Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 Review
Look and Feel
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is a relatively compact super zoom camera. It's made mostly of plastic (with a little metal thrown in for good measure), and it feels pretty solid. While it doesn't have a gigantic right hand grip, I did find the FZ35 easy to hold with one hand. There's a spot for your right thumb to rest on, but it's dangerously close to the AF/AE lock button, so be careful. Something else to watch out for is your fingers covering the AF-assist lamp -- it's very easy to do.
Ergonomics are a mixed bag. While the most important controls are easy to reach, the FZ35 suffers a little from what I call "button clutter". Still, all the buttons are well labeled, so you can figure out what they do without having to read the manual first.
Now let's take a look at how the FZ35 compares to other super zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:
Hey, look at that -- the FZ35 is the smallest and lightest super zoom camera in the group! That doesn't mean that it'll fit into your jeans pocket -- it won't. However, it will sit comfortably in a jacket pocket or a camera bag.
Ready to tour the FZ35 now? Let's begin!
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 features an 18X optical zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens. While its specs are the same as the lens found on its predecessor, the new Power OIS image stabilization system leads me to believe that this lens is a newer version. Anyhow, this F2.8-4.4 lens has a focal range of 4.8 - 86.4 mm which is equivalent to a really nice 27 - 486 mm. Both the lens itself and the barrel around it are threaded. The thread diameter on the lens is 46 mm, which is where you'll screw on the ND, polarizing, and MC filters that I mentioned earlier. Attaching the conversion lens adapter gives you access to 55 mm accessories, including the tele and close-up conversion lenses.
One of the big new features on the FZ35 is its "Power" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. The biggest improvements with the Power OIS system relate to low frequency vibration, which most frequently occur when you're pressing the shutter release button, or taking a photo with a slow shutter speed in low light situations. Panasonic says the new Power OIS system gives you nearly double the corrective power of their old Mega OIS system. Now, that's not an easy thing to test, so I'll have to take their word for it. I can, however, offer you these comparison photos:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Each of these photos was taken at 1/8th of a second, at roughly the 4X zoom position. As you can see, the shot with Power OIS turned on is dramatically sharper. As you'd expect, you can also use the IS system in movie mode, and you can see how well it works in this brief sample video.
Directly above the lens is the FZ35's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of this flash is quite powerful: it's 0.3 - 8.5 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 5.4 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). The one thing you can't do with the FZ35 is add an external flash. Those of you who remember the older FZ-series models may recall that some of them had a hot shoe -- not anymore!
The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, located on the right side, just under the "HD" logo. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The first thing to see on the back of the FZ35 is its 2.7-inch LCD display, which has 230,000 pixels. Yeah, a 3-inch, 460k pixel screen would've been nice, but I guess you can't have everything. Outdoor visibility is very good, especially if you have Auto Power LCD turned on. Low light viewing is okay by default, though turning Power LCD on manually helps.
Above the LCD you'll find the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This is essentially a small LCD that you use as if it was an optical viewfinder. It shows the exact same things as the main screen, you get 100% coverage, and there's no parallax error to deal with. The bad news is that EVFs are never as bright or as sharp as a real optical viewfinder. The EVF here is 0.20" in size (that's on the small side), and has 201,600 pixels (that's about average). Sharpness was decent, but not spectacular. Since this viewfinder uses LCoS technology, you may notice a sort of rainbow effect if you blink or quickly pan the camera around. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction knob on its left side.
To the left of the EVF is the release for the pop-up flash. On the opposite side you'll find the FZ35's speaker. Continuing to the right we find the dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. When you're in creative motion picture mode, you can also use the shutter release button for video recording. Continuing to the right, we find the AE/AF lock button, which does exactly as it sounds, and it also activates AF tracking, as well (more on that later).
Moving downward now, we find the camera's joystick controller. The joystick can do many of the same things as the four-way controller, and it also lets you adjust exposure and focus manually. Press the joystick inward, and you'll open up the Quick Menu, which has the following options:
- AF mode
- White balance
- ISO sensitivity
- Intelligent exposure
- Picture size
- Movie quality
- LCD mode
I'll explain what all those options do later in this review.
Continuing with the tour, the next two buttons to see are for switching between the LCD and EVF, as well as toggling what information is shown on them. Under those is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, as well as:
- Up - Exposure compensation + Auto bracketing + color bracket + flash exposure compensation
- Down - Function (customizable)
- Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs, 10 secs / 3 photos)
- Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
- Center - Menu + Set
Time for a quick explanation. Both the exposure and flash compensation range is your typical -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments. The exposure compensation can be adjusted by using the joystick. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be 1/3, 2/3, or 1EV. Color bracketing takes two or three shots in a row, in the following combinations: black & white + standard, standard + sepia, and black & white + standard + sepia.
The function button is customizable. By default, it enters playback mode, but there are several other options that you can attach to it, as well. I'll tell you what those are later in the review.
Under the four-way controller is the button for selecting a burst mode, and deleting a photo while in playback mode. While there are several burst modes on the FZ35, the feature accessed via this button is the only one of them that shoots at full resolution. The first thing to mention is that this burst mode is for JPEG shooting only -- it is disabled when the quality is set to RAW or RAW+JPEG. The second thing is that you're limited to just three or five shots in a row (at around 2.3-2.4 frames/second), depending on the quality setting. While some Panasonic cameras have an unlimited mode, the FZ35 is not one of them. On a more positive note, the LCD does keep up nicely with the action, so you should be able to follow a moving subject, at least until that buffer quickly fills up.
The last thing to see on the back of the FZ35 is the record/playback mode switch, located at the top-right of the photo. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the slippery plastic thumb rest that it's adjacent to.
