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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 first look Digital Camera Review

Review by Matt Grayson

Panasonic took a number of journalists out to Lisbon to showcase the new range of compacts and ePHOTOzine were there to see them.

Skip to VerdictPanasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Specification

  • Zoom: 18x optical
  • Resolution: 12.1Mp
  • Sensor size: 1/2.33in
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Max. image size: 4000x3000 (4:3 aspect)
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO80-1600 (max. ISO6400)
  • Media type: Built-in, SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Normal, macro, quick AF, continuous AF, manual, oneshot, tracking AF, area select
  • Normal focusing: 30cm-infinity
  • Close focusing: 1cm-infinity
  • Metering types: Intelligent multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60-1/2000sec (max. 1/20000sec)
  • Flash: Built-in, 0.3cm-8.5m (Wide at ISO Auto), 1.0-5.4m (Telephoto at ISO Auto)
  • Monitor: 2.7in TFT LCD (230,000dot)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 117.6x75.8x88.9mm
  • Weight: 367g (excl. battery and card)

The back is designed the same as the previous model but with a dedicated video record button.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Features A slightly more squared off design welcomes you into the fold of the newest superzoom from Panasonic. It replaces the Lumix DMC-FZ28 and a lot of the main features have been transited over such as the 18x optical zoom and 1/2.33in CCD. Although the sensor has a marginally higher pixel count of 12 million, up two million from the previous ten.

The ISO range has also been retained with a manual range of ISO80-1600 with expandability to ISO6400 in the scene modes. These higher settings can't be used in manual mode unfortunately but looking at the ISO results from the FZ28 and this may be a blessing in disguise.

One of the newest features and one that Panasonic are extremely proud of is an evolution of the Mega OIS that has been a staple requirement of every compact since they began. Power O.I.S. is the new name for image stabilisation at Panasonic HQ and it's claimed to be able to steady a fully zoomed out 18x optical zoom lens without the need for a tripod.

One of the interesting modes in the scene selection was for dynamic range. It dampens the highlights to prevent blown out hot spots while adding detail to the shadow areas. Using this feature I found gave an unusual result. It made the pictures look like they'd been painted which was odd but the cameras we used were pre-production so this is possibly due to change with final firmware.

A view from the top shows the squared off design and stereo microphones which also feature wind-cut.

A busy top plate features the command dial, focus buttons, power switch and shutter release on the top.

Lens in at wide angle.

Lens out at telephoto.

Panasonic are helping to take face detection to dizzy new heights with face recognition. This technology isn't that new in itself, Casio have been doing it for a while but a new development has recently been added to the programme. When you're adding faces for the camera to recognise, you can also add the name and the camera will put the name under the face recognition box. In older models, this sometimes got constricted and would go onto another line by splitting up a word but that issue has now been resolved.

A new Venus engine HD has been added to help improve picture quality further and to accommodate the AVCHD Lite video capability. This HD video system is Viera compatible which means that you can either take the memory card straight out of the camera and slot it into the port on the TV or you can link up using the HDMI port on the camera. With AVCHD Lite, the video is compressed further than usual MPEG files which means you can record more. Panasonic says this is done without the loss of quality to the video.

Anyone who's read the Panasonic DMC-Gh2 review (ie, all of you) will know that one fundamental exterior improvement on the previous model was the stereo sound microphones sat in front of the hotshoe and the FZ38 has the same microphone system, just without the hotshoe.

A large command dial sits on the right shoulder giving quick access to PASM modes as well as iA mode, custom, portrai, landscape, sport, macro, night portrait, extra scene modes and a manual video mode. The 'M' next to the video camera is quite important. It means that you can change the video manually and add colour effects as well as using scene modes. The power switch is located next to the dial with the shutter release button at the front on the small grip and two focus buttons sat in between.

On the back is the electronic viewfinder which, unfortunately, isn't as sublime as the LVF (live view finder) found on the G1/Gh2 Micro Four Thirds cameras. They offer a 1.4Mp resolution whereas the viewfinder on the FZ38 is only 231,000 pixels. That's not to say that it's not very good, I found it did the job as well as any other superzoom in comparable range, I think I expect the viewfinder from the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) models which is why I get disappointed.

To push the video capabilities, Panasonic have introduced a dedicated record button at the top right corner. Again, this is nothing new as Casio added this to their HD compacts a couple of years ago. Still, it's a good idea and useful for quick bursts of video for those “Jeremy Beadle” moments as well as settling the YouTube crowd.

One thing I like about Panasonic cameras is the record/playback switch. It can get some getting used to as pressing the shutter release half way doesn't bring you out of playback like with other cameras, but it means you can switch it to playback, turn the camera on and review your images without the lens popping out.

There's the usual Q-menu that we've seen on many Panasonic compacts and it's designed to give fast acccess to your most commonly used features such as ISO, metering, focusing, white balance, resolution and, oddly enough, screen brightness. It's the same as a function button on a lot of other cameras, it does the same thing.

In the Scene modes, there a Dynamic Range option and this mode has three settings. It's a mode for getting more dynamic range to the image which is technology that adds detail to low light areas and prevents burning out of high lights. It can give quite an interesting effect if done properly and unlike the Pentax K-7 which also has this feature, it does it in one shot.  Of course this means that it's not true HDR, but the effect is pleasing enough.

A shot of a flower with no HDR settings and contrast is in abundance.

With the standard setting added, the effect is already taking place.

 

The art setting pops the colours out in a similar fashion to the Olympus art mode.

 

Changing to black & white loses the flower among the plants but the HDR effect can still be seen.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Build and handlingThe camera feels really nice in the hands and mine, I would say, are medium to large size. After a day using it, I was used to the locations of the buttons and could quickly navigate my way around the menu.

The lens design has been provided by Leica and is the same Vario-Emlmarit f/2.8 as seen on the FZ28 which was a very good lens. These lenses aren't built by Leica but are built to Leica specification and Leica standards. This is the same with any manufacturer such as Sony/Carl Zeiss or Samsung/Schneider and the lenses are just as good.

After around 3-4 hours of shooting with the camera being turned on and off sporadically, the battery showed the first bar disappear. I don't think this was too bad as I used video and stills as well as reviewing and employing the screen most of the time. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Performance Shutter lag is a standard time of 0.08sec which I expect from any compact camera these days. What this means is that it's a standard time response in the tests that I do.

Considering the lens has to physically move out of the shadow of the larger bezel, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 can start up and take a picture in 1.5sec which is fast enough for most people's needs.

