Operation and controls

Like its predecessor, the FZ8 packs a wealth of features and functions into its compact body, offering everything from point-and-shoot scene modes to advanced manual photographic controls. The enhanced quick menu (using the joystick) means that everything you need for everyday shooting gets its own external control. The challenge for designers of such sophisticated cameras is to minimize the inevitable complexity of operation resulting from offering so many options and controls. The good news is that the guys at Panasonic have learnt many lessons over the last few years, and - though you need a few days to truly master it - the FZ8 is surprisingly easy to use - and if you are a total novice there's even a friendly 'Simple' mode with fewer controls and simplified displays.

Rear of camera

Externally the camera has changed very little since the FZ7. All the camera's controls are placed to the right of, the new, larger 2.5-inch LCD screen.To the left of the newly-centered electronic viewfinder is the pop-up flash button, to the right the viewfinder/LCD toggle and the main power switch. Below this, to the right of the screen are the new joystick and Display button (changes the amount and presentation of on-screen information. Next down is the four-way controller, now with a central 'menu / set' button.

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In record mode three of the four arrow keys have a single function; Quick Review (look at the last image saved), flash mode and self-timer. The top (up) arrow cycles through AE-Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation, AE Bracketing and (if you are not using Auto White Balance) Panasonic's nifty White Balance Adjustment (a 20-step slider from more red to more blue). At the bottom is a final button used to delete images in playback mode (or in Quick Review) and to change drive mode when shooting.

Top of camera

The top of the camera shows one of the few obvious design changes (a nice metal mode dial) - otherwise the FZ8 is the spitting image of its predecessor.

Display and menus

Only a few changes here - which is good news as the FZ series of cameras have one of the most sensible, logical and user-friendly interfaces on the market today.

As with all Lumix cameras you have several options for how much - or little - information is displayed on the live preview screen, from none at all to this detailed display complete with live histogram. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.
If you want all the information, but like to see your preview without all the clutter, choose the 'out of frame' mode - designed to mimic a professional SLR viewfinder. New for the FZ8 is this (optional) 'virtual dial' - activated when you turn the mode dial. Useful for changing modes without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
Pressing the joystick brings up the quick menu (introduced with the FZ7). This has been expanded and now includes focus mode, metering, white balance, ISO, file size and file type. Note that the menu is normally shown as an overlay on the preview screen - we're using a black background here for clarity. Pressing the 'up' arrow repeatedly cycles through Exposure compensation, Flash level, White Balance adjustment and AE Bracketing. The left/right arrows change the actual settings. Manual focus - with an option to magnify the central area - is also controlled by the joystick.
The FZ8 has a new two-axis white balance adjustment feature, which is neat. The four-page record menu covers options such as white Balance, sensitivity, picture size/quality, metering and focus modes and image adjustments. It's roughly the same as the FZ7.
There's a few new scenes in the SCN mode, and it's been redesigned using icons so you can see more on a single page. Each scene mode has a brief description (got by pressing the Display button)