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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic FZ50

Panasonic Digital Cameras

   


Panasonic FZ50 Review

Review Date: Oct 30, 2006

Category: Prosumer - Advanced Amateur

Panasonic FZ50
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2006


HANDLING & FEEL

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 has managed to snag a top position in the prosumer category. This category attempts to close the gap between the DSLRs and the "bridge" prosumer digital cameras, and the Panasonic FZ50 comes closer in doing so than many of its competitors. (While reviewing the FZ50, I also had the Nikon D200 to compare it against.)

The design of the camera is straightforward and it is easy to learn all its DSLR-like functions rather quickly. I believe it looks much better in all black than in silver. The camera has a deep handgrip and it is possible to hold and shoot with it with only one hand. A wonderful feature of the LEICA lens on the FZ50 is that all the movements are internal so there is no lens extension.

It features 10.2MP resolution, an amazing 35-420mm (35mm equivalent) 12x optical image stabilized zoom, a large 2.0-in flip-out LCD and fast performance. It is most comfortably carried slung over a shoulder or around the neck. It uses the Secure Digital (SD) memory card, which has become the de facto standard for compact digital cameras (even some DSLRs use it now).

Startup time is about 2 sec., shot to shot times about 1.25 sec., and there is no practical shutter lag. Autofocus is fast and precise.

STYLE
- Colours: silver or black
- Looks: the black body looks much more professional
   
FEEL
- Good handgrip; shutter release button is nicely angled forward
- Controls are well positioned and spaced, and intuitive to use
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Carry using shoulder/neck strap
- Dimensions: 140.75 x 85.5 x 142 mm
(5.54 x 3.37 x 5.59 in.) (Not including protruding parts)
- Weight: 668 g. (1.47 lb) (Body),
734 g (1.62 lb) (with Battery and SD Memory Card)
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery CGR-S006A 7.2V 710mAh (320 shots/charge)
   
SPEED OF OPERATION
- Startup with no lens extension and LCD turning on in about 1 sec.
- Shot to shot time approx. 1.25 sec.
- No practical shutter lag
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery that can take about 320 shots with LCD on (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery Charger DE-993B that will recharge a new battery in approx. 120 min. The Battery Charger is of the type that plugs directly into a wall electrical socket.

Controls

Panasonic FZ50 top view

The top of the camera has, from front to back, the Shutter Release Button, the Optical Image Stabilizer button, the Burst Mode button, Power ON/OFF switch, and the Mode Dial with usual PASM modes, plus Custom mode, Movie, SCN (Scene Mode), AUTO, and Playback.

Image Stabilizer Mode1 and Mode 2

Press and hold the Image Stabilizer button down to bring up the 3 possible 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.

Burst Mode

Burst Mode allows you to take up to 3 or 5 images (depending on Quality selected) at 2fps in High Speed mode and 1fps in Low Speed, an and unlimited number of images (depending on the space available on your memory card) at approx. 1fps in Unlimited mode.

The Mode Dial rotates easily using your thumb and index finger. It clicks positively in place and I've not had any problem where the setting on the Mode Dial is inadvertently changed. It is also possible to rotate the Mode Dial with your thumb only but the dial is positioned just a little too far from the back edge to do so comfortably.

Not too apparent on the picture above are also two additional controls: two (2) jog dials just like on many DSLRs. Panasonic (unoriginally) calls them the Front Dial and the Rear Dial and you can guess from their names where they are located (The Front Dial at the front of the camera under the Shutter Release Button and the Rear Dial where your thumb naturally rests on the back of the camera).

Just like on a DSLR, the Front Dial is rotated using your index finger and allows you to change the aperture in Aperture-Priority and Manual modes. The Rear Dial is rotated using your thumb and allows you to change the shutter speed in Shutter-Priority and Manual modes. In Program AE mode, the Rear Dial also allows Program Shift, shifting the shutter speed/aperture combination without changing the exposure.

Now, if you set Direct Exposure Compensation ON in the Menu [Menu - DIREC.EX.COMP. - Front or Rear Dial], the functionality of the Front and Rear Dials are changed depending on which dial you choose to set exposure compensation. It can get confusing. If you like the idea of changing exposure compensation directly without having to first press the Exp. Comp. button [UP ARROW], then set DIREC.EX.COMP. to ON and select either the Front or Rear Dial. From then on, you only have to remember that dial sets exposure compensation and, therefore, the other dial sets aperture/shutter speed/program shift.

You zoom manually using the smooth Zoom Ring around the lens. The lens barrel has [35mm equivalent] focal length markings from 35mm to 420mm. The ring behind the Zoom Ring is the [fly-by-wire] Manual Focus Ring.

