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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic FZ18 Review

Panasonic Digital Cameras

   

Panasonic FZ18 Review

Review Date: Sep 7, 2007

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18

IMAGE QUALITY

The Panasonic FZ18 is a digital camera targeted to beginner and serious amateur photographers. It has 8.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/2.5 in. CCD image sensor, and a 4.6-82.8mm (28-504mm, 35 mm equivalent) 18x wide-angle optical zoom lens, with a maximum aperture of F2.8(W)-F4.2(T), and minimum aperture of F8.0.

We find the overall image quality of the Panasonic FZ18 to be very good to excellent with good detail and low noise at ISO 100.

18x Optical Zoom
Wide-angle 28mm Telephoto 504mm
Wide-angle 4.6mm
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 82.8mm
(504mm, 35mm equivalent)

The Panasonic FZ18 has a 18x optical zoom lens. In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 28mm and 504mm. It's one of the longest reach in consumer digital cameras, plus it comes with a very effective image stabilization, which helps to reduce camera shake when hand holding at long focal lengths. Fans of Panasonic digital cameras will be relieved to know that autofocus at the longer focal lengths is both fast and precise (with usual slight AF lag at the max focal length).

Macro
Macro
4.6mm, Manual, Multi-Pattern, 1/2 sec., F2.8, ISO 100, Custom WB
Macro

Macro can be as close as 1 cm (0.03 ft) at wide-angle or 1 m (3.27 ft) at 12x-18x telephoto ("Tele-macro"). Tele-macro is convenient when you cannot move close to your subject but still want to cover a small area. Whenever your zoom falls between 12x-18x, the screen will display "Tele macro" and might confuse you that you are now in macro mode. Well, yes and no: "Tele macro" allows you to take "normal" distance pictures and is just the camera's way of letting you know that your minimum focus distance is now 1m (3.27ft).

AF is fast (especially when using the 1-area High Speed AF) and works very well even in low-light. In extreme low-light, the AF Assist Lamp kicks in automatically (if you've set it ON in the menu) to help achieve focus. Auto focus is very accurate and locks without hunting, even at the extreme long end of the zoom. (Of course, as is true for any camera, if your subject's contrast is very bad and the lighting is very poor, it won't focus.) Once focus locks, it stays locked at that distance even when you remove your finger from the shutter button and recompose; when you press the shutter button fully to take a picture, focus seems to conveniently still stay locked at that particular distance making pre-focusing easy to use (unlike some digital cameras that insists in refocusing all over again). You can also use the AF/AE Lock button to lock focus. When using Manual Focus, the AF Macro/FOCUS button can be used as a One Shot AF function to prefocus.

Depending on how you set the functionality of the AF/AE Lock button, you can either lock focus and exposure together or independently of each other.

AF Area mode allows you to position the AF frame to any of 11 positions on the screen and the Joystick makes it very convenient to do so. I find this feature invaluable, especially in macro photography when your subject is off-center and you don't want to move the camera (to use pre-focus technique) which is already fixed on a tripod.

There are three metering modes: Multiple (Multi-Pattern), Center-weighted, and Spot. Another practical feature of the FZ18 is that when you're using Spot Metering, the metering occurs at the AF Area you have chosen.

White Balance Indoors
AWB Custom WB
AWB Custom WB

As the above two pictures show, the Auto White Balance (AWB) is not quite accurate indoors under artificial lighting [using two household tunsten bulbs]. The Panasonic FZ18 allows WB to also be set manually via the Menu. AWB works very well in natural light.

Besides Auto white balance, you can select Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, Halogen, White Set 1, White Set 2, Manual. You can save 2 custom WB settings (White Set 1, White Set 2).

ISO Comparisons
ISO 100
ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1250
ISO 800 ISO 1250
ISO 1600  
ISO 1600

You can set the ISO on the Panasonic FZ18 from 100 to 1600. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate that noise at ISO 100 and 200 is under control. Noise starts to be visible at ISO 400 but is still very usable. At ISO 800 to 1600, the presence of noise is clearly visible at full image size.

