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I have a 2MP digital camera but was getting tired of having little leeway in cropping pictures before printing them and still retaining acceptable image quality. I therefore was looking for a 4MP or above camera. Looking at the point-and-shoot type (I'm not in to messing with F-stops and shutter speeds) I narrowed the list down to three that had been highly recommended by 'What Digital Camera' magazine. The 5MP Panasonic LC80 was one of these, and is a camera that has evolved over a few facelifts. The other two were the Canon W1 and the Nikon 5200.
The Panasonic stood out because it is easily obtainable for under £200, it uses AA batteries rather then Li-ion (one of these can set you back £30 for a decent brand), and Panasonic were also bundling a free 128MB SD card as well as the usual 16MB card. More savings. This made the total cost of ownership at under £200, whereas the other cameras would be at least 20% more expensive.
The camera is light, and it's size fits into a pocket (about the length and height of 1 cigarette packet, and the width 1.5 cig packets). Too small a camera might be too fiddly for big fingers! Panasonic are well known for their electronics, but not well known for optics, so they got Leica to design the lens. The 3x optical zoom ranges from an effective 35mm-105mm. Magazine reviews rate the optics quite highly, and the Panasonic digital processing of the 'image' also appears pretty good.
The camera has various resolutions/compressions for images, though you are best keeping it to the maximum 2560x1920 pixel size, minimum compression...the 128MB card will hold about 58 of these. There are various preset shooting modes such as portrait, landscape, nightshot which vary the F-stop/shutter speed, though in general usage you use just the one general mode which also allows exposure compensation and white balance.
There is a viewfinder and a bright LCD screen. The LCD screen can display lots of info, including the F-stop and shutter speed determined, and a useful histogram that shows how well exposed the picture will be.
The bundled manual is fairly thick, but the camera is fairly easy to learn. There aren't many menus you need to navigate once your major initial setup preferences have stored. The camera is recognised on my WinXP system as an extra drive, and photos easily uploaded. I didn't use the bundled software.
Overall the camera delivers good quality pictures that can be printed up to A2 size with good quality. Image quality declines rapidly if the camera selects ISO400, but that is true of most digital cameras. Red-eye is still a problem when using flash (even using the red-eye reducing preflash, so get used to doing a bit of image processing.
At this price level don't let the name Panasonic put you off. Panasonic have bought in the optical quality, and certainly know their onions about digital imaging. This is an excellent little point-and-shoot camera that delivers quality results, though does have drawbacks of red-eye and limited user control....if you want user control then spend £100 more.
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