With a relatively compact design and powerful 12x zoom lens, Panasonic's latest advanced digital still camera, the Lumix DMC-FZ8, looks to be a strong entry into the category. However, it exhibited numerous issues in our image quality tests, including slightly soft pictures and some colour inaccuracies, which meant it wasn't as impressive as it could have been.
- Nice design, big zoom, nice image stabilisation options
- Soft pictures in some parts, oversaturated reds
While it does have a few things going for it, including a big zoom and comfortable design, the soft edges and colour reproduction issues mean the FZ8 isn't as impressive as it could have been.
Price$ 659.00 (AUD)
The chief issue we had was with the lack of sharpness. Our shots showed prominent fringing in some areas and had quite a fuzzy look to them when viewed at full size. As usual, when making 4in x 6in prints, this won't be a problem, but enlargements will begin to highlight these flaws and as this is an advanced camera, this is an area of concern.
Imatest returned some interesting results. Most vertical edges tested achieved scores around 1400, which is below average for a 7.2 megapixel sensor and corroborates the results of our informal test shots. However, some horizontal lines we tested returned much higher scores around 1650, as well as exhibiting strong degrees of oversharpening, upwards of 20%. This was a rare situation and the majority of the time the results were around 1400, however it is worth noting that this seems to vary a little. We were unable to reproduce the shots that scored highly at will.
Our chromatic aberration test returned quite good results, giving the FZ8 a score of .068%. This is well below the norm and means blurring and haloing towards the edges of the shots should be kept to a minimum. We did notice a small amount of blue haloing on areas of high contrast, but it wasn't hugely problematic.
The FZ8's noise performance was reasonable without being fantastic, with Imatest awarding it a score of .73% in its noise test. This is a fairly standard result and about what we were expecting considering the problems previous Panasonic advanced models had with image noise. Our test shots revealed slight signs of speckling which was visible at full size but not noticeable in smaller magnifications. The noise also scaled reasonably well, with our shots at ISO 1250 only scoring 1.68. However keep in mind that the speckling was extremely blotchy and quite colourful, making it much more noticeable than the noise produced by lower sensitivities. We wouldn't recommend exceeding ISO 400 if you want your shots to look their best.
Unfortunately the FZ8's colour reproduction left us a little disappointed. Our shots looked bright and vibrant for the most part, however there was some very noticeable over saturation in several shades, particularly red. Imatest gave it a score of 9.56 for colour, which is consistent with our test shots. This is a quite a bit higher than the scores we normally see from compact and advanced models, but aside from the strong over saturation of reds, most of the other inaccuracies were fairly minor and shouldn't prove to be noticeable in your shots.
In our speed tests, the FZ8 exhibited mixed results. While its shutter lag of .01 of a second was a bit sluggish, it only took .9 of a second before it was ready for the next snap. Meanwhile its 2.5 second start up time is a little slow, but completely understandable considering the behemoth 12x zoom lens has to extend each time you fire the unit up.
As usual, Panasonic accompany this lens with an array of options designed to make the most out of it. The now familiar Optical Image Stabilisation makes a welcome return and works as well as ever when it comes to keeping handshake and blur out of your pictures when shooting far off objects. w\What will really catch some people's eyes though, is the inclusion of Panasonic's new Intelligent ISO. When activated, this mode will automatically detect if the subject matter is moving too fast and compensates by increasing the sensitivity. In our tests this worked moderately well, although we'd like the ability to put a cap on how high it takes sensitivity because as we stated, anything much above ISO 400 tends to produce shots that are simply too noisy.
Aside from these technologies, all the standard features are here, including ISO sensitivities up to 1250 (and a High Sensitivity scene mode), white balance presets and custom modes and a 2.5 frame per second burst mode. There are the usual array of focus and metering modes, including the ability to pick from one of eleven points or one of several groups of points, as well as manual, shutter and aperture priority modes. Meanwhile there are 20 scene modes for novice users, along with a simple shooting mode that disables all the advanced features.
Aesthetically, the unit is quite nice. It is difficult to make comfortable, attractive ultra zoom cameras and while the FZ8 is far from the prettiest camera on the market it looks good. Constructed largely of matte black plastic, it isn't as sturdy as we'd like, but the jutting, rubber right hand grip is comfortable and makes the unit easy to grip. It is well weighted and all the controls are easily accessible. They are comprised of the standard combination of a directional pad, thumbstick, function wheel and a few buttons for focus mode, O.I.S, trash can and display.
Overall, the FZ8 is a decent but not noteworthy addition to the advanced camera market from Panasonic. It = could have been a very impressive unit, boasting a speedy shot-to-shot time, big zoom and nice design. But the soft edges and strongly oversaturated reds mean the pictures it produces aren't on par with those from competing models.
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