Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 Review

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10

Steve's Conclusion

The DMC-FZ10 can be likened to the DMC-FZ1, its predecessor, on steroids. Panasonic kept the FZ1's best features, including the impressive 12x optical zoom lens, light-weight ergonomic body, and good shooting performance, and enhanced it with a host of improvements designed to appeal to the more advanced user. Resolution was doubled from two to four-megapixels, and programmable exposure modes were added, transforming the FZ1 from a "top of the line point-n-shoot with a world-class zoom lens" into a top of the line enthusiast camera.

The most prominent feature of the FZ10 is its 12x Leica Vario Elmarit zoom lens, with a focal length coverage of 35-420mm in 35mm equivalence. That's a lot of lens by anyone's standards especially when the vast majority of other digicams only have 3x zooms. Anyone who has used a digicam with a long focal length zoom knows that these lenses really add to the overall "fun factor" of using a camera. But the longer the focal length, the more susceptible images are to blurring from camera shake. Non-stabilized cameras with high power telephoto lenses require the use a tripod or a faster shutter speed to overcome the camera-shake issue. Not so with the FZ10; its optically-stabilized lens reduces the effect of camera shake in your long telephoto shots, and makes the camera capable of taking handheld shots in lower light levels without the flash. I was able to capture sharp images hand-held at a shutter speed of 1/40 second at 420mm focal length; the FZ10's image stabilization really works. This remarkable lens also maintains its fast f/2.8 aperture throughout the entire zoom range, further enhancing your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. I noticed a moderate amount of barrel distortion in full wide angle but no detectable pin cushioning in full telephoto. I also noticed an above average amount of chromatic abberations (purple fringing on highlights) in high-contrast areas in both indoor and outdoors shots. In addition, there's a decrease in sharpness at the image edges throughout the aperture range. The zoom mechanism is driven by a switch- actuated motor, and operates smoothly and quietly throughout its range.

You have a choice of two viewfinders for composing and reviewing your shots: an LCD monitor, or, like most digicams with a big zoom, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) with diopter adjustment. The LCD and EVF are equally-functional; you can setup the camera, and compose and review your images on either one. I favored the large 2-inch LCD for camera setup and image review, and the EVF for shooting; switching between the two needs only a touch of the conveniently-located EVF/LCD button. The viewfinders provide a wealth of exposure information, including the ability to display a histogram while both composing and reviewing your images, and were easy to use except in conditions of low ambient light. The viewfinder system gives you the flexibility to show as much or as little exposure information as you want; simply depress the Display button until the viewfinder meets your needs.

The shooting performance of the FZ10 is good. Power-on to first shot captured measured five seconds, with about half of that time consumed by the physical extension of the lens. While that is not responsive enough to capture unposed impromptu moments, it's a compromise made for having a large zoom lens. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, was a respectable 2/10 second when pre-focused but an average 9/10 second including autofocus time. Auto focus time gets longer as the focal length increases or in poor lighting. The shot-to-shot time averaged under two seconds. The FZ10 offers both a high-speed and low-speed Burst Mode; I was able to capture five images in 1.2 seconds in high-speed "MEGA BURST" mode, and five shots in 2.1 seconds in low-speed mode. Unfortunately, the LCD and EVF "froze" during both modes of continuous capture; you will be unable to follow the action while shooting in Burst Mode because there is no optical viewfinder. These timings were obtained using a fast Transcend 512 MB SD memory card, with the camera set for an image size of 2304x1728 at Fine quality with flash off, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture - they are numbers you can reproduce in the real world. The viewfinder (LCD or EVF) contributed about 1/10 second of delay to the FZ10's shooting performance; it's another example of the compromise made to equip the FZ10 with a 12X zoom lens. When pre-focused in single shot or continuous mode, the FZ10 will allow you to capture action where you can anticipate it occuring, but its autofocus and shot-to-shot performance may cause you to miss spontaneous events.

