Originally Posted: September 13, 2009
Last Updated: November 13, 2010
The Lumix DMC-FZ35 ($399) is the update to Panasonic's popular FZ28 super zoom camera. While both cameras share the same basic design and 18X, 27 - 486 mm Leica lens, the differences are more than skin deep. The biggest changes are an improved image stabilizer, faster autofocus system, and an enhanced movie mode, though there's plenty more. This chart compares the major features of the FZ28 and FZ35:
And those are just the major changes! There are a few other differences that I'll touch on as this review progresses.
Speaking of reviews, this one's starting now, so keep reading!
The Lumix DMC-FZ35 is known as the DMC-FZ38 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ35 camera
- CGR-S006A lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Lens hood w/adapter
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD, SilkyPix Developer Studio, ArcSoft Media Impression and Panorama Maker and documentation
- 36 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
Like most manufacturers, Panasonic has built memory right into the DMC-FZ35, instead of including a memory card. The FZ35 has 40MB of built in memory, which holds just five photos at the highest JPEG quality setting. That means that you'll need to go memory card shopping right away, unless you already have one. The FZ35 supports SD and SDHC memory cards, and I'd suggest a 4GB one to start with. If you'll be recording a lot of movies, it may be worth going even larger. You'll want to use a card with a Class 4 or 6 speed rating for best results.
The FZ35 uses the familiar CGR-S006 rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery is packs a modest 5.0 Wh of energy into its plastic shell. Let's see what kind of battery life numbers Panasonic managed to squeeze out of it, and how that number compares to those from other super zooms:
The DMC-FZ35 has some pretty tough competition, especially from the Canon SX20. In this super zoom group (which is missing the Samsung HZ25W, since I have almost zero information about it), the FZ35's are well above average.
There are a few things to mention about the proprietary battery used by the FZ35 and many of the cameras on the above list. First, they're expensive -- a spare CGR-S006 will set you back at least $50. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery should your rechargeable die, as you can with AA-based cameras.
Another Panasonic-specific battery issue: some folks like
to use generic batteries in their camera. Panasonic's latest models check
to make sure you're using a genuine Panasonic battery. If you're using a third
party battery, the camera will likely complain about it and shut down.
Update: Turns out that my Panasonic contact was incorrect about this. You can currently use generic batteries with the FZ35, though that may change in the future.
When it's time to refill the CGR-S006 battery, just put it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall, and it'll take the battery from empty to full in two hours.
The FZ35 comes with a big 'ol lens cap (with retaining strap) to keep that Leica lens protected from the elements.
Something else you'll find inside the box is a lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood consists of two parts: a screw-on plastic ring for the lens barrel, and the hood itself, which attaches to the ring via a thumb screw.
Panasonic offers a plethora of accessories for the Lumix DMC-FZ35. They include:
Not too shabby! While the two conversion lenses require the adapter, the filters attach directly to the camera. The only thing missing here is an external flash.
PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD in Windows
Panasonic includes quite a bit of software with the DMC-FZ35. First up is PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD, which is for Windows only. This software has the usual image viewing and organizing features, and I especially like you can filter photos by things like scene mode or if faces are recognized. You can also drill-down by date, as you can see above. One thing I don't care for about PhotoFunStudio is its reliance on "wizards" to do everything, which just adds unnecessary steps.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
The still image editing tools haven't changed a whole lot since the last version of PhotoFunStudio. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them or export them to other formats.
Two additional photo editing products included with the DMC-FZ35 are ArcSoft MediaImpression and PanoramaMaker. You can read more about those in my review of the Lumix DMC-FX580.
SilkyPix in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies you with SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky and hard to use. That doesn't mean that the software isn't capable -- quite the opposite, in fact. SilkyPix is a powerful RAW editor, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to white balance (with fine-tuning) to the tone curve. You can also adjust noise reduction, lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and much, much more.
If you've got Photoshop CS4, you can also use the Camera Raw plug-in (version 5.5 or newer) to work with the FZ35's RAW files.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the FZ35's image sensor. In order to do anything with this information, you must first process it on your Mac or PC, as shown above. When you do that, you can adjust white balance, exposure, and more, without reducing the quality of the image. It's as if you get to take the photo again. Do note that RAW files are larger than JPEGs, taking up more space on your memory card, and they can also reduce camera performance in certain situations (like shooting in burst mode).
Trimming a video in PhotoFunStudio
Jumping to the video side of things, there are a couple of basic editing tools available in PhotoFunStudio. You can trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip (though the interface hurts my brain), burn your movies to a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, or upload a video to YouTube. There aren't any serious editing tools here, and there's no way to convert AVCHD Lite files to another format.