The first thing to see on the top of the DMC-FZ35 is its stereo microphone, which looks like it was lifted directly from Panasonic's DMC-GH1. The camera records audio using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, which helps cement the FZ35 into the camera/camcorder hybrid category.
Next up is the mode dial, which is packed full of options. They include:
There are a ton of things in that table that require further explanation, and I'll start with the FZ35's point-and-shoot features. If you want a point-and-shoot mode that does everything for you, then look no further than the Intelligent Auto mode. This feature detects faces, selects a scene mode, brightens shadows, reduces blur, and tracks moving subjects. The Intelligent Auto feature also works when recording movies, complete with face detection, auto scene selection, shadow brightening, and shake reduction.
|The menu for the close-up advanced scene mode||Creative close-up mode lets you adjust the aperture in an easy to understand way|
The FZ35 has a load of scene modes, as well. The five that have dedicated spots on the mode dial are what Panasonic calls "Advanced Scene Modes". These advanced modes bring a little bit of manual control in an otherwise point-and-shoot experience. Here are all five advanced scene modes:
- Soft skin
- Outdoor portrait (probably uses the fill flash)
- Indoor portrait (boosts ISO for less blur)
- Creative portrait (lets you adjust the aperture to blur the background)
- Nature (probably boosts saturation)
- Architecture (shows guide lines and may boost sharpness)
- Creative scenery (lets you adjust the shutter speed)
- Outdoor sports (fast shutter speeds without ISO boost)
- Indoor sports (fast shutter speeds with ISO boost)
- Creative sports (lets you adjust the shutter speed)
- Creative close-up (lets you adjust the aperture)
- Night portrait
- Night portrait (flash set to slow sync)
- Night scenery (flash off)
- Illuminations (like Christmas lights)
- Creative night scenery (lets you adjust the aperture)
And now, here are some of the more interesting options in the regular scene menu:
- Panorama Assist - helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single image
- Baby - stores the name and age of up to two children, and saves that info in the photo metadata
- Pet - same as above
- High sensitivity - cuts the resolution to 3MP and raises the ISO to 1600 - 6400; best to avoid this
- Hi-speed burst - takes anywhere from 15 to 100 photos at either 6 or 10 frames/second; resolution is lowered to 3MP or less and ISO sensitivity is increased
- Flash burst - take up to 5 flash photos in a row; resolution is lowered and ISO is boosted as high as 3200
- Panning - for panning the camera as a moving subject goes by; uses a slower shutter speed to blur the background; you can set the shutter speed manually here, as well
- Starry sky - allows you to take 15, 30, or 60 second exposures
- Pin hole, film grain - Panasonic's version of Olympus' art filters
- High dynamic - see below
- Photo frame - put a virtual frame around your photo; resolution lowered to 2 Megapixel
The high dynamic range feature was mentioned a few times in the FZ35's press release, so I thought it deserved a closer look. There are three options here: natural, art, and black & white. Natural mode just improves dynamic range compared to regular photos, while the art mode gives you that over-the-top saturation of a HDR photo. Do note that the ISO is locked at 400, which will reduce overall image quality. Here's an example of all four modes:
|Intelligent Auto (ISO 125)
View Full Size Image
|Normal high dynamic
View Full Size Image
|Art high dynamic
View Full Size Image
|B&W high dynamic
View Full Size Image
There's a pretty obvious bump in dynamic range as you go from a photo taken in Intelligent Auto mode to one taken with the normal high dynamic scene mode. If you view the full size images, you'll see that there's a huge loss in detail when the ISO goes to 400 as part of the high dynamic feature. In other words, this is best suited for small prints only.
Enough about point-and-shoot features -- how about the FZ35's manual controls? You get full control over the shutter speed, aperture, or both. There's no bulb mode, but you can use the starry sky feature for the same effect (more or less). There are also manual controls for white balance and focus that I'll tell you about in a moment. The FZ35 also has a custom spot on the mode dial, which can store up to three sets of camera settings.
Returning to our tour, the next thing on the top of the FZ35 is its power switch, which is located to the right of the mode dial.
Next up are two focus-related buttons: one selects the focus mode, while the other selects a focus point. The four focus modes include AF, AF macro, macro zoom, and manual focus. I'll cover the macro options later, but here's what I can tell you about the manual focus feature. You'll adjust the focus distance using the joystick. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the right side of the LCD/EVF, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure your subject is properly focused. You can move the zoom box around with the four-way controller, which comes in handy when you're using a tripod. If you need a little help from the autofocus system, you can hit the Focus button for a quick fix.
|If you're using spot or area AF, you can select where in the frame the camera should focus||For multi-point AF, you can select which focus points are used|
The focus point selection button's function varies a bit, depending on what AF mode you're using. If you're using spot or center AF, you can move the focus point anywhere in the frame. In multi-point mode, you can select which focus points are active (see screenshots above).
The last item on the top of the FZ35 is its shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom is capable of moving slowly or quickly, depending on how much pressure you put on the controller. At full speed, the lens moves from wide to telephoto in about 2.4 seconds. There are roughly forty steps in the 18X zoom range, which is impressive.
On this side of the FZ35 you'll find its I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover of average quality. The ports here are mini-HDMI and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). The HDMI port is how you'll connect to an HDTV, though you'll need to buy the cable first. If you're connected to a modern Panasonic Viera television, you can control the camera using your TV remote.
The lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the other side of the camera is its remaining I/O port, which is for both USB and A/V output.
The lens is at the full telephoto position in this shot. As you can see, it doesn't stick out very much for such a powerful lens!
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (obscured from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. This compartment has a reinforced plastic door of average quality, though it could use a locking mechanism. As you can see, you will not be able to access that memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.
The included CGR-S006 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.