Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5
- Improved Intelligent Auto mode, vibrant 10.1Mp images, good quality LCD screen
- Occasionally lethargic response times, Easy Zoom seems pointless
The DMC-FS5 inarguably puts the fun back into photography by giving you quality shots that you don't have to work towards. If you're in the point-and-click brigade, you definitely won't be disappointed.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
It doesn't take a genius to know what makes a good compact camera. Along with decent battery life and a slim, lightweight design, the primary ingredient is the ability to take great looking photos – and here's the important bit – with a minimum of fuss. While some photographers like nothing more than a complex maze of settings to sort through, most of us would rather just point and shoot.
Panasonic is clearly aware of this fact. Its recent compact cameras have all been heavily marketed on the backbone of 'Intelligent Auto' (iA) – a fancy name for what is basically an automatic scene mode. iA is designed to take the complexity out of photography by continually adjusting and correcting settings while you obliviously click away. The mode could have just as easily been called 'Photography for Dummies' and more often than not, the results are surprisingly accurate.
The DMC-FS5 is the latest camera to adopt this crowd-pleasing technology, with a few extra refinements (including automatic exposure and continuous auto-focus) thrown in for good measure. Running on the latest Venus Engine IV processor, and equipped with a 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor and 30mm 4x optical zoom lens, the DMC-FS5 is capable of capturing high-definition images at a resolution of 1290x1080 pixels.
When we first got our hands on the DMC-FS5 we immediately set about testing its advanced Intelligent Auto setting. As with previous iA units, we found that it mixed and matched ISO sensitivities and focus modes with considerable aplomb. Our test shots remained well balanced and relatively crisp without any manual input. We managed to capture some spectacular sunsets, with the camera working tirelessly behind the scenes as dusk shifted into twilight. All up, we would probably rate iA's performance as being on par with the 'auto fix' on a top-notch editing application.
Another neat feature offered by Intelligent Auto is the Face Detection System. Using complex computerised algorithms which frankly scare us a bit, the technology allows a camera to 'see' faces in an image and then adjust the focus and exposure to present your subjects in the best possible light. Up to 15 faces can be detected in one frame, with handy box indicators highlighting which faces have been targeted. Again, we found this feature to be a great time-saver that works better than it has any right to.
For those who would prefer to play the auteur, the DMC-FS5 has 21 scene mode presets which can be accessed from the menu screen, including – bafflingly – a 'food' mode and two 'baby/infant' modes. Needless to say, there's a mode for practically every conceivable Kodak moment (or should that be Lumix moment?). Other manual features include multiple flash modes, adjustable white balance and ISO sensitivities (up to 1600), a high-speed burst mode offering up to six shots per second, macro modes, adjustable image sizes, exposure settings and a self timer.
In terms of build quality and design, the DMC-FS5 isn't the trendiest camera on the block, but it does retain a sleek, simplistic elegance that is small enough to fit in your pocket. The controls are laid out intuitively with a straightforward interface that the average novice, should they feel so inclined, will have no trouble navigating. (Of course, the excellent iA mode will ensure that many users rarely delve into the menu settings.) Meanwhile, the 2.5in LCD did a great job of displaying our pictures, with the automatic 'backlight booster' assisting clarity in sunny conditions.
If we had one reservation, it would probably be that the shutter release seemed ever-so-slightly sluggish. While Panasonic rates the shutter's time lag at less than 0.005 seconds, we found that response time varied considerably. We were also nonplussed by the Easy Zoom button, which automatically shifts the lens to its full magnification. While it's a good idea in theory, the FS5's 4x optical zoom hardly cries out for this feature (using the regular zoom takes less than a second), and we occasionally found ourselves pressing the button by accident.
Those small quibbles aside, the DMC-FS5 is a solid offering capable of delivering exceptionally vivid, fuss-free photos. It will more than satisfy casual happy-snappers with an eagle-eye for quality.
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