Manual focus is a feature missing from most consumer digicams, and for good reasons. First, it's impossible to determine focus using a zoom-coupled optical viewfinder; it does not offer a through-the-lens view and is intended only as an aid to image composition. Secondly, the resolution of EVF or LCD viewfinders is not resolute enough for use as a focusing screen. The FZ10, however, provides for Manual focusing with its MF Assist feature. To focus manually, slide the lens focus switch to MF, then rotate the focus ring on the lens. As you rotate the ring, the FZ10 enlarges the image at the center of the viewfinder, providing enough resolution for you to accurately determine focus. The FZ10 offers even more help by allowing you to momentarily activate AF, providing a good starting point for your manual focus effort.

While the FZ10 will continue to appeal to the beginner with its easy-to-use automatic exposure mode, Panasonic has addressed the needs of the intermediate and advanced users with fexible exposure modes and advanced features. In addition to Program exposure mode, the FZ10 offers aperture-priority, shutter-priority and full manual control. Settings are changed by first depressing the Exposure button, then using the 4-way Cursor button to affect aperture and shutter speed, whose values are displayed on the EVF or LCD. There's even a Program Shift function which allows you to modify the automatic exposure settings chosen by Program mode. In addition, exposure compensation, auto bracketing and flash compensation settings can be directly accessed by touching 'up' on the 4-way cursor switch while in shooting mode. Entering the FZ10's logically-organized menu system gives you access to white balance, spot metering mode, ISO sensitivity, and continuous AF settings. For special applications the FZ10 even has a time-lapse capture mode.

I was pleased with the FZ10's results outdoors. The power of the 12x zoom lens gets you close to the action, allowing well-composed shots even across the width of a soccer field. The autofocus system and lens produced consistently sharp results, although there's some loss of sharpness at the edge of the image. Images were consistently well-exposed and richly saturated right out of the camera, but you can override the degree of sharpness, contrast and saturation using the camera's menu system.

I was also pleased with the FZ10's indoor results. Although it does not have a focus-assist lamp, the FZ10's autofocus system performs well in moderate lighting conditions. The combination of the 35mm wide angle end of the zoom range and low power flash will limit your interior shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits because the FZ10 has both a tripod socket and self-timer. The FZ10 is effective at squelching its flash at close range, and has good macro focusing; it would be a good choice for taking images of small objects for online auction listings. The camera is equipped with a hot shoe for the attachment of an optional external flash; using Panasonic's PE-28S flash the range is extended to 32.8 feet at ISO 100. My only complaint is that both the EVF and LCD viewfinders are ineffective for composing shots in conditions of low ambient light as they lack a "gain up" feature.

The FZ10 has a very high quality movie mode with sound, capturing your choice of 30 or 10 frames per second. The 30fps movies consume a lot of space but they look like they were shot with a camcorder, they're very smooth with no compression artifacts whatsoever. While many digicams force their lens to full wide-angle in movie mode, the FZ10 allows you to preset the lens anywhere from full wide to full 12X zoom before you start recording. The duration of the movie is limited only by the capacity remaining on the SD memory card.

The FZ10 is powered by a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack and it does the job well considering that you always have either the EVF or LCD turned on when using the camera. Panasonic includes a small rapid charger that also serves as an AC power adapter when used with the supplied DC power cable. The charger will fully replenish a depleted battery pack in 90 minutes or less. Battery run time is claimed to be approx. 100 minutes when using the color LCD (200 still pictures) and approx. 120 minutes with the EVF (240 still pictures). This is calculated based on shooting one shot every 30 seconds and using the flash 50% of the time, but I was able to capture 400 shots using the EVF and no flash. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend that you purchase a second battery or your picture-taking fun is over when the battery is depleted. Battery packs are charged outside of the camera so it's easy to charge one and use another

The FZ10 is a welcomed addition to the Mega-zoom consumer digicam market. With a high- quality 12X Leica zoom lens, 4-megapixel imager, and MSRP of under $600, many will find it to be a great all-around camera value, able to capture high-quality images of family events, nature and sports. Combining an automatic exposure system simple enough for a beginner with features that appeal to the expert, many FZ10's will likely find themselves as holiday gifts this year. Have a look at our Sample Photos to see for yourself what this camera is capable of.

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