Looking at the colour test chart, the FZ38 boosts blue nicely but red and yellow are also popping out as though they want their own share of the limelight. Earth brown and forest green are deep and rich although in stark contrast the skin tone tiles all look a little paler than what they really should. The mono tones are balanced and the pastel colours have the right amount of hint to them.

I took a photograph of my son on a day out and even with the sun behind him, the camera managed to metering precisely on his face. What I like about this shot is that the clouds have burnt out. That means the meter gave priority to the subject which is great. Colours are a little subdued which is unfortunate but it's still a good shot and I don't think I'd notice if I wasn't testing the camera.

The clouds have over exposed to get detail in the face. Not bad from a pattern metering set up.

Backlit yet still has detail in the shadow area. the sun is just off shot to the left. Taken five minutes before the Lancaster.
I wanted to do a macro shot and they were all coming out boring as  I simply couldn't get an angle I liked. With this in mind I changed angle and shot up to get the blank blue of the sky. The sun is just off the screen to the left and the flower has still exposed well enough, albeit, underexposed, there's detail in the shadow areas.
This Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flew past in formation on their way to Derwent.
While visiting relatives I was lucky enough to be witness to a flyover of a Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire and Hurricane. We were near to Derwent which is where the 617 squadron tested the bouncing bomb theory in 1943. It flew past us and I rushed for the camera, then it circled back as if wanting a picture to be taken. I shot it as it came back over head before flipping easily into video mode and filming some footage using the dedicated record button on the back. One disappointing part of the image is that despite a really sunny day and selecting ISO100, the noise on the image is so great that I can't make out the markings on the plane. I wanted to see if it was a display by the BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Foundation) as the website didn't give any indication. I tried to see the plane markings as they're unique but the image is too badly broken up.

I think this bird actually posed for me as she sat there for ages while I took loads of shots.

This image of a female Blackbird was taken through the window so has a slight sheen on it from that. This would happen on any camera because of the reflection, so I wouldn't mark the Panasonic down because of it. This was taken at full 18x zoom so the image looks quite good with lack of shake. I expect this is with a lot of help from the new Power O.I.S system. Again the image is let down by noise and I'm now worried that the noise will be a big failing on the camera.

The following images were taken at the launch of the Panassonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 and due to the models we used being pre-production, we're not allowed to display large sized images, but I can upload small size pictures for you to try and get an idea of what it can do.

Detail of a Portuguese cathedral.

The same shot cropped in to the statue to the left of the frame.

Macro has been retained at 1cm for ultra close ups of subjects such as this tea light candle.

I'm impressed with how the camera has coped with one person in shadow and the other in light.

Shot at 27mm wide 1/3step under exposed to bring out the blue sky.

This image used the pinhole mode to make the picture look older.

 

This image of a mime artist was taken at approximately 90mm and is a really good result.

 

Portrait mode also features a beauty portrait option which smoothes skin and reduces blemishes.

 

Inside a cathedral, the white balance was all over with natural light, stained glass and artificial lights. The camera coped well with a manual override of a reading from the white t-shirt of an unsuspecting tourist.

 

I simply like this picture. I like the old street lantern and the broken windows. What I find most interesting about this is that the room beyond the broken window looks occupied yet nothing is done to fix the glass.

 

Wide angle takes in plenty of information about the world around you.

 

The 18x zoom laughs in the face of panoramic shots.

Taken in a dark corridor of a cathedral, I like the way the metering has worked this out.

I shot this street scene with the sun straight on but hidden behind the building

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Noise test If you're looking to buy this camera for snapping at parties or on holiday then I think you'll be ok with getting the camera up to around ISO400 before you get too annoyed with the lack of quality and this is the main failing of the camera.

Even at ISO400, colour is invading the shadow areas of the flower that are cast on the grey card and there are random purple spots appearing all over the petals. Above this setting shows the detail in the petals disappearing as noise control tries to sort the problem but it's too much for it to handle and by the top setting of ISO1600, the image is pretty dire.

By capping the sensitivity at ISO1600, Panasonic are showing a sense of honesty that they know the camera simply can't perform at high settings. However, I think it also shows that they simply aren't there with noise control. I've seen much better results on digital cameras that are cheaper than this and that also have large zooms.

The ISO80 test.

The ISO1600 test.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: VerdictThere are some good features on the new model which will keep a varied amount of customers very happy. The new video controls will appeal to the YouTube generation while the Viera link will attract families wanting to share their images on a big screen and the innovation led crowd.

On the surface, the image quality appears to be good, it's not until you zoom in to full size magnification that the problems occur. If you're the photographer who simply wants to shoot holidays and days out then this is an ideal little package with a big zoom and fast response.

If you're more serious about taking creative shots then you may want to compare before making your decision.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Plus pointsSmall and lightGood buildFast responseNice colour renditionGood metering

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Minus pointsNoise, noise and more noiseBusy layout could confuse newcomers

FEATURES HANDLING PERFORMANCE OVERALL

You can see the full press release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 by following this link:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 costs around £269.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

www.ephotozine.com

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 - Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 verdict -

 

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 may represent a fairly minor upgrade over its predecessor, but given that was one of the best super-zoom cameras of the past year, the new model has a great heritage to build on. So with the FZ38 / FZ35 you get a compact, lightweight super-zoom camera with 12 Megapixel resolution, a flexible 18x optically-stabilised range, HD video recording in the 720p format, support for RAW files, a medium-sized but good-looking 2.7in screen, manual controls and one of the best fully automatic modes on the market. It’s a lot of camera for the money.

The optical range of course remains the highlight here, and even though Panasonic has now become the ‘shortest’ super-zoom in the current pack, it remains extremely flexible in use. It starts with decent 27mm wide-angle coverage, and 18x later ends up at an equivalent of 486mm. Sure, that’s shorter than the industry-leading 26x range (26-676mm) of the Olympus SP-590UZ, but 486mm is still very serious telephoto and we never found any situations where it wasn’t long enough.

Super-zoom ranges often involve optical compromises, but any nasty artefacts like coloured fringing are digitally corrected by the FZ38 / FZ35 in-camera, leaving your JPEGs impressively clean – be sure to compare the difference this makes in our comparisons against the Canon SX20 IS on our results pages.

The ability to record RAW images is also a highlight of the FZ38 / FZ35 and gives its files greater flexibility than those from the SX20 IS, although don’t expect miracles in terms of detail and tonal range – the flexibility is more about adjusting things like White Balance and Noise Reduction after the event.

The FZ38 / FZ35’s body is also surprisingly small and light, which many will consider a key advantage, especially if you’re hiking or travelling light – unlike the relatively hefty SX20 IS, you’ll hardly notice you’re carrying it.

