The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH25 isn't a complicated camera. In fact, it's a very simple, very easy to understand budget camera. You wouldn't necessarily expect much from a camera from this range, but we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by it. Even though it's a budget camera, the FH25 boasts a far-reaching 8x optical zoom when most cameras in the same price range (US$199) only do 5x zoom, which is enough to make us take a closer look at it. And it shoots at a stunningly high 16 megapixels, which is still rare for compact cameras.
Note: The FH25 isn't officially available in Singapore, but you could probably still find one, here or overseas.
It only sounds like common sense that a simple, pared-down camera should be easy to use. Just point and shoot right? Sounds great in theory, but there are a number of things that need to 'just work' within the camera for the point and shoot experience to be a good one. You need good response time from the moment you press the shutter to the moment the camera snaps the picture. The auto-focus has to be fast and accurate, so you can get the shot the instant you see it and have it focused on the right things. And you need the camera to feel comfortable in your hands, so you don't feel a wrench in your gut every time your finger close around it.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH25 gets these, plus a little bit more. This little bit more is the Easy Zoom button, found conveniently right beside the shutter release. Remember us gushing about the 8x optical zoom in this little baby? Well, it can take you a while to rack the lens from its initial 28mm to its furthest 224mm (in 35mm equivalent). But this button gets you there in an instant - hit it and the camera zooms out to its maximum optical zoom length. Hit it again and it extends to the maximum digital zoom length. Hit it one more time and you're back to the wide 28mm view. We must say, that's a rather clever implementation.
We can't overstate how much we love this little button; it elevates the FH25's user experience from okay to good. Here's why: no longer do we spot something in the distance, then zoom in to focus on it and take the shot. Now, we see our target, then just hit the Easy Zoom button. And if need to, we simply re-adjust the focus back and forth. It's incredibly convenient.
There is one drawback for the purist. Maximum optical zoom is only done under the camera's Normal Picture mode. In iA (intelligent Auto) mode, the camera zooms out to 10x, which is optical plus the digital zoom afforded by Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution technology. Intelligent Resolution promises a digital zoom without quality compromise, but as we've seen in our review of the Panasonic TZ20, this isn't the case. And you can't switch Intelligent Resolution off; so if you absolutely want to squeeze the most image quality out of the FH25 and only shoot within the optical zoom range, you need to shoot outside of iA mode. That said, somehow we don't think the target audience for the FH25 will care much about that limitation.
You switch modes using the Mode button, and like the simple camera it is, there are few options to be found within modes and inside the menu. The menus are clean, clear, and if this screen looks familiar, it's because it takes inspiration from the touch menus found in the Panasonic G-series of cameras. In fact, the FH25 has a sister camera, the FH27. They are virtually identical, except that the FH27 sports a touch-screen and nothing else on its back.
There's also quite little you can customize using the Quick Menu, but you can at least take over ISO and white balance while in Normal Picture mode. Those are always welcome.