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I spent quite a lot of time with the LC50 and used it in a number of environments. I took it up to North Wales with me on a mountain biking trip, used it every day for the odd snap here and there and even took it with me to Computex in Taipei where it was responsible for all of the shots in my show reports. After extensive use I came to know all of the LC50’s strengths and weaknesses.
In its favour, the LC50 is reasonably small and light. Even though it’s a bit chubby I managed to fit it in my trouser pocket so it was ready for action at the drop of a hat. It’s also reasonably fast to turn on, but nowhere near as quick as the Canon Digital IXUS 500 I reviewed a little while ago.
On the underside of the camera is the battery compartment. There’s no rechargeable battery pack in the box, and power is supplied by two standard AA batteries. The ability to use standard alkaline batteries is not a bad thing though, since you can buy them anywhere and you don’t have to worry about remembering to charge the camera up.
On the left of the chassis is the memory card slot which accepts both SD and MMC cards – you get a 16MB SD card in the box. Also on the left are the DC in and USB/Video out port. The latter is pretty clever, and Panasonic provides both cables.
As well as still images, the LC50 can record movies. There’s no built-in microphone so you won’t get any sound with your moving masterpiece. The movie resolution is 320 x 240 and you can choose either 10fps or 30fps depending on whether you want to go for a small file size or higher quality.
Some of the controls are familiar, like the focusing method. All the cameras I own are made by Canon, so for me, the process of half-pressing the shutter release button to auto-focus is second nature. This process also makes it easy to focus on your subject, without the subject needing to be at the centre of the frame. Thankfully, Panasonic has adopted this auto-focus method for the LC50, making it, in theory at least, easy to use. Unfortunately, the LC50 has the worst auto-focusing I’ve ever seen on a camera.
Using the LC50 I found myself getting constantly frustrated when trying to focus on specific subjects and finding that the camera was just unable to get a good focus lock. Making matters even worse is the lack of a manual focus option, so you can’t even take matters into your own hands. To be fair, in very well lit conditions the auto-focus worked well enough, but trying to take product shots while wandering around Computex proved to be a nightmare. Now, having taken my old Canon G1 to CES and the Digital IXUS 500 to CeBIT, I know that this shouldn’t be an issue. Both of these cameras managed to focus on whatever I pointed them at, even with the less than perfect lighting conditions. There is a menu option to use “spot focusing”, but turning this on didn’t improve matters. Coincidentally, you can set the automatic review mode to zoom the image you’ve just taken to 4x, and to quote the manual “This mode is useful to confirm the focus”.