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But all of these were available on its predecessor the FZ28, so what about the new features? The 2 Megapixel boost in resolution may record more detail than its predecessor in technical tests, but there’s not a significant difference in terms of real life detail.

Noise levels are roughly the same as before, and you’ll want to stick to 80 or 100 ISO for the best results. Even then, there’s a sprinkling of fine textures if you’re looking closely, and when increased to 200 ISO and beyond, there’s a steady decrease in fine detail. Like the SX20 IS, this is in line with most compacts these days though and you can see examples in our High ISO Noise Results page.

Arguably the most significant upgrade is having the choice of encoding formats for the 720p HD video. There’s the older Motion JPEG format which is easier to edit, or the newer AVCHD format which is not only roughly twice as efficient, but also supports longer total recording times. Motion JPEG is limited to clips lasting just over eight minutes when set to 720p, whereas AVCHD will keep recording until you run out of memory.

European FZ38’s are annoyingly restricted to a second under half an hour due to tax regulations, but given an FZ35 and a sufficiently big card, you could record hour’s worth of uninterrupted video. For example, we used an FZ35 to record a 45 minute interview, and it hardly even dented the battery life.

The new Creative Movie mode is also a surprising, but very welcome addition to the camera, allowing you to adjust the aperture and shutter for video. The small sensor and actual focal length may mean achieving a small depth-of-field is as tricky as it is for stills, but it’s still a nice facility to have and a benefit over Canon’s SX20 IS. The decent stereo mics are also a nice upgrade over the tiny mono mic of the earlier FZ28, as is the button which can start filming video in any mode – although revealingly, both have long been offered on the rival Canon super-zoom.

Panasonic’s claims over improved AF and stabilisation were also confirmed in our tests. The AF speed really is much faster than the earlier FZ28, and with Pre AF enabled, the FZ38 / FZ35 can snap onto most subjects with surprising swiftness. We also found the AF system searched less while filming video, but this may just be lucky footage. Moving on, the earlier optical stabilisation was already effective, but the new Power OIS system gave us an extra stop of compensation, allowing us to handhold the camera when fully zoomed-in at shutter speeds as slow as 1/30 of a second.

Wrapping-up the other new additions, the earlier FZ28 may have also sported HD output, but most will be pleased to see a switch from analogue component to HDMI on the FZ38 / FZ35.

So far so good, but it’s not all great news. First, it’s a little disappointing to find the screen still fixed in position and sporting the same size and resolution as before. Don’t get us wrong, it’s one of the best-looking 2.7in / 230k models we’ve seen, but when cameras like Panasonic’s own TZ7 / ZS3 get a 3in / 460k screen, and Canon’s PowerShot SX20 IS has a fully-articulated display, it’s hard not to be a bit jealous. This surely has to be the last iteration of the FZxx series to use a fixed 2.7in / 230k screen.

Like its predecessor, the FZ38 / FZ35 also still has a tendency to select smaller apertures than it needs to in Automatic or Program modes. It may have avoided the minimum f8 aperture, but one look at our Sample Images Gallery will reveal a large number of pictures at f5.6 under bright conditions.

This is a problem because optical diffraction begins to noticeably soften the FZ38 / FZ35’s images at f5.6, and significantly reduces them at f8 (see our results page for examples). F4 delivers far better results on the FZ38 / FZ35 and we’d really like to see the camera selecting that in Auto and Program modes, just like its arch rival from Canon. As it stands, anyone wanting to get the sharpest image from this camera will need to nudge the joystick to shift the aperture in Program, or manually select the desired setting in Aperture Priority.

We also feel slightly churlish penalising any company which is considerate enough to supply a lens hood, but like its predecessor, the FZ38 / FZ35’s hood is impractical for two reasons: first it’s too large to reverse over the barrel for convenient transportation, and secondly you need to manually rotate it to the correct position before tightening a thumbscrew, which introduces the possibility of alignment error. We should also mention that unlike Canon’s SX20 IS, the lens cap still impedes the lens as it extends during power-up which can be annoying.

To be fair though, these are all fairly minor downsides. The bottom line is the FZ38 / FZ35 for its minor upgrades is still an improvement overall on its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. Its biggest problem is extremely tough competition from Canon’s latest PowerShot SX20 IS, which brings us neatly to our comparison section.

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

 
 
 
 

The FZ38 / FZ35’s biggest rival is the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS. Both cameras share 12 Megapixel resolution, optically-stabilised super-zooms with wide angle coverage, 720p video with stereo sound, full manual control and DSLR-styled bodies with HDMI ports, but beyond these, there’s pros and cons to each model.

Most obviously the SX20 IS has a slightly longer 20x zoom range, a slightly smaller but fully-articulated screen which allows comfortable composition at any angle, a flash hotshoe for mounting external Speedlites, and an electronic viewfinder with the same resolution but a bigger apparent size. Both cameras may have full manual control, but spinning the large thumb wheel of the Canon felt ergonomically superior to us than prodding the tiny joystick on the Panasonic. Finally, the Canon may be larger and heavier, but many will prefer its heft, along with the convenience of picking up spare AA batteries almost anywhere. It’s a small point, but the SX20 IS’s lens cap also won’t prevent the lens from extending, and its lens hood is more portable.

The FZ38 / FZ35’s optical range may be slightly shorter, but as seen on our Features page, it doesn’t make a significant difference in practice – and more importantly, the Panasonic digitally corrects the coloured fringing seen towards the corners in many of the Canon’s images. It’s also worth noting the maximum aperture of the FZ38 / FZ35 when zoomed-into 486mm is a brighter f4.4, compared to f5.7 of the SX20 IS from 460-560mm, and in our High ISO results, the Panasonic also had the edge above 400 ISO. We additionally found the FZ38 / FZ35’s stabilisation was approximately one stop more effective and the AF speed slightly faster.

Unlike the SX20 IS, the FZ38 / FZ35 also features RAW recording facilities, manual control over the exposure in the movie mode, a longer maximum exposure of 60 seconds, and some usable burst options, albeit either with a limited buffer or at a reduced resolution. Some will prefer its rechargeable Lithium Ion battery pack to the AAs of the SX20 IS.

The FZ38 / FZ35 is also a smaller and considerably lighter camera, weighing 414g with its battery compared to the 680g of the SX20 IS when fitted with four typical AA batteries. It additionally sports a slightly larger – albeit fixed – 2.7in screen which looks more vibrant in use. Finally, depending on the shop, the price of the FZ38 / FZ35 is a little cheaper than the Canon.