[Note: the white specks are dust on the background and subjects, not dead pixels.]

RAW
RAW

You can save images as RAW or RAW+JPEG (Standard). The picture above was taken as a RAW+JPEG. I processed the RAW image thru SILKYPIX Developer Studio 2.1 SE and slightly adjusted the exposure to bring out some details in the highlights (though quite a bit is still blown). Click the image for the processed JPEG or download the RAW file for your own processing [warning: 13MB].

Chromatic Aberrations
CA

CA is not really a problem in everyday shots and well controlled even in very high contrast shots. In the above photo, the area delimited by the red square, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows about the most purple fringing we've encountered in our image samples.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Exposure
4.6mm, Manual, Multi-Pattern, 40 sec., F8.0, ISO 100
Manual WB, Macro, Self-timer 2 sec., Tripod Used

The Panasonic FZ18 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 60 sec. in Manual Mode (1 sec. in P, 8 sec. in A and S). This allows us to take some very nice Night Shots. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. The Panasonic FZ18 has special noise reduction (NR) algorithms that automatically kicks in at shutter speeds of 1 sec. and slower and you'll notice aprox. twice the processing time before the next picture can be taken. I like that there is a countdown of the long shutter speed as well as of the "signal processing" (noise reduction) time displayed on screen.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we take a low-light indoors shot using a long shutter speed of 40 sec. at f/8.0. The NR works quite well. The AF works very well in low-light, and the AF-assist Lamp makes for precise and fast focus lock [again, depends on how contrasty your subject is]. Remember that if your subject is too close, the AF-assist light will not light it because the lens barrel is in the way.

The Panasonic FZ18 has a flash that is effective up to 6m (19.7 ft.) at max. wide-angle when sensitivity is set to AUTO. Movie is now 640 x 480 pixels [4:3] or 848 x 480 [16:9], both at 30fps.

The last feature we will mention is the histogram. A histogram can be displayed during Shooting Mode and Playback mode. There is no Highlight Display. The histogram is invaluable to give an indication of under- and over-exposure (don't rely on the LCD/EVF since the brightness is adjustable, auto brightens, and thus will be misleading).

Overall, very good to excellent image quality for a 8.1MP ultra zoom digital camera: sharp pictures, good image detail, beautiful colours, well-exposed, though with a tendency to blow the highlights.

If you meter on the sky, the blue colour is kept. But if you meter on the foreground -- or if you dial in a positive exposure compensation to correctly expose the foreground -- the sky is more often than not blown.

Also as you use higher ISOs and zoom to the max, detail diminishes.

If you are aware of these limitations (and which ultra zoom does not have those?), then the FZ18 is a great ultra zoom that you will not regret. Take a look at our image samples. We've included the best (as well as some less than stellar pictures) so you can have a pretty good idea of the kind of pictures you can expect to obtain with the FZ18 and decide for yourself if it is the ultra zoom for you.

[Editor's note: The pictures taken in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) are hand held and no flash photography is permitted, so I thought it would be a perfect test to see: 1) how the image stabilization holds up at very slow shutter speeds and 2) how usable the high ISOs are. The indoor pictures suffer from some camera shake and are not as tack sharp as they could have been if I had used a tripod, but then we would not be testing the IS, would we? I braced myself for most of the shots, either against a wall, a railing or took a number of shots and then selected the best among them. For my part, I find that the FZ18 did a pretty decent job but you may have a different opinion depending on how you intend to put these pictures to use. I have therefore decided to include the image samples for your own evaluation and interpretation.]

The pictures in the Panasonic FZ18 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the camera is capable of. I have provided samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3264 x 2448 pixels original size (click on the image for the original version).

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod (due to the effective image stabilization, the use of a tripod was restricted to the long shutter speeds). Any image that is adjusted for levels in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name (though the original sized image is, of course, not adjusted).

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!

ISO 80
ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 400 ISO 200 ISO 400

 

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