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Panasonic FZ5 Review
Date: Sep 27, 2005
to Serious Amateur
Handling & Feel
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
Startup time is an average 3 sec. AF, however,
is very fast and there is no practical
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.