Previously, HD video was a key benefit the FZ28 had over the SX10 IS, but now Canon’s equipped the SX20 IS with the same movie quality, it’s become an even closer contest. As always you need to carefully think about which of the features described above will mean most to you in practice, for example the articulated screen and AA batteries of the Canon versus the RAW mode and fringe-correction of the Panasonic. One thing’s for certain though, the SX20 IS enjoys some key advantages over its predecessor and is set to become another best-seller. See our Canon PowerShot SX20 IS review for more details.

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

 
 
 
 

Canon’s PowerShot SX1 IS costs around one third more than the FZ38 / FZ35, but features two key advantages: 1080p video recording and fast 4fps continuous shooting which keeps firing until you run out of memory. Like the Panasonic, the SX1 IS also features RAW recording capabilities and an HDMI port. Let’s detail the differences.

As mentioned above, the key advantages of the SX1 IS are 1080p video and 4fps continuous shooting, but the camera also features a slightly longer 20x zoom range, a fully-articulated screen which matches the widescreen aspect of its HD movies, and a flash hotshoe for mounting external Speedlites. Both cameras may have full manual control, but spinning the large thumb wheel of the Canon felt ergonomically superior to us than prodding the tiny joystick on the Panasonic. Finally, the Canon may be larger and heavier, but many will prefer its heft, along with the convenience of picking up spare AA batteries almost anywhere. It’s a small point, but the SX1 IS’s lens cap also won’t prevent the lens from extending, and its lens hood is more portable.

In its favour, the FZ38 / FZ35 features two extra Megapixels, a screen and viewfinder which match the shape of its 4:3 still images, a more sophisticated automatic mode, longer maximum exposures of up to 60 seconds and automatic correction of coloured fringing. In our tests its stabilisation was approximately one stop more effective and the AF speed slightly faster. Crucially it’s also comfortably cheaper.

When the SX1 IS was launched alongside the SX10 IS, it boasted not just 1080p video and 4fps shooting, but also RAW and HDMI. Against the FZ38 / FZ35 it’s a closer battle as the Panasonic also has RAW, HDMI, and while its video may not be 1080p, it still looks good at 720p. So the choice really boils down to whether you want or need the faster continuous shooting and higher resolution movies. Also remember the SX1 IS’s widescreen monitor and viewfinder may be ideal when shooting HD movies, but show a relatively small image when shooting stills in the best quality mode. See our Canon PowerShot SX1 IS review for more details.

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1

 
 
 
 

The Canon SX1 IS isn’t the only super-zoom camera with a CMOS sensor, fast continuous shooting and better than 720p video. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 also offers all of that and at a price that’s much closer to that of the Panasonic FZ38 / FZ35.

In its favour, the HX1 boasts much quicker 10fps continuous shooting (albeit for only ten frames and tying the camera up for a while, but still four times faster than the Panasonic), higher resolution HD movies (1440×1080 vs 1280×720), a larger 3in screen which vertically tilts, smile detection, and Sony’s unique Handheld Twilight, Anti Motion Blur and Sweep Panorama modes.

In its favour, the FZ38 / FZ35 features three extra Megapixels, RAW recording, longer maximum exposures of up to 60 seconds and automatic correction of coloured fringing. It’s also a little cheaper.

While many people considering the FZ38 / FZ35 will be most closely comparing it against the Canon SX20 IS, Sony’s Cyber-shot HX1 has gradually fallen in price to become an equally compelling rival. Certainly if you’re into action photography, it’s one of the best choices out there. See our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 review for more details.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 final verdict

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 is the latest version of the company’s gradually evolving super-zoom camera. Like its predecessors, this year’s updates may only be minor, but since they’re building on what was already one of the best super-zooms around, it places the new model in an even stronger position.

Buy the FZ38 / FZ35 and you’ll get a compact, lightweight super-zoom camera with 12 Megapixel resolution, a flexible 18x zoom with excellent stabilisation and very quick autofocus, 720p HD video with the choice of encoding formats, support for RAW files, a medium-sized but good-looking 2.7in screen, manual controls, HDMI output and one of the best fully automatic modes on the market. It continues to be a highly compelling proposition.

But while the screen is good quality, it’s disappointing to find it’s the same size and resolution as before, and still stuck firm in position. Panasonic’s own Lumix TZ7 / ZS3 sports a larger and more detailed 3in / 460k display, while arch-rival the Canon SX20 IS has a fully-articulated (albeit slightly smaller) screen.

It’s very important to carefully consider the pros and cons of the Canon against the Panasonic, and think about how they’ll relate to your photographic requirements. We’ve detailed the differences above, and the Canon certainly looks strong with its articulated screen and flash hotshoe, but you may find the RAW mode, manual exposures for movies, effective fringe-correction and slightly superior AF and stabilisation capabilities of the FZ38 / FZ35 more useful. It is however interesting to note now the Canon has 720p movies, the Panasonic fitted with stereo sound and both feature HDMI ports, these rival super-zooms are growing ever-closer. Ultimately one doesn’t take a decisive overall lead over the other, and it boils down to comparing feature-sets and handling for yourself. Suffice it to say both are great super-zoom cameras.

While the Panasonic has the edge on continuous shooting and AF speed though, it’s far from an action camera if you’re into capturing quick sequences. If that’s your thing, then seriously consider Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 or Canon’s PowerShot SX1 IS instead.

Should you decide the Panasonic FZ38 / FZ35’s feature-set suits you best though, you won’t be disappointed. Like its predecessor it delivers a compelling array of features for the money and easily comes Highly Recommended. Just ensure you compare it very closely with Canon’s SX20 IS.

Good pointsLarge 18x range with 27mm wide angle.RAW recording and correction of fringing.720p HD video & choice of encoding.Compact body with full manual & HDMI.

Bad pointsFixed screen & same specification as before.No flash hotshoe.Tendency to use small apertures in automatic.Lens cap blocks barrel upon power-up.

