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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



Friday, September 29, 2006 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Panasonic FZ50 (Silver body)
  • 32MB SD memory card
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Lens cap and Lens Hood
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery and Battery Charger
  • Interface Cables: A/V, USB
  • English and French Instruction Manuals: Operating Instructions
  • Software CDs: Digital Camera 2.4 (ArcSoft PhotoImpression 5, ArcSoft Panorama Maker 3, Silkypix Developer Studio 2.0SE, Lumix Simple Viewer 1.1E, Panasonic PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer- 1.1E, USB Driver 1.0)

I just finished reviewing a top-end DSLR before I did the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 and was struck at the large difference between how a DSLR handled and how a non-DSLR -- even a prosumer one -- did. But, even though the difference is substantial, the FZ50 comes the closest to a SLR-like experience. In fact, the Panasonic FZ50 provides many SLR-like features that are implemented very well and makes it truly enjoyable to use. This, from a company that only recently ventured into manufacturing digital cameras, is a major accomplishment.

The Panasonic FZ50 has the two dials so prevalent on DSLRs. It is interesting to note that the Rear Dial does not naturally fall under your thumb. In fact, you need to arch your thumb a bit back to reach the Rear Dial. You would think this is bad, and so did I at first. But consider that if it did fall right under your thumb then everytime you picked up the camera and held it with your right hand, your thumb would more often than not inadvertently rotate that Rear Dial, with possible disastrous exposure results. (I quickly found that out with the Nikon D200 and you can read all about it in the upcoming review.)

Like a couple of other camera manufacturers, Panasonic insists in placing Playback on the Mode Dial. This is usually a great bother because you need to rotate the dial from your preferred shooting mode eveytime you need to review your images. If you the see a picture and want to take it, you'd have to first rotate the dial back to P, A, S or M before you can shoot; by that time, the moment could have passed and an apportunity missed.

But, the Panasonic FZ50 circumvents this irritation with the REView button (CURSOR DOWN). REV not only allows you to see the last image you've taken, but you can also scroll through all the images on your memory card, then delete one, many or all. Touch the Shutter Button, and you're instantly back in your shooting mode. Te review movies, you unfortunately cannot use REV and have to go into Playback.

With Picture Adjustment, you can customize the Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation and Noise Reduction level desired.

I find the MF FOCUS option to be very convenient when you want to PREFOCUS on a position (e.g when panning). Set camera to MF, press the MF FOCUS Button to quickly focus using AF. Now the camera is prefocused and the focus won't change when you finally press the Shutter Release Button.

The flip-out LCD is similar to those found on the Canon's consumer digital cameras, but because it does so at the bottom of the camera (instead of at the side), it seems less functional. I'm not sure how many of you take pictures above your head or surreptitiously at right angle, but I would guess not too many and not too often. You can do all that with the FZ50's LCD. However, I find that macro and other low-angle shots cry out for a LCD that can be rotated at an angle for comfortable viewing, and the FZ50's flip-out LCD fulfills that need perfectly.

Usually with high resolution EVFs (the FZ50 EVF has 235K pixels), I have sometimes noticed that my eyesight suffers a bit after using it for a long time. I've not noticed any problem with the FZ50's EVF.

One of the most endearing feature of the FZ50 is, of course, the manual zoom. It is simply a delight to use, allowing you to zoom at the speed you want and to stop at any focal length. It is smooth, precise and the lens does not extend past the barrel! You can also zoom during picture recording and produce special zoom effects (such as my not-so-inspiring example below, but you get the idea).

It's not only that the FZ50 has tons of practical features, it's the way they are implemented and accessed intuitively. I like the FUNCTION button for quick exposure setting changes; the MF FOCUS button that focuses quickly using AF in MF mode then lets you rotate the manual (fly-by-wire) focus ring for spot on focus; the Front and Rear Dials (à-la-SLR) for shutter speed, aperture, program shift and exposure compensation control; the flip out LCD for easy low-to-the-ground composition (I find I don't really need it for any other use); super silky smooth zoom and effective optical image stabilization.

Is the Panasonic FZ50 perfect? I love it, enough to award it an Editor's Choice. But there is a caveat: noise is a problem with Panasonic's image sensor. The fact that the Panasonic FZ50 can only be used at ISO 100 (and perhaps ISO 200) for professionally acceptable detail and noise level is the only major disappointment I experienced with an otherwise almost perfect "bridge" prosumer digital camera. In this respect, the ISO 1600 and "Intelligent ISO" features are just so much marketing "noise."

To summarize, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 is without doubt the best of the prosumer/advanced amateur models, coming close to a SLR-experience and absolutely enjoyable to use in the field. As long as you stay within ISO 100 (and perhaps ISO 200), you can be guaranteed of very good to excellent image quality, and I recommend it on this basis. (If you absolutely need low noise at high ISOs, it's time for you to cross the "bridge" over to a DSLR.) It has only the "low noise/good detail at high ISO" hurdle to overcome. Achieve this and the Panasonic FZ50 may well become the standard by which all other "bridge" prosumer digital cameras are measured against.

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