So what about working with movies using other (non-Panasonic) software? I'll break this section down into three parts: viewing, transcoding, and editing. This is specifically for AVCHD Lite files, not Motion JPEG, as those are easy to view on your computer.
Viewing AVCHD Lite movies
The first thing to know is where the AVCHD files are kept. On your memory card, they're the .MTS files in /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM. They'll have very descriptive names, such as 00001.MTS.
If you're on a Mac and want to just watch your AVCHD Lite files, I recommend VLC (free) or Toast Titanium 10 (not free). QuickTime Player cannot open the MTS files, but you can transcode them into another format to do that (see below).
Those of you already running Windows 7 can view AVCHD movies in Windows Media Player, without having to install any additional software. If you're running an older version of Windows, you may want to try VLC or K-Lite Codec Pack.
Transcoding (converting) AVCHD Lite movies
Life gets a lot easier when you convert AVCHD Lite movies to more common formats. Some editing suites (mentioned below) do this automatically, but let's just say that you want to convert an MTS file to MP4 or WMV format.
My personal favorite for the Mac is Handbrake. It's not pretty, but it's free, fairly quick, and managed to maintain the faux 60 fps frame rate of the original movies. Other options include Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn movies to DVD or Blu-ray disc), VLC, and VoltaicHD, though the frame rate of the resulting movie was always 30 fps (not that it seems to make a difference).
Editing AVCHD Lite videos
AVCHD Lite is not an editor-friendly codec. There aren't any native editors on the Mac side, though things are more promising for Windows users. If you've got a Mac, you can import the videos using the latest version of iMovie 09. The software transcodes the MTS files to Apple Intermediate Codec, so you're not natively editing AVCHD Lite. Still, it works just fine. Final Cut Pro works in a similar way (no native editing), though it's vastly more complex (and more powerful).
Some modern editing suites for Windows actually work natively with the AVCHD Lite files. Two products that I know work are Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Pinnacle Studio 12 Plus/Ultimate, and Sony Vegas. There are probably others, and there's a list on Wikipedia of software that supports AVCHD (the regular version, at least).
That's more than enough about software, if you ask me!
The manual situation has taken a turn for the worse on the Lumix DMC-FZ35. Panasonic no longer includes a full, printed manual in the box. Instead, you get a roughly 35 page "Basic Manual" which is, well, very basic. For more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is on an included CD-ROM disc. That manual will answer all the questions you could possibly have, but I would much prefer a printed manual to a digital one. Neither of the manuals are what I'd call user friendly, with lots of fine print and confusing tables. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
It takes the FZ35 about 1.5 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting -- pretty good for its class.
A live histogram is available
One of the improvements on the FZ35 is in the autofocus performance department. The camera definitely impressed in this area, with focus times ranging from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 1.0 seconds at telephoto. You can increase the apparent autofocus speeds by using the Pre AF feature, though it does put an extra strain on your battery. Low light focusing was fairly quick and usually accurate, though watch your hands, as it's very easy to accidentally block the AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag wasn't noticeable at fast shutter speeds, and could be measured in fractions of a second at slower speeds (where you should really be using the flash or a tripod anyway).
Shot-to-shot speeds when the flash is disabled range from 2 seconds for JPEGs to 4 seconds for RAW+JPEG. Adding the flash into the mix added maybe a half-second delay.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that. You can quickly jump to playback mode by setting the "down" button on the four-way controller to "review" (which is the default, actually).
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the FZ35. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.
That's a pretty long list! The FZ35 can take RAW images alone, or with along with a standard quality JPEG at the resolution of your choosing. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review.
I should add that the camera maintains the same focal range, regardless of the aspect ratio used.
Comparing 1X (wide-angle), 18X (max telephoto), and 35.2X (max telephoto with extended digital zoom)
Like its predecessors, the FZ38 has what Panasonic calls Extended Optical Zoom. As you lower the resolution, you are able to use digital zoom without reducing the overall quality of the image. For example, if you drop to 3 Megapixel (still enough for a nice 4 x 6 inch print), you'll have a whopping 35.2X of total zoom power.