Scores(compared to 2009 super-zooms)

Build quality: Image quality: Handling: Specification: Value:

Overall:

17 / 2017 / 2017 / 2017 / 2018 / 20

86%

www.cameralabs.com

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 photo gallery

Dennis Hissink : July 27th 2009 - 17:00 CET

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 photo gallery

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 test photos : Shortly after attending a press conference held by Panasonic in Lisbon, we were given the opportunity to shoot with a pre-production model of the Panasonic Lumix FZ38. Since several picture/city tours were planned, it was obvious we would try out the Panasonic FZ38 camera. The Panasonic Lumix FZ38 is quite similar to its predecessor, the FZ28, yet has undergone several enhancements. In fact, this new generation Panasonic Lumix Megazoom camera is equipped with an improved Power O.I.S. stabilizer and the option to capture videos in HD resolution. The optical zoom range has not been increased; Panasonic seems to make a conscious choice for quality with the new Panasonic Lumix FZ38 megazoom camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 galleryDuring sightseeing through Lisbon's center, many interesting subjects pass by my viewfinder / LCD monitor. The ease of the 18x zoom combined with the effective Power O.I.S. stabilization system, makes shooting with the FZ38 extremely relaxed. Even more so since the Panasonic Lumix FZ38 digital camera not only has compact dimensions but also features a light weight. As DSLR user, you may have to get used to it, but when taking a stable shooting position and relying on the O.I.S. you will find that failed pictures do not occur often. Panasonic Lumix review : FZ38 sample photosHigh Definition is a hot item and it comes as no surprise that Panasonic, being a camcorder manufacturer, has an interest in quickly integrating HD video in compact / Megazoom cameras. Even the Panasonic Lumix Gh2, a system camera based on MicroFour Thirds, is able to capture high quality videos retaining continuous AF. Naturally, Panasonic fully supports the AVCHD format in which the HD videos are captured. The pre-production status of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 does not yet allow us to draw any conclusions. However, as soon as a full test sample comes in, we will publish a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 review along with a high resolution picture gallery.Panasonic Lumix FZ38 photo galleryThe Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 test photos were taken in Lisbon, Portugal with a pre-production digital megazoom which means that this Panasonic camera may not be equal to the model that the consumer can expect to purchase. Soon, our DIWA camera test lab will test the Panasonic Lumix FZ38 digital camera under laboratory circumstances from a technical viewpoint. To download the original Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 test photos, click on the link below the pictures. Enjoy the Panasonic Lumix photo gallery!Download original : Panasonic Lumix FZ38 photo (Warning: 5.09MB)Download original : Panasonic Lumix FZ38 picture (Warning: 6.49MB)Download original : Panasonic Lumix FZ38 image (Warning: 5.95MB)Download original : Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 photo (Warning: 6.53MB)Download original : Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 picture (Warning: 6.52MB)Download original : Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 image (Warning: 6.43MB)New Panasonic Lumix cameras and reviews• New Lumix cameras• Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review• Panasonic Lumix ZX1 review• Panasonic DMC-FZ38• Panasonic DMC-ZX1• Panasonic DMC-FP8• Panasonic DMC-FX60

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 -

 

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ38 (or FZ35 as it’s known in America and Australasia) is a 12.1 Megapixel super-zoom camera with DSLR-styling and an 18x optical range. Announced in July 2009, one year after its predecessor, it continues Panasonic’s enormously popular FZ line of super-zoom cameras.

The new FZ38 / FZ35 inherits a number of key features from its predecessor, the FZ28, including the same 18x optical range that’s equivalent to 27-486mm in 35mm terms. It also shares essentially the body and controls, along with the same 2.7in / 230k fixed screen at the rear. Indeed the only ‘headline’ specification that’s changed is the inevitable increase in resolution from 10.1 to 12.1 Megapixels.

Under the hood however the new FZ38 / FZ35 features a number of smaller, but worthy enhancements, several of which we’ve already seen on other 2009 Lumix models including the eternally popular TZ7 / ZS3.

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As such the best quality movie mode may remain 720p (1280×720 pixels), but you now have the choice of encoding it in the more efficient AVCHD format or the older, but easier to edit Motion JPEG format. Panasonic has also fitted a red record button on the rear of the camera, allowing you to start recording footage, regardless of the mode you’re in. That said, like the higher-end Lumix Gh2, there’s also a new Creative Movie mode on the main dial which allows you to manually adjust the aperture and shutter for video recording.

The already capable Intelligent Auto mode has also been improved with Face Recognition, also seen on the TZ7 / ZS3, which can actually remember specific faces and give them priority in a group shot. A High Dynamic mode has been added to the Scene Presets and lower power components in the camera have also allowed an extension in battery life.

The zoom range may remain the same as before, but the MEGA OIS optical image stabilisation has now been superseded by POWER OIS, which Panasonic claims is around twice as effective at eliminating camera shake. A higher-speed actuator also brings a welcome improvement to autofocusing speed, and startup time has also been reduced.

And just before you think all the improvements are internal, Panasonic has also equipped the FZ38 / FZ35 with a mini HDMI port for digital connection to a HDTV – compatible Panasonic sets can even control the camera’s playback over HDMI using their remotes. Finally topping the FZ38 / FZ35’s popup flash head are stereo microphones, both improving the quality of the movie mode’s audio along with delivering two channels of sound.

So Panasonic may have resisted the temptation to compete for the title of World’s longest super-zoom, and kept the screen firmly fixed in position, but it’s added a broad number of useful enhancements which should hopefully make what was already a great super-zoom camera that much better. The question of course is has it succeeded?

In our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 full review we’ll take a detailed look at all the new features and put them through its paces. Evaluating a camera in isolation is of limited use, so as always we tested the new Panasonic against its biggest rival: Canon’s PowerShot SX20 IS. So if you’re in the market for a super-zoom digital camera, read on to find out if your money should be spent on Panasonic’s latest.

Testing notes:

We tested a final production Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 / FZ35 running firmware version 1.0. Following our convention of testing cameras using their factory default settings unless otherwise stated, the FZ38 / FZ35 was set to 12M Fine JPEG mode with Auto White Balance, Multiple Metering, and the default zero positions for Picture Adjustments. Image Stabilisation was enabled for all handheld shots and disabled for tripod-based tests.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ45 / FZ40 -

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ45, or FZ40 as it’s known in North America, is a 14 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 24x stabilised range, HD video and a 3 inch screen. Launched in July 2010 it replaces the very popular Lumix FZ38, or FZ35 as that model was called in North America. From here on we’ll refer to the old model as the FZ38 / FZ35 and the new one as the FZ45 / FZ40.

The FZ45 / FZ40 extends the zoom range of its predecessor from 18x to 24x, widening the equivalent coverage from 27 to 25mm and greatly extending it from 486 to 600mm. The maximum resolution is increased by 2 Megapixels and, at 3 inches, the fixed main screen is a little larger, but retains the 230k pixel resolution of its predecessor.

There’s big rivalry in this segment of the market, which is nowhere more closely contested than between Panasonic and Canon. Within a few weeks of Panasonic releasing the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40, Canon announced the PowerShot SX30 IS, a more expensive camera that outperforms the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 in some key areas, most notably with its incredible 35x optical zoom. But Panasonic also has a new ‘premium’ version of the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 – the FZ100. By offering two choices at two different price points has Panasonic out-manoeuvred Canon, or is the SX30 IS a just a better all-round choice for those who want the ultimate zoom range? Read our full review to find out.

