Top positive review
85 people found this helpful
Great value, but with a flaw
on June 15, 2011
I am a novice at photography, so I will be writing this review from the perspective of someone who is not an expert at all with the ins and outs of using a camera. I just wanted something that took good quality pictures for this price range, was easy to use, and had a zoom. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH5 was a massive upgrade from my old Kodak Easyshare C-530. When I took it out of the packaging, I was amazed at how small it was. I have big hands, but had no problem holding or operating the camera. The user manual is on a CD in .pdf format rather than being on paper, but this didn't bother me. The menus and buttons are fairly simple and easy to figure out. Novices like myself will have no trouble operating the camera after a little experimenting. FYI, there is no touch screen on this model, but a few simple buttons instead (which is exactly what I wanted. I suck at using touch screens because my big fingers lead to accuracy problems.) The 2.7 inch display makes it easy to see what you're doing. You can also customize a few items such as the focus icon, the LCD screen's brightness, what sounds the camera makes when taking a picture or selecting menu items, as well as the volume of each sound. If you want to take a self-portrait or family photo with yourself in it, there is a self-timer which can be set for a 2 or 10 second delay. The FH5 also has the standard tripod-mounting hole on the bottom.
One of the really nice things this camera allows you to do is to take pictures with three different aspect ratios. Most of the options are 4:3, but you can also select 3:2 or my favorite, 16:9. Choosing the 16:9 setting means that your pictures display perfectly on a HDTV with no resizing required, which is perfect for me. I have found through experimentation that there are only really three different picture-taking modes that I need to use. The first is Scenery, for brightly lit pictures of outside landscapes. The second is Normal mode with Macro activated, for taking extreme close-ups of small objects/critters. For everything else, Intelligent Auto (iA) seems to do a fine job. I am generally quite pleased at the quality of pictures that this camera produces, and how simple it is to use. It does struggle with overblown bright sunlit areas, but so do all point-and-shoot cameras. The previously mentioned Scenery mode seems to handle these areas the best. I confess that someone who knows more about photography might be able to come up with manual settings that produce better results in this situation than I can. Before I bought a new camera, I was concerned that whichever one I got might have a delay between me pressing the button and it actually taking the picture, but there are no worries with the FH5. It's simply lightning-fast. I cannot comment on the ease or quality of video recording, as I have never used it.
Overall, this camera does a great job for the low price (it was $119.00 when I purchased it.) However, there IS an elephant in the room that prevents the FH5 from getting 5 stars, and that is the poor battery life. I went on a hike yesterday that lasted 2.5 hours, and I took about 170 pictures. The camera went from being fully charged to being fully drained in this time. I already had both the LCD brightness and sound turned down to help save the battery as well. If you have the sounds and brightness set higher, the issue will be even worse. This might not be a big deal if you're just going to use the camera sporadically, but in some circumstances it might become a real problem. If you are on vacation, and you have a full day of photography planned, you'll need to get an extra battery or two. I timed it, and it takes about 100 minutes to fully recharge the battery, so at least that's fairly quick. I have not purchased an extra battery (which is damned expensive at $55.)
What else will you need to get with this camera, if anything? Well, first of all it comes with a wrist strap, but I'd recommend getting a simple neck strap instead. It provides added security and it's just easier to carry something around your neck. The body of the camera is fairly smooth, and you don't want it slipping out of your hands and getting dropped. Another thing I would recommend is a simple case for protecting the camera when it's not in use. The rear LCD IS flush with the body of the camera, so you don't want to be setting it on anything that could scratch it. I got the Case Logic TBC-301, and it fits well. The camera comes with 70MB of on-board memory, so you'll definitely want to pick up a SD/SDHC card if you want to take more than a few pictures at once. I got an 8GB, 30MB/sec card for about $32. However, before it arrived, I used an older and slower 1GB, 15MB/sec card which seemed to work just fine. You can probably get a much cheaper card than I did and it will be good for general photography purposes. I went with this card because I felt I needed the fastest possible card for burst mode. Many times on my hikes, I come across wildlife unexpectedly and usually I only have a second or two before the critter is gone, and the faster your card is in this situation, the better. If you plan on recording video, you may also want one of the faster cards. The last thing you will almost definitely want to grab (if you don't have one already) is a flexible mini-tripod, which are usually about 4 inches tall. I got one last year for my old Kodak, and it works great with both cameras.