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Handling is secure and comfortable, and although the handgrip is quite small and narrow, the textured plastic covering and the thumbgrip on the rear of the body provide plenty to hold on to. The position of the controls, which are clustered around the right side of the rear panel and on the top plate, mean that the camera can easily be used one-handed, although it is of course more stable when held with two hands. It has an electronic viewfinder with dioptre adjustment, but the surround of it is made from hard plastic, so I wouldn’t recommend using it while wearing glasses. On the bottom of the camera the tripod bush is metal, but the large combined battery and card hatch is right next to it, making it impossible to change memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The main on/off switch is a simple two-position slider, positioned in such a way that accidental activation is very unlikely. Start-up time is very slow, taking just under four seconds to roll out the large lens. Compare this to the 1.5 second start-up of the Canon S3 IS. It takes just under three seconds to shut down again. It does start up very quietly though, and when in use the action of the zoom lens is virtually silent.
In high-speed burst mode the FZ8 can shoot five frames in a little over two seconds, although with a decent memory card there is only a pause of about two seconds before it can shoot another burst. In unlimited continuous mode it’s not much slower. With a standard memory card it shoots the first ten frames at around two frames a second, but then slows down as the buffer fills up, managing 20 shots in about 15 seconds. Using a faster memory card significantly improves this performance, allowing continuous 2fps shooting. The FZ8 is compatible with SDHC cards as well as standard SD.
The FZ8 has an unusual selection of focusing modes. It has five-point wide area, centre-spot, a wider centre area, as well as centre and three-point high-speed options. These latter two are indeed noticeably faster, so one has to wonder why the other settings are slower. However even in the non-high-speed settings the focusing is fairly quick, and shutter lag is minimal. However I did find the accuracy of the AF system left a little to be desired, especially when focusing on nearby objects. It would frequently miss foreground subjects and focus on the background instead.
The FZ8 is designed as an enthusiast’s camera, and is well equipped with useful features. I’ve already mentioned the full range of manual exposure options, as well as spot, centre-weighted and evaluative metering. The range of available shutter speeds and apertures (8-1/2000th of a second, f/2.8-f/8.0) is not as wide as I would have hoped, although the manual control system, with a separate mini-joystick for adjusting exposure and focus settings, is quick and intuitive. As well as the manual options there is an easy “auto-everything” mode, and a range of 20 scene modes covering all the usual situations. The only unusual one is an aerial photography mode, which is really just a suppressed flash setting for shooting through glass. Contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction are also adjustable, but only to the extent of three settings for each.
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