It's often said that no one makes bad cars these days... well the same could be said of cameras. But how many of today's digital compacts are really great? How many of them manage to tick all the boxes at a price that's affordable?

With the bargain Panasonic Lumix LZ8, we think we might have found one that gets close.

A classy compact

So, the styling is nothing great, although the black version does look quite smart. No... what we have here is an ordinary looking 8-megapixel compact with a modest 2.5-inch screen and a fairly impressive 5x optical zoom that goes from 32-160mm.

It's a handy zoom range and while not quite as wide as a 28mm, it's a better starting point than some compacts that begin at 37mm.

So far there's little else to mark this camera out from any other compact until you look at the mode dial.

There's the usual plethora of strange and slightly esoteric scene modes but there's also a choice between Panasonic's iA (intelligent auto mode), P mode as well as Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and full manual control.

Panasonic quality

But there's more goodness here to report. The Vario-Elmar Leica lens is beautifully sharp, and in common with all the other Panasonic models, it has Mega OIS optical stabilisation. It's works well and it's great to have on board.

Another nice little touch includes an E Zoom button that instantly sends the zoom to its maximum length. It's handy and a second press puts you in digital zoom territory - if you really want to go there.

At the rear there's a neat little cluster of buttons for macro, timer, flash and EV compensation. In the centre there's a menu button while beneath the cluster there's a display button for changing what you see on the screen and a really handy Quick Menu button for changing things like white balance and ISO settings very quickly. It's easy and friendly to use.

Finally there's an exposure button that enables you to change aperture, shutter speed or manual settings without having to fumble around with multiple button presses.

Bursting with features

Add into all the mix a burst mode of 2.5fps, a face-recognition function and an intelligent auto ISO mode and you have a very small camera that's packed to the gunwales with features.

Perhaps best of all, the LZ8 runs on two AA batteries so you need never be caught short when your battery runs down. You can buy a couple of replacement NiMh cells for around £6 and the camera is intelligent enough to know what type of battery you've put in it.

For storing you photos there's a 20MB internal memory that provides a little 'wiggle room', should you run out of space on your SD or SDHC card.

And that's about it. A small camera, bursting with features and one that ticks all the right boxes as a great little travel or leisure camera. So is there anything else to recommend it?

Cheap camera

Yes... the image quality is really rather good. Colours are vibrant and punchy. Even the built-in flash produces some well-exposed images.

Time after time we found the LZ8 producing very acceptable images without the need to fiddle or mess about with complicated controls.

The ergonomics are great, the camera is light and it just presents itself as a wonderful little compact to keep with you when you're not using your SLR. And the amazing feature of this little engineering miracle is the price.

At £150 it won't make your eyes water if it gets lost or stolen. You would be crying tears of sorrow for the fact that you'd lost it, but a replacement is probably about the same cost as the excess on your household insurance policy.

Via PhotoRadar