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After four years of hard use my old compact digital camera died. Although I also own a dSLR camera there are times when you don't want to lug a big camera and lenses around, so the search for a small camera to compliment the SLR began.
When shopping in Tesco I looked at the cameras on display just to pass the time really. However at Tesco the display cameras are live, so you can have a play and you're not pestered by staff trying to sell you extended guarantees! I saw a Lumix fs4 camera on offer at £69.95. This is I believe a discontinued model which has been superceeded by the FS42, the only difference is a 10mp sensor as opposed to the older models 8mp one. According to the technical info (instruction book) there are no other differences. Anyway I returned to Tesco the next day armed with a load of club card vouchers and purchased the camera for £40, I was also given a voucher for 5p off a litre of petrol and another one to buy 18 bottles of beer for a fiver!!
When I got the camera out of the box I was immediately impressed with the quality. The body is plastic, but the fit and finish are first class. A polished metal top plate contains the shutter button and zoo toggle, and this adds to the feeling of quality. Like most blokes I put the battery in (there was some charge in it) and had a play.
The camera has three basic modes. The first is an intelegent scene selector mode, this is where the camera searches through it's 22 scene options and chooses the most suitable one. This is great for those quick moments where there is no time to select various picture options, and is dead easy to use.
The second mode allows you to choose the scene option, you can also select mono, colour or sepia along with changing flash settings and ISO values within the scene parameters.
The final mode is 'normal picture'. This is a straight auto exposure shot. However you can modify the exposure settings +/- by 2 1/2 stops, select ISO values (1000 max), force flash on or off, select focus mode (including face recognition), set the white balance and colour profiles. If I was to really split hairs I'd have liked to have seen shutter and apeture priority modes included too.
The flash is really good and pictures remain natural looking without the burned out look of other compact camera flashes, and the folk at Panasonic have got alot out of such a small unit.
Another useful feature is the burst mode where you keep the shutter button pressed and snap away, great for moving targets (or toddlers). The self timer has two settings, 2 and 10 seconds.
In picture playback the picture info (sich as apeture and shutter speeds) can be displayed along with the scene settings etc, another useful feature. The pictures can also be displayed as a slide show with some funky options. However Panasonic don't include an AV cable (USB is supplied), which is an obvious bit of penny pinching. The LCD display is clear and the colours are well defined, another clever trick is that it adjusts according to lighting conditions so it can be used on the brightest of days, the next time the sun shines I'll put this to the test. I would have liked an old fashioned viewfinder, but this feature has largely been confined to history as far as compact cameras are concerned! Panasonic say that the lithium battery will take over 400 pictures per charge.
The picture quality is great and the Leica logo by the lens is another reassurance of quality. I cannot comment about the movie capture as it's a feature I don't use. The supplied editing software is another area I can't talk about as I use Photoshop, however reviewers of other Lumix cameras comment that it's not the best.
As the FX4 is discontinued there will be some great deals to be had, and hey 8mp is more than enough for most users. I've enlarged 6mp pictures to 10x8 without any loss in quality, and at the end of the day a 12mp sensor is great for posters but if it's housed in a flimsy body how good will the pictures be? I've seen the 10mp (and newer) FX42 for under £100 in Argos and this must make it something of a bargain.
The FX4/42 is a well made camera which is easy to use regardless of photographic ability. However the number of useful features should also satisfy the demands of those who want more control over their pictures, and all this for under £100 (or £70 in the FX4 case).
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