by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 07/30/09
(Note: The Panasonic FS15 and the FS25 are nearly identical models, the main difference lying in the DMC-FS25's larger LCD monitor and slightly different body styling, as well as a slight difference in price. As such, we have only shot the FS15 for our image quality analysis, which tests identically to the FS25.)
The Panasonic FS15 is a 12-megapixel, pocket-friendly, ultra-compact digital camera boasting an updated intelligent automatic exposure system. Thin and very low-profile, the Panasonic FS15's compact body houses a 5x Leica DC Vario-Elmar 5x lens that ranges from 29-145mm equivalent, which is a wider maximum wide-angle setting than the typical 35mm maximum wide angle. With its brushed metal front panel (which comes in silver, black and a royal blue), the Panasonic FS15 has sleek body panels with minimal protrusions that won't hang on pockets.
An ideal candidate for novice users, thanks to its intelligent Auto mode (iA mode), the Panasonic FS15 can quickly assess a scene and determine which preset shooting mode to use, which ISO, whether or not to employ optical stabilization and track a moving subject, among other things.
The Panasonic FS15's improved Intelligent Auto mode adds AF tracking and Intelligent Exposure to the standard Mega O.I.S., Intelligent ISO Control, Intelligent Scene Selector and Face Detection functions that previous FS models sported in their iA modes. The updated AF tracking function locks focus and tracks a moving subject, useful when trying to get sharp images of running children, while Intelligent Exposure automatically brightens up any dark areas in an image. Pretty smart, considering most of the Panasonic FS15's intended users are looking for a zippy auto-exposure system that will simply handle a wide range of conditions. More advanced users will have fun with some of the Panasonic FS15's out of the ordinary scene offerings, such as Starry Sky, Pin Hole, Soft Skin, and Film Grain.
The Panasonic FS15 weighs in at just 4.87 ounces (138g) and measures just 2.1 x 3.8 x 0.8 inches (97 x 54 x 22mm), so it's a shoe-in for travel, and is available at a suggested retail price of US$199.95.
Panasonic FS15 User Report
by Stephanie Boozer
Look and feel. At only 0.8-inch thick, the Panasonic FS15 is definitely among the more slim consumer digital cameras currently available. Its super sleek profile makes it a natural fit for pockets, in addition to keeping it quick on the draw. Weighing in at a mere 4.87 ounces (138g), the Panasonic FS15 is in no way a burden to carry. Because the front panel is completely smooth, except for the lens area, there really is no handgrip to speak of, though your fingers might find some purchase on the texture of the Lumix logo. There is a series of raised bumps on the rear panel for a reinforcing thumb rest, but I heartily recommend keeping the wrist strap in place to prevent it from slipping through your fingers while out and about.
The Panasonic FS15 has a brushed metal front panel, which should help hide minor scratches, but I still recommend keeping it in a soft case when traveling to protect the finish (as well as the large LCD screen on the rear panel). Because of the camera's small size, larger hands might feel a little cramped trying to operate the Panasonic FS15 one-handed, as my medium-sized hands indeed felt a little pinched trying to actuate some of the controls. Icons and fonts on the control buttons are a little small, but there really isn't much available space to work with on the Panasonic FS15's tiny rear control panel.
Controls. A sliding switch atop the Panasonic FS15's top panel powers on the camera, while a mode switch in the top right rear panel places it into Record or Playback modes. Once in Record mode, you can hit the Mode button to select the main exposure mode, or access Movie mode. The iA button on the top panel activates the Intelligent Auto mode, and is just out of the way enough to prevent accidental triggering. The rest of the camera's few controls are laid out on the rear panel, within fairly easy reach, though some may require a two-handed grip to navigate controls and menus. The high-resolution, 2.7-inch LCD shows good accuracy at about 100%, with a bright display under average lighting.
The flash is activated on the back with a press of the right key of the four-way arrow pad, and is powerful enough for use within about 17 feet in Auto mode at wide angle, with a more limited range at telephoto.