   
   

There’s been no radical restyling of the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 body and side-by-side it doesn’t look all that different to the FZ38 / FZ35 that it replaces. At 498g the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 is however 84g heavier when both are fitted with their respective batteries and cards, but in your hands it’s less of a difference than it sounds. The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 is also couple of millimetres bigger all round than its predecessor, but, again, you’d be hard pressed to tell in use. More importantly there’s been some rearrangement of the controls which, as we’ll see, has much more of an impact on function than appearance.

Before moving-on, it’s important to note the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 is considerably lighter and more compact than than the PowerShot SX30 IS. Its arch rival from Canon weighs a not inconsiderable 601g including battery and card, while measuring 12mm taller and 16mm thicker. The Lumix may lack the Canon’s sexy curviness, but it’s very comfortable to hold and operate, and its smaller size and lower weight will be seen as a real advantage by some. Note the FZ100 falls between the FZ45 / FZ40 and SX30 IS in weight, at 540g including battery and card.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has quite a lot of buttons, dials and wheels. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you like to have dedicated controls for things rather than, as is more the case on the PowerShot SX30 IS, fewer multi-function controls.

On the the top panel the shutter release occupies the far end of the hand grip and immediately behind it is the dedicated movie recording button, moved from its previous position on the rear of the FZ38 / FZ35. Behind that is a smaller button for activating some of the AF options and lastly there’s the on/off switch. The mode dial sits between the top of the hand grip and the flash housing with 14 positions for the manual PASM exposure modes, Intelligent Auto, a choice of scene modes, a SCN position with further menu-selectable scene modes and a final position used to select one of three custom settings.

On the back the electronic viewfinder, or EVF, is flanked by a button on the left to release the pop-up flash and two on the right – one to switch the display between the EVF and main screen and another which has a double function as an AF/AE lock.To the right of those a new ‘rear dial’ control, used to adjust exposure and focus settings, has been added.

To the right of the main screen is a conventional four-way control pad with a Menu/Set button at its centre. The four positions on the pad are used to navigate menus and as one-touch buttons for exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and self timer, the bottom of the four having a custom function.

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Four buttons occupy the remaining rear panel space. One toggles between the various focus modes and another toggles display overlays. A third activates the Q.menu – a shortcut menu containing frequently used functions. This replacement button also doubles up as a delete button in playback mode, but burst shooting no longer has a dedicated button and the FZ38 / FZ35’s Q.menu ‘nipple’ is no more.

The fourth button, which activates playback mode, marks a bit of a shift in Panasonic’s design philosophy. What’s different about it is that it’s not a switch. The FZ38 / FZ35 and most other Panasonic compacts to date have used a switch to move between capture and playback modes. The problem with that way of doing things is that the only way to get from playback mode to shooting mode is to use the switch which means that you can often lose a shot by pressing the shutter and wondering why nothing is happening before belatedly realising you’ve got the switch in the playback position.

The substitution of a button for a switch means that if you half-press the shutter release while in playback mode the camera automatically switches to shooting mode. So-called ‘shooting priority’, means you can take the shot with only a slight delay. The continued use of an on/off switch, rather than a button means that you can’t use the playback button to turn the camera on, but we can live with that.

On the left side of the body a small plastic cover opens to reveal a combined USB / A/V port and an HDMI mini-port. A hinged door on the base below the hand grip pops open to reveal the combined battery and card compartment. The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 takes SD, SDHC and the new SDXC high speed, high capacity cards.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40’s flash is mounted above the lens and flips up when you press a small button to the left of the viewfinder. In this position it works in auto mode and fires should the ambient lighting conditions require it. In supported exposure modes it can be forced on or off, used in slow sync mode for fill-in illumination at slow shutter speeds and you can synch the flash with the first or second shutter curtain. A red-eye reduction mode both pre-fires the flash and illuminates the LED AF assist lamp. The quoted range of the flash at the wide angle lens setting is an impressive 9.5 metres.

Panasonic has continued to resist fitting a flash hotshoe to the FZ45 / FZ40, giving Canon’s PowerShot SX30 IS an advantage in this respect. But as explained earlier, the new premium Lumix FZ100 features a flash hotshoe in addition to several other key benefits.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 uses a Panasonic Lithium Ion battery which is charged outside of the camera. A fully charged battery provides enough power for 580 shots using the CIPA (Camera Imaging Products Association) standard. In the absence of any information to the contrary, we’re assuming that’s using the EVF rather than the main screen, but it’s nonetheless pretty impressive and should enable most people to do a day’s shooting without the need for a spare.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has a 24x optical zoom lens with a range of 4.5 to 108mm which is 25 – 600mm in 35mm terms. That’s a big jump from the 18x optical zoom of the FZ38 / FZ35, providing a slightly more useable wide angle as well as a much longer maximum telephoto – it’s a very welcome upgrade over its predecessor.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 coverage wide

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 coverage tele

4.5-108mm at 4.5mm (25mm equivalent)   4.5-108mm at 108mm (600mm equivalent)

The maximum aperture at the wide angle setting is f2.8, but as soon as you begin to extend the zoom this immediately drops to f2.9. Unlike the PowerShot SX30 IS, which closes the aperture in larger fractions of stops at discrete points in the zoom range, the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 maximum aperture closes in 0.1 increments with small zoom increments. It hits f3.2 at around 40mm, at 100mm it reaches f3.5 and the f4.0 mark is reached at 290mm. At 540mm it reaches f4.8 and f5.2 isn’t reached until you hit the end point at 600mm.

One small, but significant improvement is the lens cap which now fits to the extending barrel of the lens, rather than the outer housing as was the case with the FZ38 / FZ35, so you can now power up the camera with the lens cap in place. The camera is also supplied with a bayonet-fitting lens hood which is much easier to attach than the older-style lens hood, with little danger (though it is possible if you don’t pay attention to the instructions) of causing vignetting by incorrect mounting. You can also reverse-mount the lens hood for compact storage when it’s not in use.

On power-up the lens extends by 19mm and the camera is ready to shoot in about one and a half seconds. The zoom travels smoothly in both directions and is almost silent in the slower of its two speeds. It’s possible to make very fine adjustments to the zoom – by flicking the zoom collar it’s possible to set 80 discrete positions in both directions. Fully extended the barrel protrudes by 58mm from the housing. Unlike the PowerShot SX30 IS there are no lens markings to indicate approximate focal length, though the screen does show the zoom magnification which you can multiply by 25 to make a rough calculation.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40: off / continuous

100% crop, 4.5-108mm at 108mm, 1/25, 100 ISO, Power O.I.S off.

 

100% crop, 4.5-108mm at 108mm, 1/25, 100 ISO, Power O.I.S on.

