Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Review

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8

Steve's Conclusion

Building on the success of past "FZ" series models, Panasonic adds the Lumix DMC-FZ8 to its ranks for 2007. This new "super-zoom" includes almost all of the features found on its predecessors, like its Leica 12x optical zoom lens, MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, large 2.5-inch LCD, color EVF, etc. A big difference is the FZ8 boosts resolution to 7.2-megapixels, features the new Venus Engine III image processor, includes 27MB of internal memory, and adds 5 new exposure modes. This is a stylish and compact SLR style camera that can be used as a fully automatic point-n-shoot for the beginners or as a photographic tool for the more advanced users with exposure modes like Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Full manual.

The most important feature of the FZ8 by far the high-quality 12x Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens. It covers a focal length 36-432mm in 35mm equivalence. With such a versatile zoom range, you'll be able to capture pleasing landscapes and group portraits at its 36mm wide angle extreme, while bringing distant subjects (sporting events, wildlife, etc.) up close and in your face with the 432mm telephoto capability. This remarkable lens is also fast, with a wide angle aperture of f/2.8 and f/3.1 at telephoto, which enhances your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. Overall I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at full telephoto. Chromatic aberrations (also known as purple fringing) were surprisingly scarce around objects with extreme contrast.

Usually, the longer the focal length of a lens, the more likely it is that you will see traces of camera shake (blurring of the subject due to camera movement). Non-stabilized lenses with high power telephoto capabilities require the use of a tripod or a faster shutter speed to overcome blur; the rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the lens focal length, 1/400 of a second when using a 400mm lens for example. Depending on the lighting conditions, a high ISO setting might be required to use a fast shutter speed, compromising image quality (noise) to avoid blur. This is not an issue with the FZ8. Its MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system reduces the effect of camera shake and allows you to capture images using slower than normal shutter speeds.

The FZ8's ergonomics are almost identical to its predecessor, the FZ7 from last year. The large handgrip gives it a nice secure feeling in your hands and the controls are well-placed and easy to reach with your fingertips. The menu system is logically organized, allowing for easy navigating and quick changes to camera settings. The FZ8, like many super-zoom digicams, features both a large (2.5-inch) color LCD and a high-quality color EVF (Electronic ViewFinder). EVFs are just tiny LCDs (this one is 0.44- inches) that are located in the eyepiece and magnified for easy viewing. This particular EVF showed very good color rendition and there's a diopter adjustment to match your eyesight. EVFs have many advantages over optical viewfinders, providing an accurate viewfinder image, a wealth of overlay exposure information, and the ability to play back images. However there are some drawbacks as well, like a delayed live image (not the case with the FZ8), freezing when using the burst capture mode or consuming power from the battery.

I found both displays worked well in a variety of lighting conditions. When shooting outdoors, the LCD was bright enough to be usable on sunny days, however, the coating is quite reflective, which can make it difficult to see at times. The EVF's eyepiece is deep enough to help block out the harsh sun on the brightest of days, making it a nice choice in these conditions. When in marginal lighting, the viewfinders "gain up" nicely helping you see your subject for framing.

Like past models, the FZ8 is quite the performer. It took only 2.6 seconds to power up and capture the first image; pretty amazing when you consider it has to boot up and extend that 12x lens. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release to actually capturing the image, was almost instantaneous when pre- focused and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame mode, the shot to shot delay averaged only 1 second without use of the flash and between 1.2 and 2 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life.

The FZ8 offers three burst (continuous) capture modes to choose from: High speed captured at a rate of about 4fps, while Low speed was at about 3fps; surpassing Panasonic's claim of 3fps (high speed mode) and 2fps (low speed mode). Both modes captured 5 full resolution images before filling the buffer, and it took about 1 second before the next burst could be taken. No limit mode allows you to continuously capture images at about 3fps, and is limited only by memory card capacity. Both the LCD and EVF viewfinders briefly display the last image captured in burst mode, which makes it a bit difficult to follow fast moving subjects. Our tests were done using a Lexar Professional (133x) 2GB SD card, Program exposure mode, Large/Fine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Our image quality results when using the 7-megapixel Fine mode were very pleasing. the majority of our sample images are sharp, from edge to edge, and show good overall exposure and rich colors. I was also pleased with its indoor performance. The built-in popup flash has a powerful range (by consumer digicam standards) of approx. 19 feet at wide angle and ISO auto, dropping to 9 feet at ISO 100. When using the Portrait scene modethe camera produced nice indoor close-up portraits with good flash exposure and true skin tones. While the flash has no problem in small to mid sized rooms, it can by no means illuminate large open rooms like dance floors, gymnasiums, etc. Like other "FZ" series models, the FZ8 features impressive Macro capabilities. Using this focus mode, you can achieve sharp focus on subjects as close as 1.9 inches from the lens, and it also does an excellent job of "squelching" the flash to ensure the subject is not overexposed. Thanks to the AF-assist lamp, you can focus on your subjects in low lighting to complete darkness, and I found the "red" glow of the beam helps illuminate your subject in the dark.

If the user feels a still picture just won't capture the moment, use the VGA sized (640x480) movie mode. These videos are recorded with sound, and you can choose either 30 or 10 frames per second. There is also a smaller QVGA (320x240) resolution that is great when wanting to conserve precious space on your memory card or when sending clips to family members and friends via email; just be sure they have some sort of high-speed Internet. Our movie clips looked great, there's very little compression artifacts, the AF system does an excellent job with fast moving subjects, and thanks to the MEGA O.I.S. system, our handheld telephoto movies are much steadier.

The FZ8 is powered by a proprietary 7.2v 710 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Battery life was surprisingly good, especially considering that you always have either the EVF or LCD turned on when using the camera. Panasonic also includes their small DE-993 rapid AC charger. This charger will fully replenish a depleted battery pack in 90 minutes or less. During our testing, we were able to capture about 125 images and conclude many of our other tests before the battery was exhausted. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend that you purchase at least one extra battery pack and keep it charged and ready at all times; you wouldn't want to miss a unique photo op due to a dead battery, would you?

Bottom line - Like all of the "FZ" series models from Panasonic, the DMC-FZ8 is one awesome digicam. With excellent image quality, blazing fast performance, generous 12x zoom range, MEGA O.I.S, and wealth of user-friendly/advanced exposure modes, the FZ8 is hard to beat in the "ultra-zoom" category. With 7-megapixels of resolution, you'll have no problem creating beautiful 13x19-inch or larger prints. With a street price of only US$349 (May 2007), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 offers and outstanding value for such a capable 7-megapixel model!

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