Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3 Review
As one of 3 new "FS" models that Panasonic has introduced this year, the Lumix FS3 is one of the easiest to
use digicams that you will find. Featuring Panasonic's iA (intelligent Auto) shooting mode, Program, multiple
scene modes and a movie mode with 16:9 848x480 option, this camera has been designed to be easy enough for
anyone to use. This doesn't mean that anything was left off though, it still sports a 33mm wide lens, 8-
megapixel imaging sensor, Leica 3x optical zoom lens and Optical Image Stabilization.
One of the main features on the new Panasonic models is the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode. When you shoot in this mode, the camera will automatically select the correct scene mode for the situation. It does a good job at recognizing faces, lighting and distance allowing it to pick even one of the advanced scene modes. Next the camera will pick the correct ISO setting. You do have the ability to set the max ISO. Combining the auto ISO with the Mega O.I.S. the camera does an excellent job of reducing camera shake and blurring in your images. The final automatic option is the face detection software, allowing the camera to correctly focus and adjust for the faces in the image and not the surroundings.
This is one of the smaller models offered by Panasonic and can be considered an "ultra-compact" camera. It fits very easily into a purse or pocket and is easily operated with one or two hands. The button layout on the back of the camera is very easy to use and well labeled. The shooting mode is selected by pressing the Mode button and most of the other shooting options are accessed either through the shortcut buttons on the back or the one touch Quick menu. The camera also features a 2.5" intelligent LCD screen. The display will automatically adjust itself based on the amount of ambient light around it to assure you that you can always see your subject clearly. There is also a "high angle" setting that makes it easy to see off to the side or when held above your head and below your waist.
Performance from the FS3 was good. It only takes the camera 2.4 seconds to capture its first image from the time that you turn the power on. The shutter delay, the time it takes the camera to capture an image after you press the shutter release was just 1/10 of a second when the camera is prefocused and 7/10 of a second when you allow the camera to focus. In normal shooting mode, the camera's shot to shot delay is approx. 1.2 seconds without the flash and just under 2 seconds with the flash. The camera also has two burst modes, neither of which work with the flash. The first mode will only take 4 images, but it does so in just 1.2 seconds. The second continuous burst mode will continue to capture images at 2 images per second. All of our tests were completed using an ATP Pro Max 4GB SDHC memory card, normal shooting mode, ISO auto, flash off and all other settings on the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The image quality of our outdoor shots are pleasing for a camera in this class. Exposure and color were both good even on an overcast day and around water. The Leica 3x optical zoom lens, with a 35mm equivalent of 33-100mm, is great for shooting landscapes and group portraits. The telephoto is not enough to single out distant objects, but it is very helpful when framing shots and shooting individual portraits. At the wide end of the zoom there is some barrel distortion as well as slight edge softness throughout the focal range. The camera did an excellent job of controlling chromatic aberrations (purple fringing), with only slight instances in high contrast areas.
Indoors the camera also performs well. When shooting in portrait mode, the camera did an excellent job of focusing and adjusting for the subject. The images came out with good exposures and colors and natural looking skin tones. The flash has a range of up to 20 feet depending on the zoom (ISO auto). I got the best results when shooting from within 8 feet at any zoom level. However, when using the flash while shooting with macro focus enabled, the flash seemed to have some problems controlling its output, producing several overexposed images. You can see what I mean buy taking a look at our samples page.
The video quality when using Movie mode was ok, but not great. The video had good color and ran smoothly but the sky was definitely over exposed in our sample video. The built in microphone picked up a lot of noise from the wind, even when compared to other Panasonic models. There are several options for video recording. You can choose either standard 4:3 aspect (VGA or QVGA) or the wider HD style format of 16:9 (848x480). You are limited to the frame rate of 30fps or 10fps, and there are options for Color mode, AF mode, etc. The FS3's O.I.S. system is also active in movie mode. The only thing missing is some sort of in-camera editing option.
Powering the FS3 is a 3.6v 1000 mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery with a quick external charger. Panasonic claims that the battery will allow you to capture up to 320 pictures on a single charge. I was able to capture around 150 pictures, many of which used the flash, and several videos before the battery had to be recharged. I was expecting the battery to last a little longer based on the claims of Panasonic, but it still performed pretty well. We do recommend that you add a spare pack to your purchase if you plan on taking lots of video and pictures often.
Bottom Line - the Panasonic Lumix FS3 is a very compact, very easy-to-use 8-megapixel digicam. This camera comes loaded with automatic features that make sure you get a good quality pictures, in almost any situation. The combination of quality and performance make this a great choice for anyone looking for their first digital camera, or anyone that does not have a lot of experience with cameras. With a street price of US$199 or less, this model offers great "bang for your buck" in the entry-level digicam category.
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