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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 Review
by Andy Stanton -  3/14/2011

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 (also known as the FS37) is Panasonic's top-of-the-line "Stylish Casual" compact point-and-shoot digital camera. Panasonic's small cameras have not been known for their sense of style, though Panasonic is trying to change that with some of its recent releases (the "FP" series and the "S" series). While the FH27 is not what most would consider particularly stylish, it's not necessarily a bad thing, as not everyone desires a camera that is a fashion statement. I did find the camera to be attractive, however.

Panasonic Lumix FH27


With their reputation for good handling, quick operation and good image quality, Panasonic's point-and-shoot cameras have become very popular. They are also very full featured for their price points, and the FH27 is no exception with its 16.1 megapixel sensor, wide angle 8x optical zoom Leica lens (28-224mm, 35mm equivalent), Intelligent Auto mode, optical image stabilization, HD video (720p), Panasonic's latest Venus IV processor, and its large 3.0-inch diameter touchscreen LCD.

The FH27 comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, a battery charger, a plastic stylus pen, the Basic Owner's Manual, a wrist strap, an audio-visual cable, a USB cable and a CD containing the Owner's Manual and Panasonic's Photofun Studio 6.0 photo organizing software. The camera takes SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, which must be purchased separately. The FH27 comes in silver, red and black, the color of the camera I reviewed. Its suggested price is $229.99, but it should be available for significantly less.

After spending some time familiarizing myself with the camera's touchscreen, I was eager to go out and take some pictures. However, the weather was rainy through most of the first two weeks of March, so I was unable to take the number of colorful outdoor pictures I normally take when I evaluate a camera. Given this limitation, let's see how the FH27 fared.

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.

Panasonic Lumix FH27

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.

Panasonic Lumix FH27

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.

Panasonic Lumix FH27

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:

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Normal
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Natural
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Vivid

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.

Display/Viewfinder
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.

Panasonic Lumix FH27

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.

PERFORMANCE
I found the performance of the FH27 to be consistently good. Startup time was quick, taking no more than a second. Shot-to-shot time measured only about two seconds and using the flash slowed things down only slightly. The touchscreen menu was adequately responsive in recording and setup mode (though not in playback mode as I've previously mentioned).

Shooting Performance
The FH27 is a reliably performing camera. It was quick to acquire and lock focus in all shooting situations, including in low light. As shown below, performance scores for shutter lag (0.01 second) when pre-focused and auto focus acquisition (0.20 second), the time it takes from pressing the shutter to taking the shot, are both excellent for a point-and-shoot camera. The FH27 was not particularly quick in continuous shooting mode at 1.3 frames per second, though it could maintain that speed continuously, although at a progressively slower speed.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 0.01
Casio Exilim EX-S200 0.01
Canon PowerShot SD3500 0.02
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-S200 0.17
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 0.20
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.30
Canon PowerShot SD3500 0.45

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27 1.3 fps
Kodak EasyShare M590 3 1.0 fps
Canon PowerShot SD3500 0.9 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.

Panasonic claims a battery life of 250 shots, which I found to be overly optimistic. Perhaps because of the touchscreen, I was only able to get about half that figure.

Panasonic Lumix FH27

Lens Performance
The FH27 uses a high quality 8x optical zoom Leica lens with a focal length of 28-224mm (35mm film camera equivalent), which is a very useful length. Panasonic includes a feature it calls Intelligent Zoom, which it says extends the optical zoom range by a factor of 1.3 without affecting image quality. When using the extra zoom I did not notice any deterioration in image quality, probably because the FH27 has such high resolution (16.1mp) and the slight amount of cropping that is involved in Intelligent Zoom does not change the appearance of the image unless it is blown up to a huge size.

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Telephoto

The lens performance of FH27 was good. Images were consistently sharp in the center and only slightly less so in the corners. I noticed no vignetting and only minor chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas. There was some barrel distortion at wide angle, but no pincushion distortion at maximum zoom.

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
The FH27 shoots adequate HD videos with realistic color and monaural sound. Activating the movie mode requires three taps on the touchscreen menu, which is not as quick and easy as with cameras that have a dedicated movie button. Focus and zoom are set when the camera begins recording and cannot be changed. HD movies are shot at 1280 x 720 pixels at 24 frames per second, to a maximum of 2GB on the memory card.

The movie shot below was taken of a stream that was swollen to about three times its normal width due to heavy rains. Color and animation came out well, though I would have liked the ability to zoom in.

Image Quality
As is the case with other Panasonic cameras I've used, the FH27 creates sharp, well-exposed images with realistic colors - punchy, but not overly saturated.

The FH27 has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, and custom. I used auto white balance in all of my pictures with good results.

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The flash has settings for auto, auto and red-eye reduction, slow sync and red-eye reduction, forced on and forced off. Flash range is 0.6 - 5.8 meters (1.97 - 19 feet) at wide angle and 1.0 - 3.2 meters (3.28 - 10.4 feet) at telephoto. The flash did a very good job, brightening the image to the extent appropriate for the scene, without blowing out the subject.

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image Panasonic FH27 Sample Image

The ISO table below shows images with good color and minimal noise through 400 ISO, with noise becoming more of a factor at 800 and 1600 ISO. These are very good results, especially considering the fact that the FH27 is packing 16.1 megapixels into its tiny 1/2.33-inch sensor.

Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image Panasonic FH27 Sample Image
Panasonic FH27 Sample Image Panasonic FH27 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Panasonic DMC-FH27 is a conservatively styled camera that is very competent in almost all respects. Although it is lightweight, it has good build quality. Unlike most small cameras it can be shot with one hand, though its fiddly zoom control can be annoying. Performance is quick and reliable.


I was pleased with the camera's image quality, as the camera consistently created sharp, well exposed images with punchy, but realistic colors. Lens sharpness is good, with low distortion. The camera also produces surprisingly good images in low light. Its movie ability is average - optical zoom and auto focus are not available and its monaural sound is adequate. The only significant problem I had with the camera was difficulty in reviewing my images in playback mode on the camera's touchscreen LCD monitor. Other than that, the camera is very solid and should satisfy a lot of users.

Pros:

Cons: