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Panasonic FZ18 Review
Date: Sep 7, 2007
Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur
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
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.
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
(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).
|4.6mm, Manual, Multi-Pattern,
1/2 sec., F2.8, ISO 100, Custom WB
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.
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).
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.]
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].
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.
|4.6mm, Manual, Multi-Pattern,
40 sec., F8.0, ISO 100
Manual WB, Macro, Self-timer 2 sec., Tripod
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