenarios, and Motion Picture to enact video capture. Some of the notable Scene Modes include a Pinhole mode that gives you a cool vignette effect and Film Grain that creates a grainy and noisy image.
The menu system follows a standard layout, with a Menu button used to activate the menu as well as to set the functions. With the joystick controller you have to get used to using it to toggle your prompts and then press the Menu button to activate them. There is a button that switches between image playback and shooting, and can be kind of annoying when you want to review images. All in all, the joystick and the way that the menus are set up are easy to comprehend and get the hang of, but I have certainly seen a better menu and button layout on comparable cameras.
The recording modes of the FS25 are as follows:
The FS25 has a 230,000-dot resolution 3.0 inch LCD and no optical viewfinder. This resolution is pretty standard in this class of camera and is sufficient, giving a fairly accurate view of the images onscreen.
But what really sets the viewfinder apart is the LCD Mode, which allows you to change the monitor's settings. For instance, there are three LCD Modes, including Auto Power LCD where the brightness of the LCD is automatically adjusted by measuring the light around the camera, finding the right amount of ambient light for shooting.
The Power LCD mode makes the screen even brighter when you're shooting outdoors or want to see the LCD more clearly. The most interesting to me is the High Angle, that seems to brighten up the LCD along all of its edges so you can hold it in an awkward position and still see the image before you press the shutter.
With the LCD Mode, Panasonic has nicely compensated for different shooting scenarios that often make the LCD difficult to use when the lighting is varied. Overall, it is one of the best features of the camera.
The FS25 is a snapshot camera aimed at the beginner, and the automatic controls make it an easy camera to take out with you in the field. The FS25 doesn't differ radically from its predecessor the FS20, only upping the resolution by 2 megapixels and adding a little bit more control over IA and slightly more optical zoom power. Although it is not as progressive as I would have liked, it is a solid performer control wise. However, as far as image quality goes, it left something to be desired.
When it came to shutter lag between shots and AF acquisition, the FS25 isn't in the top rung of cameras with similar features.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||0.47|
|Nikon Coolpix S230||0.51|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
As the numbers suggest, field and lab testing were spot on with the FS25, and reflect a position just below the middle of the road cameras in both of these criteria. The AF comes in a few different forms, including Face Tracking, AF Tracking for tracking a moving subject, 11-area which is pretty slow to focus whether you're in great light or not and 1-area AF that was the most efficient and fastest form of AF on the FS25.
|Nikon Coolpix S230||2
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25||5||1.7 fps
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||∞||1.1 fps|
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Continuous shooting was pretty quick on the FS25, giving us five frames at 1.7 fps, matching up exactly with Panasonic's rating. Although when using the Burst mode, AF will slightly start to fall off when panning the camera from left to right or vice versa, but will recover if you continue to hold down the shutter, which is only a minor issue.
Flash was kind of a disappointment as the recycle times were frustrating from shot to shot. There is a Scene Mode called flash burst that allows you to do a burst mode and fire off the flash quickly, but it only produces 3 megapixel images. Other problems cropped up when using the flash, including a lot of overexposed images and harsh shadows.
Panasonic's image stabilization system is quite good, thanks to a proprietary MEGA Optical Image Stabilization. This is a form of lens-shift stabilization that moves elements in the lens barrel to compensate for hand shake, usually by a detecting gyro sensor that send signals for the processor and in turn shifts the lens elements accordingly. Panasonic has used this technology in their cameras for quite some time, and in the FS25 it works quite well.
The battery life on the FS25 is rated at 330 pictures, and by my usage that number seemed accurate.
The FS25 has a pretty typical zoom from 29-145mm and an f-stop range of ƒ/3.3-5.9, which is also a pretty standard. The Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens is a small barrel that extends out, but doesn't take up much space because it's very small.
The lens zoom lever is pretty reactive and zooms in and out quickly without much fuss. The FS25 has a Macro Zoom mode allows you to get 5 cm (0.17 feet) away from your subject, which is great for an extreme close-up.
As with most point-and-shoots with smaller imaging sensor like the FS25's, if you blow up your images past the 100% mark you will see purple fringing between the areas of contrast or hard edges.
With all things considered, the FS25 is pretty exceptional in terms of lens build and clarity, often providing me with sharp images without much softening.
There is nothing particularly great about the video function of the FS25, but it does capture usable video at 848x480 at 30 fps with sound. With many digital cameras now sporting HD video, it's surprising to see a new camera without this feature. The FS25 is more of a bargain model than a feature-rich camera, but still, HD video should become the standard for all digital cameras.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25 has sort of a strange range in its image quality. Let me explain. The first day I took it out was a completely overcast/June Gloom day here in L.A., and by trying the different settings, most of my images turned out to be far from what I was trying to capture, mainly because the camera is an automatic device that doesn't offer much control over shooting conditions.
Even though it's automatic on most levels, the camera is easily fooled during an overcast day, even when you change the White Balance settings.
Auto White Balance
Cloudy White Balance
Using AWB doesn't give you much better results either, in fact the FS25 was fooled by the conditions, often giving me underexposed images, even when shooting in Intelligent Exposure or Intelligent Automatic.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
But when given the right light, images seemed to pop out more with better contrast, less chromatic aberrations, and more saturation. This is ultimately a disappointing camera when your light conditions vary, which the FS25 is clearly not made for.
The in-camera processing of the FS25 doesn't offer much in the way of variety. It has different Color Modes that include presets like Standard, Natural, Vivid, Cool, and Warm, which only changes the saturation of the images slightly. For instance, when using the Vivid preset, there is no real distinction between Standard and Vivid unless you look very closely.
Also, there is no way to change the light metering system, so you have to completely rely on a system called Intelligent Multiple. This is frustrating when you want to achieve accurate exposures every time.
And speaking of sensitivity to light, the FS25 has an ISO scale from 80-1600. Our lab results show that you can get a workable image from ISO 80 to 200. Once you push the FS25 past the 400 mark, you start to see an increase in grain.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
For those of you who are looking to make huge prints from your FS25, it may be best to take a shot in a well-lit, controlled environment. As an example, the FS25's Intelligent Auto is easily tricked, and even in one instance I shot in broad daylight and the camera chose 1600, and the image was unusable.
Additional Sample Images
Compared to the FS20, the FS25 boasts some significant enhancements including more zoom power, more resolution and better Intelligent Auto, but that may not be enough of a reason for somebody to upgrade to the FS25. Images are pretty hit or miss when using the FS25, often leaving us with unsatisfactory pictures when the conditions were blown out or the light changed.
But let's call the FS25 what it is: a beginner camera that offers little in the way of control over output. While you can sometimes pull an excellent image out of this camera, more often then not you will get an image that will make you scratch your head, keeping the FS25 strictly at an entry-level position.
If you're looking only to upload to the web or print out 4x6's, this camera is for you. But with a small sensor chip and a resolution of 12 megapixels, the noise will certainly get the best of you when you're trying to make an enlargement. The Panasonic Lumix FS25 retails for around $250, but it might be best to check out the competition if these sorts of features don't float your boat.