Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 Review

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50



Steve's Conclusion


Panasonic has done it again: the Lumix DMC-FZ50 is a spectacular camera built upon popular, advanced features found on the FZ30 with a healthy dose of new photographic technology. The Leica 12x optical zoom lens with Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) would be desirable on any advanced digital camera. And the new FZ50 has even more impressive features including the 10-megapixel imager, Intelligent ISO Control and the improved Venus III imaging engine.

Ergonomically, the FZ50 is equally impressive. It's quite similar to the FZ30 and the body is very comfortable to handle. It's lighter than most dSRLs yet has a similar feel. Controls are all logically positioned and you'll probably be able to figure it all out without the excellent manual that is provided. Overall the menu system is logically organized and a breeze to navigate.

A crisp, bright, 2 inch "free-angle" LCD and an eye level EVF (Electronic View Finder) with diopter adjustment, give you two options to compose shots and navigate menus. The EVF was easy to adjust, displaying a clear image in just about every lighting condition. And the LCD's rotation capability is more versatile than conventional fixed position LCDs. The LCD back light is adjustable - holding the EVF/LCD button down causes the LCD to become 1.4 times brighter for viewing in bright ambient light situations. The LCD is still visible when the camera is connected to a TV screen, a bonus not available with many other cameras.

Panasonic offers the novice user point-and-shoot simplicity when using its various Scene and Auto modes. However the FZ50 is attractive to intermediate/advanced users with exposure modes such as Aperture priority, Shutter Speed priority and Manual. The Command dials are logically located on the front and rear of the camera, just like you'd find on a more expensive, interchangeable lens, dSLR. You can create your own custom settings and access them quickly using the Mode dial.

For a camera in this price range shooting performance is impressive. Power up to first image captured measured just 1.2 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the FZ30. Shutter lag was comparable with the FZ30 and measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame mode, the shot to shot delay averaged only 1.3 seconds without using the flash, and 1.7 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance, again this was the same as the FZ30. RAW mode measured about 3.4 seconds between frames, also a tenth of a second faster than the FZ30.

The FZ50 offers 3 burst capture modes; High Speed, Low Speed and Unlimited. Using High speed mode, I was able to capture 2 frames per second and in Low speed mode, I captured 1 frame per second with a maximum of 5 frames in Standard Quality or 3 frames in High Quality. The Unlimited mode capture images at the same rate as Low speed mode, and is limited only by your memory card's capacity. Our tests were done using a Kingston 1GB SD card, Program AE exposure mode, flash off, and all other settings at default. Your results may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, type of media used, etc.

Playing the staring role on the FZ50 is an amazing Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 12x optical zoom lens that is equivalent to a 35mm to 420mm zoom lens on a 35mm film camera. The lens employs a special optical glass to compensate for chromatic aberration, suppressing the color bleeding that often occurs in telephoto shots. Combined with Panasonic's Mega O.I.S technology that reduces the effect of camera shake in your long telephoto shots, you can expect excellent image quality. The lens is fast, maintaining a maximum aperture range of f/2.8 (wide) to f/3.7 (telephoto). The lens is controlled manually with the zoom ring right on the lens barrel. It operates smoothly and allows for very precise zooming.

As you can see in our sample photos image quality was very good using the 10-megapixel, Fine mode, with the ISO set to 100. You can also choose to shoot in uncompressed RAW format. Outdoors the FZ50 captured high-quality images with very little noise present in high/low contrast areas. Both our scenic and portrait shots were sharp with good overall exposure and color balance. Its white balance system was very accurate when using the Auto setting in a variety of different lighting conditions.

The built-in, pop-up flash range varied from less than 1 foot to 22 feet depending on ISO and zoom settings. The more you zoom the more its effective range drops off. We had adequate light on subjects in a medium-sized living room, however I would not expect to illuminate a large area such as a church, with the built-in flash. If you require more flash power the FZ50 includes a flash hot shoe, allowing you to use any non-dedicated automatic type flash unit. Our portraits samples were realistic with good flash exposure and facial detail.

With the FZ30, we did not feel noise levels were dramatically higher than similar models since level increase as the sensitivity is raised. We have provided ISO-range sample images of one of our still life shots so you can see for yourself the effect of image noise versus ISO speed. With the FZ50's new Venus Engine III, high sensitivity recording has improved further over the FZ30. The new noise reduction system uses several, separate processes to minimize excessive image noise.

The FZ50's auto focus system did very well in various lighting conditions, including dim ambient light. A nice feature of the FZ series cameras is the Manual focusing ring. To focus manually, you slide the lens focus switch on the barrel to MF, then rotate the focus ring on the lens. You can momentarily activate the autofocus system, providing a good starting point for manual focus. The focus ring allows rapid and accurate control that is not possible using an electronic control. Advanced users will appreciate the precision and feel of manual focus as much as I did.

You can record QuickTime movies at standard VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240) resolutions with your choice of 30 or 10 frames per second. Sound is also recorded, and the length of a clip is limited only by available memory. A bonus not possible with most consumer cameras - since the FZ50 has a manual zoom ring you can use the zoom during video recording. In addition to standard VGA, the FZ50 also records full-size movies in 16:9 WVGA (Wide VGA) at 30 fps. If you like, You can view a short QuickTime movie on our samples page.

The FZ50 is powered by a propriety lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Panasonic also includes a rapid AC charger that will recharge a depleted battery pack in 120 minutes or less, Panasonic claims a battery life of approx. 360 still pictures when using the color LCD which is an improvement over the FZ30's 240 shots per charge. With any camera that uses a proprietary battery pack, we recommend that you purchase at least one extra and keep it charged at all times for convenience sake.

The Bottom line - Panasonic began with the innovative FZ30 and fine-tuned it to become the outstanding FZ50. From the powerful Leica zoom lens to the angle-free LCD, the FZ50 is an awesome value packed with some advanced features usually found only on expensive dSLRs. And you'll never have to change a lens. Lightweight at only 1.62 lb (734 g) with battery and memory card, you can take this camera anywhere. With a MSRP of around $599US (I bet you'll find it cheaper with one of our recommended venders) the FZ50 is an excellent value.



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