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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic FZ5

Panasonic Digital Cameras


Panasonic FZ5 Review

Review Date: Sep 27, 2005

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Panasonic FZ5 (Actual Size)

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2005 Award

Handling & Feel

ScoobyVille: 1/200 sec., F4 and ISO 80
6mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 1/200 sec., F4 and ISO 80.

The first thing you notice when you unpack the box is how compact the Panasonic FZ5 is. Pick it up and you'll also be surprised at how light (326 g / 0.72 lbs) it is for a 12x optical zoom camera. The construction, though, is quite solid. It measures about 108W x 68.4H x 84.8D mm (4.25W x 2.69H x 3.34D in.), and the above picture of the FZ5 is close to actual size.

The camera rests naturally in the palm of your left hand, with the fingers of that hand wrapped securely around the lens barrel which juts out from the body at about 4 cm (1.5 in.). Your left hand will be the main support for the camera. When the camera is turned ON, the lens extends to about 6 cm (W) and 6.25 cm (T), measured from the body.

Startup time is an average 3 sec. AF, however, is very fast and there is no practical shutter lag.

If the handgrip looks and feels on the small side, that's because it is, with just enough room to wrap your fingers around it. In actual use, you'll find that there is little to no palm contact with the handgrip. It's a good thing this camera is quite light and, despite the small handgrip, the handling is otherwise excellent, and I've not had any problem with it.

The shutter release button itself has been moved forward (from its arkward position on previous models) for a more natural use. I believe it could still do with a further angular rotation toward the front. It sits inside a "well" that functions effectively as a rest for your index finger if you are prone to be "trigger-happy." I would have preferred a less deep well.

On the Panasonic FZ5, the Zoom lever is around the shutter release button and the Power switch is on the back of the camera. The Zoom lever has a short angle of motion. It only takes a quick 3 sec. to zoom all the way from wide-angle to 12x telephoto, and there are about 27 intermediate steps:

Zoom Steps

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

1x: 8 steps | 2x: 4 steps | 3x-7x: 2 steps each | 8x-12x: 1 step each

The "stepped" zoom makes for a smooth transition from wide-angle to max. telephoto.

The Mode Dial is on top of the camera. Besides Auto, P, A, S, M, SCN and Movie, there are also 2 more settings on the dial: Playback and Macro.

Macro shouldn't really be on the Mode Dial button because it means you cannot select a shooting mode (Auto, P, A, S or Manual) when in Macro mode. Fortunately, it seems that Macro mode defaults to P, which is what most of us would use anyway. Ideally, Macro would be a separate button, or on the Arrow pad as seems to have become the standard on most digital cameras. [Interestingly, you can sometimes move in as close as 5 cm without selecting macro mode. Try it, even in P mode!]

The Mode Dial rotates easily, and you can use your thumb to do that while holding the camera. It clicks positively in place. I've not had any problem where the setting on the Mode Dial is inadvertently changed.

Also on top of the camera is the Image Stabilization button. Press and hold it down to bring up the options: set it to OFF when putting the camera on a tripod; MODE1, if you want to see the effect of image stabilization at all times; MODE2, for the most effective stabilization, which takes place just before the image is taken. I use MODE2 most of the time.

The last button on top of the camera is the Burst Mode button. Press it to select from High Speed (3fps, max. # full-recs pics = 3), Low Speed (2fps, max. # of full-res pics = 4), Unlimited (2fps, max. # full-recs pics depends on remaining capacity of memory card). In Simple Mode, the Burst speed is fixed to Low.

Display + Histogram Out-of-frame Grid Lines

The 1.8 in. LCD monitor has 130,000 pixels resolution and is bright and clear, with a fast refresh rate. In Normal display, the necessary exposure info is displayed clearly on screen; press the DISPLAY button to add a live histogram; press it again to switch to an interesting, but rather small Out-of-frame display (for those who like a clean display but would still like to see the exposure info); press for grid lines; press for No display; press to return to Normal display.

Set HIGHLIGHT = ON Review Mode with Highlights

In Review (Not Playback) mode, if you have set Highlight ON [MENU - SETUP - HIGHLIGHT = ON], you will see the extremely bright areas blink (for about 10 sec.) to indicate possible areas of over-exposure in your image. Using the live histogram and highlights in tandem, you can adjust the exposure (for example, by dialing in a negative exposure compensation) to obtain correct exposure for an otherwise difficult-to-correctly-expose picture.

The viewfinder is of the electronic type (EVF) and you press a button to toggle between it and the LCD monitor. It has a diopter adjustment dial positioned on the left side (the "right" side) which works very well. Because the viewfinder is electronic, everything you see on the LCD monitor can also be seen on the EVF. It is clear and bright. I like the way the eyepiece juts out from the body and its position at the far top left side; this avoids what I term the "oily nose syndrome" so prevalent with viewfinders that are almost flush with the camera body and positioned just above the LCD.

The only complaint I have concerning the LCD/EVF is that they do not gain up at all in low light, thus making it very challenging to compose in those extreme situations. The AF, on the other hand, is pretty accurate and fast, even in low light.

This means that the camera can focus indoors even when it is quite dim. I went to a presentation (about the new Sony Qrio robot) in an auditorium at the Ontario Science Centre and wanted to get a feel for the exposure and focus needed. Well, it was very dark and the camera could not focus. But when the presentation started, there was enough light shining just on the table (the rest of the auditorium was dark) where the robot stood and moved around. The Panasonic FZ5 had absolutely no problem locking focus on the shiny metallic robot. I was able to take very nice pictures sitting on the 4th row from the front, including movies. With the lens zoomed out, the image stabilization really makes a difference.

