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A bold claim, I hear you cry, but this is honestly the best damn digicam out at the moment, bar one problem. (Which I will deal with now before going on to why it rocks)
The problem: It's not a compact. Sorry lads and ladies, no taking this one out on a night out for fun and games, its not a handbag cam.
Right, with THAT out of the way, let me explain to you why I think this is simply the most comprehensively well-designed and built model out there.
The lens is a meaty (yes, thats right MEATY) 12x zoom (30-360ish for 35mm people) This is the absolute maximum you can get on a digicam without going for a 'proper' SLR. The only thing you can't get with this is really tough wildlife shots, or REALLY tiny macro (thats very small stuff) shots. Actually, I just realized one more problem, the lens isn't a manual 'twisty' lens--- this means you have to adjust it by pushing a rocker switch around the shutter, which isn't as fast or accurate. Ahem.
The optics (glass) in the lens is made by LEICA. Thats pretty much the Ferrari of glass, for those not in the know. For example; they make 1000GBP pairs of binoculars. It's probably not as high quality as the aformentioned binoculars, but Leicas B-grade stuff probably beats the living poop out of most companies A**** grade stuff. This means no chromatic abberation, fringing and other scientific stuff that stops you getting sharp and clear picccies.
In the nicely ergonomic, tough yet light shell, there is a 5 megapixel CCD/Chip/Doohickey. I sense many readers are already yawning, so let me just say that because of this, little prints will come out fine and with a bit of practice you should be able to get A4 and A3's without any pixellation (distortion/messing up of photos)
It has a full range of preset modes for different occasions, but I always seem to go for full-auto or full-manual and never use these. Speaking of manual, you have a properly connected manual focus (so when you twist the ring, you are actually moving the glass). This lets you take over when the auto focus can't cope; but no amount of techno-wotsits can replace a good eye. Yet.......
Hmmmm. What else? The screens nice and bright, a decent size too. The shutter and zoom control are sort-of combined, so your two most important (I reckon) controls are usable with one finger. The back of the cam might seem empty to some, but everything YOU NEED is there. I better mention the flash too. Erm, it flashes? Not as much as a flash gun, but just as good as any other built in flash, with a red-eye mode etc....
Finally, a nice feature of this is the Optical Image Stabilizer. Imagine the chip inside is surrounded by tiny springs that stop it wobbling around. Now you don't get as many blurry photos, you can use it in darker places and there aren't really any other cams (Except Konica-Minoltas) that have this feature. For you techie types, Panasonic claim it lets you shoot at 3 stops less with the same results.
So why is it the BEST?
1. The lenses only fault is the lack of a manual zoom. 2. 5 megapixel IS high enough. The lens quality makes up for other cameras higher pixel counts. And then some! 3. Manual focus still missing from other models. 4. Built nice and tough, but not bricklike in weight. 5. Battery lasts a solid days snapping. 6. Image stabilizer innovative AND useful. 7. LEICA BABY LEICA! 8. The price is absolutlely STUPID. 200GBP or LESS, for a cam that was 350+ a few months back. And still worth it then!
This cam is for people who want a camera for creative purposes not just to record events. Would be perfect for learners considering an SLR but waaaaaaaay short of funds....or a family camera that won't be taken 'out on the town'.
A quick note on it's successor the FZ30.
Its much bigger, much more expensive, you DO get manual zoom, a twisty-out screen, 3 more megapixels and something that looks like a big mess. Its GOLD for god's sake! First the D50, and now this? Bleurgh. I guarantee if you stood about next to someone using this they'd think the fz-20 looked more 'pro', just cos it's black.
And thats why they're called 'black' ops, not 'gold' ops.