So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
- Great features, Speedy operation, Big zoom
- Soft pictures, Noise canceling algorithm leads to loss of clarity, Big, Price
While the FZ50 is a reasonably strong advanced camera, a combination of its size, price tag and issues at high sensitivities mean it is only suited to certain buyers.
Price$ 989.00 (AUD)
Panasonic's latest pseudo-SLR, the FZ50, includes a 10 megapixel sensor and 12x optical zoom. While it doesn't capture the best pictures we've seen, they are quite good, and combined with a robust feature set and a few nice design elements, the FZ50 is a reasonably strong advanced camera.
The Imatest sharpness test score of 1599 is a decent result for an advanced camera, and satisfied our expectations of the FZ50's 10 megapixel sensor. Unfortunately, it was somewhat counterfeited by the high level of undersharpening, which Imatest detected at 15%. This was clearly evident in our shots, with some edges having a soft look to them that left us longing for a little more clarity.
Images were further hampered by high chromatic aberration, for which Imatest gave a score of .194%. The norm for high-end advanced models is usually around .12% or so, so the FZ50's performance left a little to be desired. When we opened our test shots, there was some obvious haloing and fringing at areas of high contrast, however bizarrely it only showed up on horizontal edges. Our test charts contain both horizontal and vertical edges, and while the vertical lines showed no signs of chromatic aberration at all, the horizontal edges had pronounced blue and red fringing.
The FZ50's colour results were slightly better, but still not particularly impressive, with Imatest awarding a score of 8.9 in the colour checker test. Red and green were the two major problem areas, with blue, yellow and the greyscale spectrum being much more accurate. Most cameras score between seven and eight in this test, so this result is slightly below average.
The same can be said for its results in our noise test, with the FZ50 achieving a score of .65%; slightly higher than the .55% or so that we normally see from advanced units. Even so, at this level the noise really isn't visible at smaller magnifications and won't be a concern unless you're making fairly large prints. Furthermore, this unit exhibited very little noise at high ISO sensitivities, scoring just 1.06% at ISO 1600. This is deceptive however, as the noise reduction technology begins to kick in above ISO 200 and it really shows in the shots. While the noise at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 is quite low, significant detail is sacrificed to achieve this through sharpness degradation by the noise reduction algorithm. We'd recommend steering clear of ISO settings above 400 if you purchase this camera.
Thankfully while the images have a few issues, Panasonic has done a good job of packing in all the features you'd expect from a pro-sumer camera. In addition to manual, aperture, shutter and program priority modes there are three custom settings, allowing you to save a pre-determined configuration for later use, and 14 scene modes. Shutter speed extends from 60 seconds to 1/2000th of a second, with aperture ranging from f/2.8 to f/11. There are the usual array of preset white balance modes, as well as a custom option, and ISO sensitivities up to ISO 1600. One big selling point of this model is its resemblance to an SLR, and especially the fact that manual focus is controlled via a focus ring towards the middle of the lens. The array of metering options - including spot, centre and multi-zone - further complement this..
The FZ50 also sports a massive 12x optical zoom lens, which is accompanied by Panasonic's fantastic Mega Optical Image Stabilisation, one of the best OIS technologies on the market. Stabilisation made a noticeable difference in our test shots, and while shooting at a full 12x zoom is still something better saved for when you've got a tripod, the OIS really helped reduce the effect of handshake at mid to high zoom levels.
In our speed tests, everything was handled quite well. As the lens itself doesn't extend (it permanently juts out from the front of the unit) there is very little start-up time, so you'll be snapping shots in just over a second. Meanwhile the FZ50's .06 seconds of start-up time and 1.7 seconds between shots are more than adequate for ensuring a speedy user experience. Similarly, the burst modes performed quite well. The high-speed option operates at roughly 3.5 frames per second, but only runs for three shots, while the other variant is slightly more sedate, at three frames per second.
The FZ50 follows the design exhibited by previous Panasonic advanced units. It is extremely bulky, even by pro-sumer camera standards, basically resembling an SLR. It has a jutting, rubberised right hand grip and is quite comfortable to hold, although a little bulky for our tastes. The black, plastic chassis looks reasonably smooth and gives the camera somewhat of a professional look. Also note that although the LCD is quite small, it looks reasonably good and is hinged along the bottom, allowing you to rotate and flip it for more difficult shooting situations.
The control layout seems designed to mimic popular SLR designs, offering a string of buttons down the side of the display, a directional pad, a function wheel on top and a switch on the side of the lens for focus modes. Everything is fairly intuitive, although novice users may struggle with the multitude of buttons. Panasonic quotes the battery life at 360 shots, which is quite good but not outstanding. It will be more than adequate for most.
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