Like its predecessor, the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 uses Panasonic’s image stabilisation to reduce the effect of camera shake and the blur that results at slower shutter speeds, although the earlier OIS has been updated to the company’s latest Power OIS. There are four settings, Off, Auto, Mode 1, which applies stabilisation continuously and Mode 2, which activates it when the shutter release is pressed half-way.

The crops above are from shots taken with the Lumix FZ 45 / FZ40 with the lens set to its maximum focal length of 108mm – the equivalent of 600mm on a full-frame 35mm camera. At this focal length you’d ordinarily expect to be using a shutter speed of 1/600 to avoid camera shake. Both of these crops are from shots taken with a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second, for the one on the left Power O.I.S was turned of, for the one on the right it was set to Continuous. As you can see the FZ45 / FZ40 has coped impressively with the low light conditions managing to produce a crisp image more than 4 stops slower than you would expect – this confirms the claims of Panasonic’s Power OIS system.

 
 
 
 

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has a variety of AF options as well as the ability to set focusing manually. There is, of course Face detection which can detect up to 15 faces and lock focus on one of them. Multiple AF uses 23 areas to determine the best focus and there’s a single area AF option with a default central AF area that can be moved around the screen.

Manual focusing is selected by pressing the AF/AF Macro/MF button on the rear panel and then using the rear dial to adjust the focus referencing a scale on the screen, remembering first to press the dial in to switch from exposure adjustment. The scale uses the width of the screen to represent distances from a few centimetres to infinity, so it’s difficult, if not impossible to focus precisely without invoking the MF assist function which magnifies a portion of the screen. It takes several turns of the rear dial to move the focus point by a significant amount, but the left and right buttons on the mode dial provide a quicker alternative. The scale graphically represents the depth of field, which gives you an indication of how successful your manual focussing efforts are likely to be.

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In AF tracking mode pressing the AF/AE lock on the rear panel locks and tracks the object within the central target area. Like Face detection, AF tracking holds onto subjects well in good light, but in poor lighting conditions and when subjects move quickly, it can slip off the target.

The pre AF mode, which is set from the main menu, helps speed up the focusing process by pre-focusing before you press the shutter release. There are two options Q-AF and C-AF for Quick and Continuous respectively. C-AF works the same way as continuous AF on most cameras, including the PowerShot SX30 IS, with all the implications for battery life that continual adjustment of the focus motor carries. Q-AF rather cleverly uses the image stabilization system to detect when the degree of jitter becomes minimal, interprets this as you framing up your shot, and only then activates AF.

We should also mention here that the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 supports face recognition. Up to six faces can be stored along with name, D.O.B. and a custom AF icon. Focus and exposure are prioritised on recognised faces which can be registered manually, or you can set things up so that the camera automatically registers frequently shot faces. It’s a feature that’s popular on Panasonic’s compact range and undeniably great fun to see the names of people appear below their faces when they’re recognised. What would make it truly useful is to have the name recorded as a keyword in the image’s EXIF data.

The screen on the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has been increased to 3 inches diagonally from the 2.7 inch screen of the FZ38 / FZ35. Most of the extra space has been added to the horizontal dimension, so the greatest benefit will be felt when shooting 16:9 aspect ratio HD movies which fill the screen horizontally with a narrow black strip above and below.Where 4:3 aspect ratio stills (and VGA video) filled the screen of the FZ38 / FZ35, there are now narrow vertical black bars either side. Though the screen is bigger, the number of pixels remains at 230 thousand and this provides a sharp and detailed image, the only evidence of pixellation occurring when viewing magnified portions using the MF assist feature.

The screen is fixed, putting it at a distinct disadvantage compared to the articulated screen of the PowerShot SX30 IS and the Lumix FZ100, you can’t, for example tilt it to keep it out of the sun, or to get a better view with the camera held up high or down low. This is less of an issue than it might be, though as the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has a electronic viewfinder. This is activated by a small button to the right of it which simultaneously turns off the main screen. Unlike the main screen, there’s little to differentiate between the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40, FZ100 and PowerShot SX30 IS where the viewfinder is concerned.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40’s menu system is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button at the centre of the control pad and is arranged on three tabs, Rec – for shooting stills, Motion Picture and Setup. The Rec tab is pretty extensive – in the PASM exposure modes it contains 25 options ranged over five pages. This in itself isn’t a problem but it would be a help if the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 had something like the PowerShot SX30’s hint feature to tell you what some of the options are for. The ‘Mode 1’ and ‘Mode 2’ stabiliser options, for example, would benefit by being renamed ‘continuous’ and ‘partial’ or something else that better describes what they actually do. The Setup menu has seven pages of options, though many of these, like the time and date settings, power saving options, USB and HDMI port modes and display options, are things you’ll most likely set only rarely.

The menus are tailored to display only those options available in the selected exposure mode. In Intelligent auto mode, for example, the Rec menu is replaced with an iA menu with just five options. The full list includes Picture size, picture quality, sensitivity, white balance, AF mode, Burst, Stabilisation and colour rendering.

The Motion picture menu allows you to set movie recording options including recording quality, Pre AF mode and to activate the wind filter and zoom mic feature.

The Q. Menu button activates a shortcut menu overlay with frequently used functions. As with the main menu these are dependant on the selected exposure mode. In Program mode the full list is flash, burst shooting, metering mode, AF mode, white balance, aspect ratio, picture size, movie recording quality, and LCD mode. As with the PowerShot SX30 IS, there’s no ISO setting here because that has it’s own dedicated button on the control pad.

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In Playback mode the Setup menu tab is joined by Mode and Playback tabs. The first of these is used to select between normal playback, slideshow, mode playback, from which you can chose to play just movies or stills, and category-based filtered playback. The Playback menu provides some basic editing tools including a tool which splits movie clips and one that allows you to edit Face recognition information.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has a wide range of exposure options ranging from the fully automatic Intelligent Auto mode to fully manual exposure control. In between there are semi auto aperture and shutter speed priority modes providing the PASM quartet familiar to SLR users as well as a wide range of scene modes. No fewer than six of these have their own setting on the mode dial, the remainder being chosen from a screen menu having selected the SCN position on the mode dial.

Intelligent Auto mode employs scene detection and, where appropriate, selects the Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Sunset or Baby scene modes, otherwise, it uses the standard auto exposure settings. Intelligent auto also employs intelligent ISO which detects motion in the frame and selects an appropriately high sensitivity setting to enable a suitably fast shutter speed. Lastly, Intelligent exposure sets different ISO levels for individual scene areas to produce an exposure that captures a wider range of tonal detail than would otherwise be possible. Intelligent ISO and Intelligent Exposure are also available in other modes.

