While it's not loaded with features like other cameras in the 2009 range from Panasonic, the Lumix DMC-FS15 is a good enough snapper in its own right to eat into the stylish-but-functional market that Canon's IXUS cameras hold in their merciless grip. If you are looking for a simple, go-anywhere point-and-shoot, the FS15 won't disappoint.
It takes a little while for your eyes to warm to the style of the FS15 but just like a good wine, the silver, black or blue design gets better with age. It's relatively spartan on the front, with a slim flash unit nudging into the top of the large lens towards the right side of the 118g camera.
It wore an eensie weensie, teeny weeny, yellow polka dot ... intelligent Auto button. (Credit: Panasonic)
Along the glistening back sit the standard four-way directional buttons, but turn your attention for just a moment to the top where you'll find the power switch (dainty as can be), the shutter and zoom rocker, and this new button that looks almost comically out of place. It's Panasonic's attempt at making the shooting mode selection fairly easy — press the button (denoted with iA for intelligent auto) and you can immediately swap between automatic mode, and not so automatic mode.
Be prepared to enter into a draconian battle with the zoom rocker, for it has enough resistance in it to defend a small nation. If only Panasonic could borrow a little of the stiffness from here and implement it in the other cameras we recently had issues with, the FT1 and TZ7, it would totally resolve their unreliable and far too smooth mode dials.
Apart from this temperamental piece of metal, it's difficult to find fault with the rest of the design of the FS15. The tripod mount isn't located directly under the lens, but that's a minor issue considering that most cameras in this class suffer the same problem.
All the usual suspects fill out the specifications sheet, from a 12.1-megapixel sensor to a 2.7-inch LCD screen. We do like that the FS15 tends to engage in a friendly bit of one-upmanship against its competitors, with a 29mm lens (against the equivalent 35mm or so on other compacts in this class) and a 5x optical zoom. Note the standard Leica optics in that lens, too.
Amateur Sherlocks will value the FS15 too with a slew of detection modes, from subject to shake to motion to face to scene to light. Though we're a little unsure on the necessities of all these, especially listing them individually, they are a part of the features list nonetheless. The tagline that comes attached to the camera is "Trust iA", and given the relative limitations in shooting modes you have very little option but to trust the camera's automatic settings.
Unlike the higher-end models in Panasonic's range, there is no HD video on the FS15, which is slightly disappointing.
Performance and image quality
The FS15 is surprisingly agile, starting up in just 1.1 seconds. The rest of the performance stakes follow suit, with quick shot-to-shot time and little evidence of shutter lag.
In terms of the images this silver bullet can produce, expect the standard sharpness from the Panasonic/Leica combination, with nice pleasing colours that aren't too saturated. Barrel distortion at both ends is kept under control nicely so there's no need for any post-processing. Noise control too is very good, with the only real noticeable grain coming in at ISO 800 and above. ISO 1600 is, as expected, pretty messy, but not as eye-achingly bad as many other compacts in this class.
Chromatic aberration exhibits itself mostly as purple fringing around objects, but it's not too prominent and you can certainly get a usable shot from most high contrast situations, especially at a smaller print like 10x15cm.
Another surprise is how the FS15 copes really well with macro (both automatically detecting when to activate it in iA mode, and when shooting). A rather cute (and somewhat tacky) inclusion in playback mode is the ability to view slideshows of your photos set to the sweet musak of natural, slow, swing or urban-themed tunes.
This is an example of a compact camera done right. With its stylish looks and relatively good specs list, the Lumix FS15 won't disappoint unless you're looking for HD video and manual controls.