The pop-up flash is manually opened and will not automatically pop up when needed. Advanced photographers will welcome this implementation; beginners must remember to lift up the flash if they want to use it.

Manual Focus Mode 1 and Mode 2

When in Manual Focus, there are two Manual Focus Assist modes (SETUP - MF ASSIST): MF 1 will enlarge the central portion of the screen and MF 2 will enlarge the whole screen. The enlarged portion provides a very clear view of what you are focusing on. You can press the MF FOCUS Button on the lens barrel to do a quick focus using AF, then rotate the Manual Focus Ring around the lens barrel for precise focusing.

You can record movies with sound (until the memory card is full -- when using a super high-speed SD memory card) at either 848 x 480 or 640 x 480 or 320x240 pixels at 30fps or 10fps. You can manually zoom during movie mode recording. Sound is always recorded. You cannot use MultiMediaCard (MMC).

Video Storage Capacity
2GB
16:9
848x480
30fps
19m 32s
10fps
58m 10s
4:3 VGA
640x480
30fps
22m 47s
10fps
1h 07m 43s
4:3 QVGA
320x240
30fps
1h 07m 42s
10fps
3h 16m 45s

As you can see, even on a 2GB SD card, you can record only about 22m 47s at 4:3 VGA 30fps. We recommend using a 2GB or 4GB high-speed (at least 10MB/s) SD memory card.

Panasonic FZ50 back view

FUNCTIONS ACCESSIBLE BY CONTROL BUTTONS (anticlockwise starting from the Focus/AE Lock button)
- The FOCUS /AE LOCK button can be customized in Menu to either lock Focus only, lock AE only or lock both Focus and AE when it is pressed.
- EVF/LCD button toggles between the EVF and LCD monitor.
- DISPLAY button. Press repeatedly to cycle thru Normal, Histogram, Out-of-Frame display, Recording Guide Line (Framing Guide), No info display. Press and hold for more than 1 sec. for Power LCD, which brightens the display for better viewing in bright outdoors condition.
-

FUNCTION button provides a shortcut for setting the following 6 items: AF mode, Metering mode, WB, ISO, Picture Size, and Quality (incl. RAW).

-

DELETE button. I've always loved the way the Delete function is implemented on Panasonic digital cameras. Press once to delete image displayed; press twice to invoke Multi Delete/All Delete. No need to access the Menu.

-

CURSOR buttons. UP ARROW (Exposure Compensation, Auto Bracket, Flash Output Adjustment/Backlight Compensation), RIGHT ARROW (Flash), DOWN ARROW (REView), LEFT ARROW(Self-timer 10s, 2s).

Though Playback is on the Mode Dial, the REView button [DOWN Arrow] is more convenient to use. It allows you to review all your captured images and even allows Multi Delete/All Delete. When in REView, a touch of the Shutter Button takes you quickly back to shooting mode.

Note: To play back your movies, you must rotate the Mode Dial to Playback.

MENU SET button in the middle calls up the Menu; use CURSOR buttons to navigate the Menu screens; press MENU SET again to accepts a screen choice.

- Viewfinder Diopter Adjustment Dial on the left side of the EVF. The EVF itself juts out so it's easier to view without squashing your nose against the LCD. The Diopter Adjustment Dial works quite well.
   
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
- Exposure compensation is accessed with the UP ARROW (or can be set to be directly accessible on either the Front or Rear Dial)
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0"
- Range: -2 EV to +2 EV (13 steps in 1/3 EV increments)
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you use
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when the camera is turned off. The problem is that when you turn it back on, exposure compensation is still set but does not display until you touch the Shutter Button to take a picture. It's easy not to notice it's on, so remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed.
- Press UP ARROW repeatedly to cycle thru the other available options: Auto Bracket, Flash Output Adjustment
   
SHUTTER SPEED RANGES
- P: 1 - 1/2,000 sec.
A, S: 8 - 1/2,000 sec.
M: 60 - 1/2000 sec.
Starry Sky Mode: 15, 30, 60 sec.
   

LCD & Menus

There is an electronic viewfinder (EVF: 235,000 pixels) as well as a large 2.0 in. flip-out LCD monitor with a high 207,000 pixels resolution. The LCD has a fast enough refresh rate for a smooth display. The LCD monitor's brightness can be adjusted in MENU/SETUP. Press the DISP button for more than 1 sec. and the Power LCD function kicks in and sets the LCD a notch brighter. The LCD gains up only slightly in low-light. Flip it out and rotate it for comfortable viewing above your head or at low angles.

