The FH25 is a compact, medium-zoom camera, which is just the type of digital camera that Panasonic excels at making. It follows in the footsteps of a great little shooter: Its predecessor, the FH20, was Digital Camera HQ’s Best Consumer Camera of 2010, so we had high expectations for the refreshed version.
Panasonic upgraded the 8x lens to a Leica-branded version (rather than the 8x Lumix lens on the FH20) and bumped the pixel count to 16 megapixels. The FH25 also got an updated image processor complete with an image tagging system that automatically uploads photos and videos to Facebook and YouTube, respectively. It retails for $199, can be easily found for $149, and is a great deal for the money. Read on to find out why.
Body, Design & User Experience
Not much has changed from the FH20. That’s a good thing, because the FH20 was a solid, well-built camera. Panasonic claims that it redesigned the grip on the FH25, but it’s only a thin chrome strip on the edge of the camera, and it doesn’t provide much grip at all. Let’s face it: Compact digital cameras aren’t designed to be comfortable to hold. The FH25, like other compacts, is designed with portability in mind.
The FH25 is about an inch thick. It keeps a fairly slim profile, but its LCD screen protrudes slightly from the back and the zoom lens sticks out on front. It is still very pocketable, but it doesn’t fit into the ultra-compact category. It comes in five colors: black, silver, blue, red, and violet.
The top of the camera has a tiny power switch, a nicely sized shutter release button, and a zoom ring that surrounds it. There is also a small button labeled “E. Zoom” for “easy zoom.” It jumps right to the maximum 8x optical zoom rather than extending through the whole range. Truthfully, we didn’t use this feature much.
Speaking of the lens, it gets an upgraded reputation with the Leica name, but it isn’t perfect (we can't even be sure it's really made by Leica). It shows the typical problems of a budget zoom lens: soft corners, chromatic aberration, and glare spots that show easily when the sun shines. Still, it’s excellent that a $149 camera comes with a nice 28mm wide, 8x optical zoom -- let alone one with optical image stabilization. The image stabilization works wonderfully, especially when zoomed all the way in.
Also of note on the front of the camera is the flash, which is small and not very effective beyond about 8 feet. Even within that range, the light appears too sharp. We tried to avoid using the flash altogether.
On the back of the camera are several buttons for mode selection, menus, file deletion, and display. There are a few buttons for navigating through menus, and you will need them: Most of the settings require digging through menus. For instance, to change the ISO setting, you must first push the menu button. Recording and set-up menu choices appear on-screen. Select the recording menu, scroll down to the ISO, scroll over to the ISO options, and finally click on the one you want. It’s the same story to cycle through the (limited) shooting modes. But we mostly just used Intelligent Auto mode since it works well.
Also on the back, there's a switch that toggles between recording or playback mode; it isn't as elegant as the common playback button system that also allows users to return to shooting mode when they just push the shutter release button. Regardless, the Panasonic FH25 has a few in-camera editing options such as cropping and resizing in its playback mode. It also has an image tagging feature that works together with the included software to automatically post your photos on Facebook and videos to YouTube when the camera is connected to your computer (you'll have to install the software yourself).
The bottom of the camera has the battery and memory card compartment under a thin plastic door. It is perhaps the flimsiest part of the camera, so be gentle with it. The included lithium-ion battery had great battery life. The spec sheet claims 250 shots per charge, and the FH25 performed at least that well. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC media, and also has a generous 70MB of internal memory (good for at least a dozen shots) in case you forget your card at home or run out of space.
Performance & Image Quality
The Panasonic FH25 packs 16 megapixels onto its tiny image sensor, which unnecessary. While I roll my eyes at the marketing team that pushed for 16 megapixels, the images themselves still look great, especially for the price. The images are detailed, true-to-color, and nicely focused and exposed.
The contrast-detection autofocus system is quick in good lighting, but slower in dimmer light -- a problem common to most digital cameras. There is hardly any shutter lag at times, but almost a half-second of autofocusing at others. I have to give the autofocus system and the 8x lens some kudos here: I snapped some pretty sharp shots from close range to far, far away.
There is a burst mode available in the recording menu that snaps 1.4 frames per second. It isn’t lightning fast, but it doesn’t stop for a breather like many compacts. It can snap away at an even faster 4.4 fps when set to the Hi-speed Burst mode, but it unfortunately limits the resolution to 3 megapixels for the 4.4 fps speed.
Panasonic cameras generally get decent marks in low light, which is a good thing, since the flash is nearly useless. The optical image stabilization couples with the higher end of the ISO range and the built-in noise reduction system (thank you, Venus VI image processor) to produce decent shots in low light. There is still noise, but it isn’t as prevalent as in competing models, and viewed at regular distances (that is, not actively looking for problems), shots look quite good. The FH25 takes great pictures for a $149 camera.
The Panasonic FH25 has a movie mode that records 720p HD video (1280 x 720 pixels) at 24 frames per second, and standard-def video (640 x 480 pixels) at 30 fps. It isn’t full 1080p HD like on pricier cameras and the zoom doesn’t operate while recording, but this is what the market offers at this price point. To its credit, the FH25’s videos have great audio, true colors, and minimal artifacts.
The Panasonic FH25 follows in its older sibling’s footsteps and even outperforms it in a few ways. It is one of the best point-and-shoot deals on the market, and should please casual shooters who want great-looking pictures, more zoom than the average camera, and in a convenient size that will travel anywhere.
The FH25 has a twin sister in the FH27, which shares every spec with the exception of the display: the FH27 adds a 3-inch touchscreen. We've had mixed results with cheap Panasonic touchscreen cams in the past, so we'll recommend the FH25's physical controls pretty much every time.
For the Nikon fans, the S6100 offers 16 megapixels, a 7x lens, and a 3-inch touchscreen LCD for about the same price as the FH25. It manages a similar 1.2 fps “burst”, but with a two-shot maximum, so that's pretty useless. The battery doesn’t last as long as the FH25 -- it's rated for 210 shots per charge, probably because of the touchscreen. Still, not bad for the price.
For a few extra bucks, the Sony H70 puts a stabilized 10x lens on a compact camera body and pairs it with a 16 megapixel sensor. It has a larger 3-inch LCD screen, sweep panoramas that are easy to take and stitch themselves together, and an in-camera guide to demystify all those settings. Unfortunately, it also lacks in battery life: 200 shots and it’s out of the game.