Lens. Ranging from 29 to 145mm equivalent, the Panasonic FS15's 5x Leica lens offers good quality in a very small package. Barrel distortion is low at wide angle, with a very tiny amount at telephoto, meaning the camera's processor is doing a good job of counteracting distortion here. The camera also maintains good sharpness from corner to corner, with blurring showing up only in the furthest points in the right corners of the frame. The Panasonic FS15's lens has Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization (Mega O.I.S), which also works well.
Modes. A small, silver Mode button on the rear panel lets you select the main shooting mode, offering Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Night Scenery, Scene Mode and Motion Picture. Within the Scene option, you can choose from 26 preset modes: Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Flash Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Pin Hole, Film Grain and Photo Frame.
That's an almost dizzying array of preset shooting modes to which most users won't even pay attention. The best thing the Panasonic FS15 has going for it in this area is its Intelligent Auto mode, which factors in a wide range of exposure variables to figure out how to best handle your subject matter. iA mode employs Tracking AF, Mega O.I.S., Intelligent ISO Control, Intelligent Scene Selector, Intelligent Exposure and Face Detection to quickly assess what's in the frame and optimize the exposure. For users who aren't really interested in the technical aspect of photography, and who just want to grab really good pictures under varying conditions, this is really the best bet. But there's always the secure knowledge that you can delve into the Scene menu if you really want to play around with special effects, or even just track pictures of your kids with the Baby 1 and 2 modes.
For those who want to exercise some control over their exposures, the Panasonic FS15's Normal Picture mode also allows the user access to variables like exposure compensation, ISO, color mode, white balance, and AF mode. You can also enable Intelligent Exposure and Intelligent ISO modes. (Intelligent Exposure automatically adjusts any areas of darkness in the image, while Intelligent ISO helps prevent blurring from subject motion.)
For image playback, you simply slide the Panasonic FS15's mode switch over to the Playback icon and review your images. The camera's Playback menu offers a fairly standard selection of editing tools, such as trimming and the ability to add text to an image. To return to Record mode, simply slide the switch back to the Record icon.
Menu. The Panasonic FS15's menu is typical in its layout, with a vertical list of settings to scroll through before hitting the Set button to select one. The font size is large, which might be appreciated by some. In both Playback and Record modes, the Setup menu is accessible as a side tab.
Storage and battery. The Panasonic FS15 stores images on SD/SDHC/MMC memory cards, or on its internal 50MB memory. Current maximum SD card capacity is 32GB per card. That'll be sufficient for most needs with this camera, and indeed a 4 to 8GB card should be sufficient unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the Panasonic FS15.
The Panasonic FS15's battery is a 940mAh, 3.6-volt lithium-ion design, model number DMW-BCF10E. The rectangular battery snaps into place beneath the hinged door on the bottom panel, which locks with a sliding switch. Though a fully-charged battery is good for about 330 shots, which is quite good, I still recommend picking up a spare for longer outings, again especially if you plan to shoot a lot of video.
Shooting. The Panasonic FS15's point-and-shoot design and Intelligent Auto features make it a snap to use. You can leave the exposure decisions, from scene mode to ISO to subject tracking AF completely up to the camera, and feel confident that you'll get a pretty good exposure most of the time. Features like Mega O.I.S., Face Detection and the Intelligent modes take a lot of the guesswork out of photography for novices.
However, things like timing might have you tapping your foot when shooting in normal single shot mode, as the camera takes a whopping 3.25 seconds between shots at the highest resolution setting. It does offer Hi-Speed Burst mode, for much snappier shooting, but in normal record mode, the Panasonic FS15 is definitely slow.
The Panasonic FS15's zoom speed is also a little slow, though it operates fairly smoothly. It also zooms in large blocks, which can be problematic if you're trying to get specific framing without having to actually change your position.