There is a very effective AF-assist Illuminator and I've found auto focusing to be quite fast and precise even in low-light situations. Where the light level is way too low and/or the subject not contrasty enough, the MF has worked wonderfully.

The menu structure is very easy to understand and use, and one of the best I've seen. Where necessary, the menu becomes transparent to allow you to see the effect of your choices (e.g. for WB and Color Effect). There are 5 RECord and 5 SETUP pages worth of menu settings.

REC 1 of 5

- White Balance
- WB Adjust
- ISO Sensitivity
- Aspect Ratio
- Picture Size

REC 2 of 5

- Image Quality
- Audio Recording
- Metering Mode
- AF Mode
- Continuous AF

REC 3 of 5

- AF Assist Lamp
- Focus/AE Lock
- Direcect Exp. Compensation
- Digital Zoom
- Color Effect

REC 4 of 5


- Picture Adjustment
- Flip Animation
- Conversion
- External Flash
- External Flash Burst

REC 5 of 5

- Clock Set

SETUP 1 of 5

- Clock Set
- World Time
- Custom Set Memory
- Monitor Brightness
- Guide Line

SETUP 2 of 5

- Travel Date
- Auto Review
- Play on LCD
- Power Save
- MF Assist

SETUP 3 of 5

- Beep
- AF Beep
- Shutter
- Volume
- No. Reset

SETUP 4 of 5

- Reset
- USB Mode
- Highlight
- Video Out
- TV Aspect

SETUP 5 of 5

- Scene Menu
- Language

WB

- Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash, White Set 1, White Set 2, White Set (Manual)

WB ADJUST

- Fine manual adjustment of WB

ISO

- Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600

PICT. ADJ.

- Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise Reduction

GUIDE LINE

- Record Info
- Histogram
- Pattern

SCENE MODE 1 of 5

- Portrait
- Soft Skin
- Scenery
- Sports

SCENE MODE 2 of 5

- Night Portrait
- Night Scenery
- Panning
- Food

SCENE MODE 3 of 5

- Party
- Candle Light
- Fireworks
- Starry Sky

SCENE MODE 4 of 5

- Baby 1
- Baby 2

SCENE MODE 5 of 5

- Snow
- High Sensitivity

EXPOSURE COMPENSATION

- -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV steps

PROGRAM AE

Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
- P=Program AE, Flash OFF, WB 2, 10M Image Size, Fine Image Quality, Battery Level Indicator
- Image Stabilizer MODE 1, Macro ON, High Speed Burst, Space left for 399 images
- Histogram
- Multiple Pattern metering mode
- +2/3 EV exposure compensation dialed in, Program Shift activated, F3.6 Aperture, 1/2 sec. Shutter Speed

APERTURE-PRIORITY

Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
- A=Aperture-Priority, Flash OFF, WB 2, ISO 100, 10M Image Size, Fine Image Quality, Battery Level Indicator
- Image Stabilizer MODE 1, Macro ON, High Speed Burst, Space left for 399 images
- Histogram
- Multiple Pattern metering mode
- +2/3 EV exposure compensation dialed in, F5.0 Aperture

SHUTTER-PRIORITY

Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
- S=Shutter-Priority, Flash OFF, WB 2, ISO 100, 10M Image Size, Fine Image Quality, Battery Level Indicator
- Image Stabilizer MODE 1, Macro ON, High Speed Burst, Space left for 399 images
- Histogram
- Multiple Pattern metering mode
- +2/3 EV exposure compensation dialed in, 1/1.6 sec. Shutter Speed

MANUAL

Top to Bottom, Left to Right:
- M=Manual, Flash OFF, WB 2, ISO 100, 10M Image Size, Fine Image Quality, Battery Level Indicator
- Image Stabilizer MODE 1, Macro ON, High Speed Burst, Space left for 399 images
- Histogram
- Multiple Pattern metering mode, Manual Exposure Assistance
- F5.0 Aperture, , 1/1.6 sec. Shutter Speed

MOVIE PICT MODE

- 640x480 30fps
- 640x480 10fps
- 320x240 30fps
- 320x240 10fps

MOVIE

- 22m47s left to record

Note: Some of the screens may have been "blackened" to permit a clearer view of the settings.

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. There is a very nice Battery/Card door and the battery has a latch to keep it from accidentally falling. You are able to change battery when the camera is on a tripod. Last, but not least, the tripod socket is metal and inline with the lens.

There's not much to fault in how the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 handles and feels. It has fast operations, a well-designed menu, excellent handling and the SLR-like controls make the camera intuitive to use. It is a well-crafted digital camera and enjoyable to use.

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