The pop up flash needs to be popped up to be active -- the kind I like. When closed, you won't be surprised by the flash suddenly popping up and firing when you don't want it to. Press a small button and it pops up; you can then use the Right Arrow key to select 4 flash options: AUTO, AUTO/Red-eye reduction, Forced ON, Slow Sync/Red-eye reduction. A fifth mode, Forced ON/Red-eye reduction is available only in Party scene mode. To turn the flash off, simply close it.

In Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual modes, you need to first press the Exposure button on the back of the camera to dial in a different aperture, shutter speed, or both. In Manual mode, an under/overexposure scale displays for about 10 sec. to indicate what exposure the current aperture/shutter speed settings will result in. This "Manual Exposure Assistance" is an invaluable approximation in obtaining correctly exposed pictures.

Speaking of exposure compensation, you access it by pressing the Up Arrow. Use the left and right arrow to dial in a negative or positive exposure compensation. To dismiss the exposure compensation menu, just half-press the shutter release button or take the picture. If you instead press the Up Arrow again, you are now in Auto Bracketing mode and can select from +/- 1/3EV, +/- 2/3EV or +/- 1EV. Press the Up Arrow again to set the Flash compensation. Note that Auto Bracketing remains in effect until you either set it back to OFF or turn off the camera.

In Recording Mode, the Left Arrow defaults to a 2 sec. or 10 sec. self-timer, very useful when you need to reduce camera shake.

AF trigger, by default, is set to half-press of the shutter release button. You can also change that to the FOCUS button which will lock AF for all images until you reset focus lock.

The Panasonic FZ5 uses a Li-Ion battery and comes with a charger that plugs directly into the wall electrical outlet. A green light indicates charging is in progress and it turns off in about 2 hours (for a fully depleted battery) when charging is completed.

On the LCD/EVF, a battery indicator will turn red and blink when the battery is almost spent (when all 3 battery display notches are used up). The battery compartment is at the bottom of the camera, and the battery has a safety clip to hold it in place when you open the battery compartment.

The Panasonic FZ5 uses the Secure Digital (SD) memory card. It comes standard with a 16MB SD card that will record about 5 full-res images. A 1GB SD card will record about 408 full-res images (that's what the camera display indicates though the manual says 395, and I've been able to save more). I recommed using as large a capacity SD card you can afford. Do not use the MultiMedia Card (MMC) since they are slower and do not support some of the features available on the camera. The card is inserted into its slot at the bottom of the camera (same compartment where the battery goes) with its contact going in first and facing the rear of the camera.

The camera comes standard with a lens cap (and retaining string so you don't lose it), and a very useful lens hood to guard against flare and that adds even a better surface for your left hand to hold. It's a bit tricky to attach it on, so here's the scoop:

First attach the adapter. Turn the camera upside down and align the "UNLOCK" marking on the adapter with the notch on the lens barrel. Push the adapter gently in as far as it will go. Now comes the tricky part: firmly grip the notched ring on the adapter and twist it clockwise. Note that the whole adapter does not rotate -- only the ring part of the adapter rotates. It snaps in place and the "LOCK" indicator now points at the two white lines (they are not straight lines but together form somewhat of a trapezoid) on the bottom front of the adapter.

Now, you can align the single notch on the lens hood to the two white lines (these ones are the straight lines) on the side of the adapter. Give the lens hood a clockwise twist until it locks in place. When you don't want to use the lens hood, simply turn it counter-clockwise and remove it. Turn it around and align the notch on the lens hood with the two straight white lines on the side of the adapter again (though you'll have to guess this time because the lens hood will cover the two lines as you slip it on). Turn counter-clockwise to snap it into place. Attach the lens cap.

The lens cap will attach to the adapter with the lens hood on or off (or stored backward over the adapter), but it feels very loose and easily comes off. That's why using the retaining string is a good idea.

A cool safety feature is that if you leave the lens cap on the lens barrel, the camera lens extends, bumps into the lens cap, and won't extend the lens past it. This prevents damage to the sensitive lens mechanism. A warning message will display on the LCD monitor to remove the lens cap and press the Right Arrow. (There is no OK button and the Right Arrow key serves that function quite well.) Note that if you attach the adapter, the lens extends to just before it reaches the front of the adapter, which means it won't hit the lens cap and won't give you the above error message. You also need the adapter to attach any filters.

If you are going to use flash, you need to remove the lens hood or the flash light will cast the shadow of the lens hood on the bottom part of your pictures. Likewise, if you are going to need the AF-assist light, remove the lens hood. The AF-assist light is easily blocked by the thumb of your left hand, so be aware of this when you need to use it.

The menu structure is very easy to understand and use. For some of the options, the menu is transparent, and for others, it isn't, and can make reading those menu options a bit difficult. There are 3 RECord and 3 SETUP pages worth of menu settings.

Shooting Menu 1 of 3 Shooting Menu 2 of 3 Shooting Menu 3 of 3

Setup Menu 1 of 3 Setup Menu 2 of 3 Setup Menu 3 of 3

The controls are well laid out at the back, and I am quite surprised at how intuitive this small camera is with most of the required controls accessible thru a direct button.

A couple of other nice features: the hinged plastic Terminal door opens up wide to allow unimpeded access (don't you hate fighting with a rubber flap?) to the AV OUT/DIGITAL (USB) socket and DC IN socket. Last, but not least, the tripod socket is metal, though not inline with the lens.

I find the Panasonic FZ5 a very intuitive, easy-to-use and fun camera that gives very good pictures consistently. It is very compact and light for a 12x optical zoom camera, with a well-built feel and comfortable handling. Throw in a very effective image stabilization and a High Speed (and accurate) AF function, and you have a long zoom digital camera that is simply a pleasure to use.

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