By Josh Fate
This ultra-compact is very small and slim, making it incredibly easy to carry in a pocket or small bag or purse. It is too small for a person with large hands to operate with just one hand, but utilizing the "pinch" technique allows for easy operation by anyone. While there are only a few controls on the body, they are clearly marked and well spaced for easy use. With a slightly improved menu system, finding and changing your camera settings is as easy as ever. Even if you are not sure what a setting does, a description scrolls at the bottom of the screen for assistance. Framing and viewing your images is accomplished with its 2.7-inch, 230,000 dot LCD screen. It has several settings, including automatic power and high angle settings which make it easy to see in any lighting or shooting condition.
Capturing our outdoor images in iAuto mode, we can see in most of them that the camera produces a crisp image with great exposure and color accuracy. If you look at the image at 100%, you can see some noise within the image, but for a 16-Megapixel camera under $150, we are very impressed. Our firehouse shot, with the tough overcast lighting, did prove to be tough for the camera, and here we can see a serious noise problem; but this was the only time we saw this. There is also some overexposure in the sky behind the museum, this allows for the building itself to be properly exposed.
Framing and composing your images is done with the Leica 4x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 28-112mm. This range is great for landscape and portrait photography, but lacks a little on the telephoto end. Around 28mm you will see some barrel distortion, however chromatic aberrations were controlled very well throughout.
While our indoor sample shots also show a little noise when looking at them at 100%, the camera produces a sharp, well exposed and vivid image. At ISO 400 and below, you will be able to produce large, clear prints with no problems. After that you start to lose a little detail due to the image noise, but this is to be expected from a compact point-n-shoot. Assisting with your indoor and low-light images is small built-in flash unit. With a range of up to 10.8ft. (3.3m) at the wide end, this isn't very powerful so you will want to stay as close to your subject as possible.
Portrait photography was a snap with the FH5. In iAuto mode, the camera quickly detects any face within the frame and adjusts all of the camera's settings to make sure that face is properly exposed. Our sample image shows excellent skin tones with a great exposure for the face. The ISO is a little high, especially since our subject was only 4 ft. away. There is not a trace of redness in the eyes, thanks to the camera's red-eye reduction flash mode.
Shooting videos with your digicam is a great way to capture moments when a single image just isn't enough. Our 720p HD video sample's overall image quality is descent for a compact camera. The video is clear and plays back smoothly, although quick movements don't flow as well as they would if captured by a digital camcorder. There is also a small mic for recording your movies audio. This mic is very sensitive and will pick any noises that are close to the camera. As you can hear in our sample, the light breeze over powers all of the other sounds outside. To avoid this, try to stay out of the wind and away from a/c units and furnaces.
Powering the FH5 is a small 3.6V, 600mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. This battery allowed us to capture over 120 images and videos on a single charge. While we did not run out of juice, the battery did get run down pretty far. This comes up a bit short of the 260 images that Panasonic claims, but some of that could be attributed to the outdoor shooting in the cold Ohio weather. Included with the camera is a small quick charger with foldaway prongs that makes for easy storage and transportation. This charger allows you to charge your main or spare battery anywhere, allowing you to always have a backup charged and on hand.
Bottom Line - Panasonic's new Lumix FH5 is an affordable ultra-compact digicam featuring a 16-Megapixel imaging sensor, 4x optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization and 720p HD video recording capabilities. This camera is easy enough for anyone to use, and the quality from Panasonic's iAuto (intelligent auto) shooting system is great. This allows anyone to pick up the camera and capture high quality images. With a MSRP of US $149.99, this is an excellent option if you are looking for an inexpensive, ultra-compact that fits into a tighter budget.
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