The Panasonic FS15's 2.7-inch LCD monitor is bright under most circumstances, though strong sunlight did hinder my ability to see the framing clearly, especially when coupled with the highly reflective surface. The LCD also becomes more opaque when the camera is held at certain angles, which can lead you to think the exposure is too bright. However, these aren't unusual problems for many consumer digital cameras, so the Panasonic FS15 is probably about average in this category.
Panasonic FS15 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft in the extreme lower right
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Softest in lower right corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic FS15's zoom shows strong blurring in the extreme right corners, though the left corners show only mild blurring. Results are similar at full telephoto, with only the furthest points of the right corners showing strong blurring, and more moderate softening elsewhere.
Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: A miniscule amount of barrel distortion, also not noticeable
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (about 0.2%), and only the tiniest amount of barrel distortion at telephoto (less than 0.1%). Thus, the Panasonic FS15's processor is likely correcting the usual lens distortion.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle
is moderate, with somewhat bright pixels highlighting the target lines. At telephoto,
pixels aren't as bright, so the effect is less obtrusive.
Macro: The Panasonic FS15's Macro mode captures fairly sharp details in the center of the frame, though with just a hint of fuzziness in the finer printed details of the dollar bill. Corner softening extends far into the frame, but this is common among consumer digital cameras in macro mode. Minimum coverage area is 2.00 x 1.50 inches (51 x 38 mm). Flash exposure at this range is quite uneven, as the camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens at the most extreme closeup. Thus, external lighting is your best bet for closeup shots like these.
Panasonic FS15 Image Quality
Color: Color is somewhat muted overall, especially yellows,
some of which have a slight green tint. Blues are the strongest in saturation,
but color is overall fairly accurate, without the oversaturation many digital
cameras have a tendency to produce. Hue is a little off for colors like yellow
and cyan, and reds are strongly pushed toward orange. Dark skin tones are pushed
strongly toward orange/yellow, but lighter tones have just a hint of red.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fair at ISO 80 and 100, though already a little fuzzy. As early as ISO 200, details begin to blur and some luminance noise is visible. By ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise is so pronounced that images have an painted look. This is pretty good performance for a consumer digital camera, though. See Printed results below for more on how this affects images on paper.
Incandescent: Despite a slightly cool tint, the Panasonic FS15's Manual white balance setting handled our tungsten lighting test much better than Auto and Incandescent modes, which produced reddish and warm images respectively.
Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results look good at 13x19 with good color and detail. Printed at 16x20, images would be usable for wall display. ISO 200 shots are a little soft at 13x19, better at 11x14. ISO 400 shots are way too soft at 11x14, and shadows begin to become a bit smoky, oddly enough, and look better at 8x10. ISO 800 shots are quite usable still at 8x10, and except for some fuzziness, ISO 1,600 shots are also pretty good at 5x7, better at 4x6. Quite a good performance from the inexpensive 12-megapixel Panasonic FS15.
Panasonic FS15 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is on the slow side, at 0.90 second at wide angle and 1.18 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.125s, not the fastest on the market but fair.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also very slow, capturing a frame every 3.25 seconds in single-shot mode.
Flash Recycle: The Panasonic FS15's flash recycles in a modest 5 seconds after a full-power discharge.
Panasonic FS15 Conclusion
Trim and compact, the Panasonic FS15 offers intelligent automatic shooting and a good-quality, 5x Leica lens to balance its 12-megapixel sensor. Overall image quality is good, with low distortion from the lens at wide angle, and only moderate chromatic aberration at both zoom settings. The Panasonic FS15's color is less saturated than what many consumers may prefer, but color performance is actually a little more true to life. Exposure is also good overall, and the Intelligent Auto mode is a definite benefit for novices who don't want to fiddle with scene modes or really any exposure variables. The main area where the Panasonic FS15 seems to falter is in its timing, as the camera is markedly slow in its shot-to-shot cycle times, though it does offer a reasonably fast Hi-Speed Burst mode. A good processor, high-quality Leica lens and smart automatic features in a tiny little package make the Panasonic FS15 a good deal at the $199.95 MSRP, making it a Dave's Pick.