The Good Strong pictures; full-resolution burst mode; handy shooting menu; extensive flexibility.
The Bad No manual control; less than glamorous styling.
The Bottom Line A slow burner of a camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5’s wide-angle lens caught our eye, despite some pedestrian styling. The more we used it, the more we fell in love with it as we uncovered yet more flexible options, making this accessible point-and-shoot another quiet triumph for Panasonic
In an increasingly packed compact camera market, some of the most exciting snappers have been coming from manufacturers perhaps not traditionally considered as photographic innovators. Casio and Samsung are producing consistently interesting cameras, and Panasonic’s Lumix range is always worth a look.
With high expectations, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 steps on to centre stage. It’s a 10-megapixel compact point-and-shoot that’s currently available online for around £170.
The FS5 is available in red, black and silver. It’s light and pocketable, but a raised screen bezel and lens ring give it a chunkier profile. The matte silver metal frame and chrome accents give it a slick look, although we’re not keen on the silver bar at the front. As a design detail it’s lumpen, and as a finger-grip it’s next to useless.
Still, there are plenty of other details that we do like: a hinged door covers the connections instead of a flap of rubber, while the memory and battery card slot has a locking switch. Instead of a nasty flat switch, there’s a pleasingly round collar rocker switch for the zoom. Plus, there’s a handy ‘easy zoom’ button that makes the zoom leap out to its 4x full extension with one touch.
Leica continues its partnership with Panasonic on the wide-angle lens, which has a 35mm-equivalent of 30mm. The 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen feels small, which we find is the usual result of surrounding the screen with a black bezel.
Shooting is made really easy by the quick menu button. As on Casio compacts, shooting options are on a handy on-screen menu bar. Where Casio places this at the side, Panasonic has put it on the top, making space for more options like white balance, burst mode and ISO speed. There’s no aperture or shutter priority, unfortunately.
The menus themselves are quite long, but are clear and use vertical tabs rather than horizontal, which reduces superfluous scrolling through menus to get to the next tab. This wealth of options includes the ability to set different date and times for holiday snaps, and the choice of metric or imperial measurement — although we’ve no idea why.
Other features include face detection, two burst modes, 22 scene modes and continuous autofocus. This last feature constantly looks for a subject to focus on instead of waiting for you to press the shutter button halfway. We think Panasonic’s Mega OIS is one of the best image stabilisation systems going. There are two options available, or the system can be turned off.
There are also plenty of choices in the playback mode, including the ability to delete single pictures, all pictures, or, usefully, choose multiple images.
It takes 3 seconds for the FS5 to start up, and shot-to-shot time averages at one second, which is decent. Burst mode rattles off 2.5 frames per second — but only for 5 frames. We assumed the unlimited burst mode would be at a paltry resolution, but in fact it fired at full resolution, producing fine-quality shots at 1.35fps. Dropping the resolution to 5 or 3.5 megapixels sees a marginal increase in speed, but the full-resolution burst speed is already impressive enough.
The focus is quick and crisp. Colour is accurate out of the box, with the camera’s extensive tweakability allowing you to also choose from vivid, natural, warm and cool options for different situations and moods. A three picture bracketing mode is also available for adjusting exposure by increments of your choice.
The image stabilisation worked well, and although it was hard to measure the effects without manual control, it saved us two or three stops of exposure compensation. Combined with the option to limit the maximum ISO speed, which prevents the camera from ramping up sensitivity in low light, we were able to take some decent low light shots at ISO 400 and 800 that weren’t pebbledashed with image noise.
At first glance, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 seems more reliable than rousing, more capable than intoxicating. The more time we’ve spent with it, the more we discover yet another fine-tunable option, and the more we’re won over by it. It may not be as stylish as cameras like the Canon Digital IXUS 80 IS, but it outdoes many of Canon and Nikon’s recent offerings and matches the Ricoh R8 as an accessible and endlessly flexible camera.