Panasonic’s scene detection works pretty flawlessly, identifying scene types swiftly and accurately. Though it’s a less sophisticated system than the PowerShot SX30 IS’s, with fewer scene types, it was more often able to make an identification in situations where the SX30 IS defaulted to the ‘generic’ auto exposure setting.

In Semi auto and manual modes aperture and shutter speed are set using the rear dial. In Manual, a push on the dial toggles between aperture and shutter speed and rotating the dial changes the setting which is displayed at the bottom of the screen. In semi-auto modes pushing the real dial switches between exposure settings and exposure compensation. Shutter speeds range from 60 seconds to 1/2000, with a one second lower limit in Program mode.

The scene modes allocated pride of place on the mode dial are My colours, Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Close-up and Night portrait. Selecting any of these provides further options on a screen overlay. For example, My colours provides a choice of colour rendering options, Portrait offers normal, soft skin outdoor, indoor and creative options and the Scenery scene mode offers normal, nature, architecture and creative.

The creative element in these modes provides an additional level of control appropriate to the scene – in portrait you can adjust the aperture and hence the depth of field, in Scenery mode you can adjust the shutter speed to produce more interesting water effects. A further 17 scene modes are available from the SCN position on the mode dial, These include Panorama Assist, two baby modes, Pet, Sunset, High Sens, High Supped Burst, Flash Burst, Aerial Photo and Frame.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 Movie Mode

Like its predecessor, the FZ45 / FZ40 can record movies in 720p HD mode with a choice of encoding formats as well as offering three standard resolution video recording formats. The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has twin stereo mics mounted on top of the flash housing, a dedicated video recording button and you can use the 24x optical zoom and stabilizer during recording. You can’t shoot still images while video recording is in progress, though that option is available on the Lumix FZ100.

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In contrast to Canon, which has switched from Motion JPEG to the better quality, more efficient H.264 codec, Panasonic continues to offer both Motion JPEG and AVCHD Lite formats on the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40. When set to AVCHD Lite you have the choice of three 720p quality settings, SH, H and L which encode footage at 17, 13 and 9Mbps respectively. If you have a ‘PAL’ model (Europe / Aus / NZ), the sensor outputs 25fps and the AVCHD files are recorded at 50p. If you have an ‘NTSC’ model (North America), the sensor outputs 30fps and the AVCHD files are recorded at 60p.

Switch to Motion JPEG and the 720p HD option is joined by WVGA (848 x 480), VGA (640 x 480), and QVGA (320 x 240) size options, all recorded at a fixed quality setting and at a frame rate of 30fps regardless of geographic region. Note to support AVCHD Lite, you’ll need to use a memory card rated as Class 4 or quicker, while to support Motion JPEG, you’ll need Class 6 or faster. For the record, AVCHD Lite is the same as AVCHD, but only operating at 720p.

So which mode should you use? Motion JPEG may be older, but has the advantage of easier editing and greater compatibility, but AVCHD enjoys longer recording times. To put them in perspective, the FZ45 / FZ40’s AVCHD Lite mode (even in its best quality SH setting) consumes almost half as much memory as Motion JPEG, allowing you to squeeze around double the footage into the same space, while delivering roughly the same image quality. Given an 8GB card, you’re looking at around half an hour of footage in Motion JPEG as opposed to one hour with AVCHD, again even when the latter is set to its best quality SH mode.

Beyond more efficient compression though, the really important feature of AVCHD is potentially longer recording times per file. Motion JPEG files on the FZ45 / FZ40 are restricted to 2GB in size, which limits the HD mode to clips lasting about 8 minutes and 20 seconds each. In contrast, switching to the AVCHD Lite mode allows you to keep recording uninterrupted until you run out of memory or battery life. Fit an 8GB card and you could record for an hour in the best quality setting.

There is however one important caveat for the European Lumix FZ45 version, which has a maximum recording time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds per file to comply with tax regulations. But that’s still much longer than the 8 minute maximum of Motion JPEG.

Another difference worth noting between the two formats is their location on the card itself. Motion JPEG ‘MOV’ files may be found alongside your still photos in the DCIM folder, but the AVCHD ‘MTS’ files are buried away in various nested folders which start with one unhelpfully labelled PRIVATE on your card. This is to ensure compatibility with Panasonic’s TVs, and to play them on your computer, simply point your software at this folder and it’ll work out the rest; we had no issues playing back in Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 8 which ‘saw’ them as a Blu-Ray disc, or opening them directly into VLC Player. Either way, just remember to copy the MTS files out of this folder before reformatting your card.

Movie recording can be started regardless of the mode dial position by pressing the dedicated record button immediately behind the shutter release. Switch the mode dial to the Creative movie mode position, though, an you have the option to select one of the PASM exposure modes for manual control over the aperture and shutter speed – a welcome facility for video-philes.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 sample video 1: outdoors, sunny conditions, handheld panning with zoom

This hand held shot shows the full extent of the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 zoom. The AF holds the focus reasonably well, though it does wander a little near the end of the range.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 sample video 2: outdoors, sunny conditions, tripod panning with zoom

In this tripod-mounted panning shot, the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 does a better job of holding the focus. It loses it momentarily a couple of times, but regains it very quickly.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld panning

And in this indoor low light example, the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 does a good job of coping with changes in the light level.

Panasonic Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 Continuous shooting and sensor

In Burst mode with a quoted continuous shooting speed of 1.8 frames per second the Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 does a little better than the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. In our tests it actually did significantly better, managing around 2.5fps, however, the FZ45 / FZ40 is limited to a 3-frame burst with the picture quality set to fine, or five frames with it set to standard quality.

The High Speed Burst scene mode shoots 3 Megapixel images at speeds of 5fps in image priority mode and 10fps in speed priority mode, both at relatively high sensitivities. In practice we got better than quoted performance, in image priority mode we managed just over 8fps. The number of images you can record, up to a maximum of 100 is mostly dependent on the speed of your card, so if continuous shooting is important to you it’s worth investing in a card with high write speeds.

The Lumix FZ45 / FZ40 has a 1 / 2.3 inch CCD sensor with 14 Megapixels producing images with a maximum size of 4320 x 3240. Still image files can be saved in JPEG format at one of two compression settings, Fine and Standard. In a continued advantage over Canon’s super-zoom, the FZ45 / FZ40 can record RAW files, and now you can accompany them with JPEGs at either of the quality settings. Maximum resolution images shot using the Fine quality setting are around 5Mb in size and RAW files 16Mb.

The ISO range is 80 to 1600 ISO with a High Sens scene mode that operates between 1600 and 6400 ISO. To see how the quality of the FZ45 / FZ40 measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.

 

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