Panasonic Lumix LZ1

Price: $549 RRP

Just look at how far cameras have come. Since the first models that did little more than expose light onto film, we’ve become used to auto focus, zoom and a host of other now-standard features. There’s hardly a single aspect of photography that hasn’t been taken out of our hands — even taking your film to the shops to be processed is obsolete.

The only flaw that’s still part of the equation is human error. After a century of development in photography, why is it still so hard to get a decent picture? Could be the photogenic qualities of your family or subjects, but (as you’ll tell them) it’s probably the camera shaking. Now, the answer to the age-old question might finally be here, with Panasonic’s OIS.

Optical Image Stabiliser is a small system of extra lenses, detectors and motors that compensates for hand movement while you’re taking your picture. It was Panasonic’s brainchild from camcorders of the mid 1980s and it’s just as handy in the Lumix digital still camera range.

Operating in two modes (continuous, or as you press the shutter release), OIS consists of a built-in gyrosensor that measures how much the camera is moving around. It sends a signal to a tiny microprocessor that drives a motor attached to the OIS lens, guiding the light coming in to the CCD accordingly.

It’s said to work even on distant subjects but it’s when you’re photographing up close that it really makes a difference. It’s a separate thing to the macro mode (extreme close-ups where you want to get a butterfly or the fine detail on a flower petal) but it works surprisingly well. It can’t work miracles though; if you have a particularly shaky camera hand, invest in a good tripod.

Panasonic have stuffed plenty of other features in, so it’s not just the OIS that makes it worth the money. If you need to capture something really fast moving, the aptly named Mega Burst lets you click the shutter release once to take three or four shots in rapid succession. For the ultimate bullet-time special effect, you can use Unlimited Consecutive Shooting, which fires repeatedly until the card or camera is full.

As a mass market product, the Lumix adequately meets your ease-of-use requirements. Almost everything is accessed via the menu button or the dial on top of the device. In fact, it’s pretty much ‘Taking Pictures for Dummies’. If you’re disinclined to learn all about F stops, aperture and the like, the menus and instructions spell it all out in plain English.

If you’re a nascent member of the digital generation but you’re not quite ready to joint Helmut Newton’s class just yet, you could choose a lot worse than the Lumix as your starting point.

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