The FZ35 uses the standard Panasonic menu system. It's attractive, easy-to-navigate, and you can navigate through it using the four-way controller or the joystick. The menu is divided into three tabs, containing still, movie, and setup options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be available in each shooting mode, here's the full list of menu options:
Still image options
Motion Picture options (only unique settings listed)
There are a load of things to talk about before we can continue. Let's start with the Intelligent ISO feature. When this is turned on and the ISO sensitivity is set to Auto, the camera with analyze the movement in the scene. If there's little or no movement, it won't boost the ISO very much. However, if there is motion, you'll need a faster shutter speed to freeze the subject, so the ISO will get a bigger increase. The FZ35 lets you select the maximum ISO the camera will use, both for still and movie recording.
|Fine-tuning white balance||Setting the color temperature, complete with thermometer|
The FZ35 has nice set of manual white balance controls. You've got the usual presets, a pair of custom settings (where you can use a white or gray card), and the ability to set white balance by color temperature. If that's still not enough, you can even fine-tune your selected white balance setting. About the only thing missing here is white balance bracketing and (strangely) a fluorescent preset.
The camera locked onto all six faces
There are several focus modes to choose from on the DMC-FZ35. The standard options include 11-point, 1-point high speed, 1-point regular speed, and spot. As I illustrated earlier, you can position the focus point(s) using the focus button on the top of the camera. The difference between the two 1-point AF modes (besides the speed) is that the image on the LCD will briefly freeze while the camera is focusing when using the high speed mode. An AF tracking feature lets you select an object on the frame that you want to keep in focus, and the camera will follow it as it moves around the frame. Lastly, that brings us to face detection. This feature can find up to 15 faces in the frame, and make sure they're properly exposed and focused. Panasonic's face detection system is one of the best -- it easily found all six faces in our test scene.
|Two different photos of my niece are stored in the camera along with her name and age||When she comes up in a picture, it identifies her, and gives her priority if there are other faces in the frame|
Tied into the face detection system is what Panasonic calls face recognition. In a nutshell, you can teach the camera to identify certain people's faces. Those people are then given priority when faces are detected, and the name and age of the person can be stored into a photo's metadata. The FZ35 has the most elaborate version of face recognition I've seen yet, with the ability to learn who's who from up to three different pictures.
The Intelligent Exposure feature reduces the amount of contrast between your subject and the background. Thus, if the scene is heavily backlit, it'll brighten the shadows for you. This feature works as-needed in Intelligent Auto mode, and you have three levels of it in other shooting modes. Let's see if it does any good:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
This example doesn't quite show off this feature as well as the one I did for my Lumix DMC-FX580 review, so have a look at that one, too. You can see that things actually darken a bit when you go from no Intelligent Exposure to the low setting (and that may be okay, in this case). Once you hit normal and high, shadows get pretty bright -- maybe a little too much so. This feature does not do much for restoring highlight detail, as you can see.
The last item in the record menu that I wish to cover is the image stabilizer option. Mode 1 activates the IS system as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button. Mode 2 doesn't do that until the photo is actually taken, which results in better shake reduction. Auto mode switches between the two based on the conditions. Lastly, you can turn the whole thing off, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
Let's talk photo quality now, shall we?
The Lumix DMC-FZ35 did a very nice job with our macro test subject. Color looks good, and the figurine is quite sharp, with lots of detail captured. If you look closely you will see some noise (yes, at ISO 80), though this will only be noticeable if you're "pixel peeping" like I'm doing right now.
The FZ35 has an impressive macro focal range, though it varies depending on the zoom position. The minimum focus distance is 1 cm between the 1X and 4X positions, 2 meters between 4X and 10X, and 1 meter between 11X and 18X. If you want to get even closer at the telephoto end, you can pick up the close-up conversion lens I mentioned earlier in the review.
The other macro mode is called "macro zoom". It locks the lens at the wide-angle position, and allows you to use up to 3X worth of digital zoom to get closer. Do note that the digital zoom used here will degrade the quality of the photo.
The FZ35 performed well in the night scene, taken on a rare crystal clear summer night. With full control over the shutter speed, bringing in enough light is a piece of cake. If you don't want to deal with manual controls, the camera's Intelligent Auto mode can handle these situations, as well. The buildings are nice and sharp, from one edge of the frame to the other. There is some noise here as well, which you'll see in very large prints or when viewing the image at 100% on your computer monitor. All things considered, there is very little purple fringing to see here, as the camera's image processor removes it automatically. The FZ35 did a pretty good job maintaining highlight detail, at least by compact camera standards.
Alright, let's use that same scene to see how the FZ35 did at high ISO sensitivities in low light:
The ISO 100 image is just a tiny bit noisier than the one taken at ISO 80. The change is more noticeable at ISO 200, especially since details start disappearing. Fine and low contrast detail really starts to go at ISO 400. The image gets softer, and the black sky takes on a blotchy appearance. Thus, this is as high as I'd take the DMC-FZ35 in low light situations, at least if you're shooting JPEGs. The ISO 800 crop has significant detail loss as well as a color shift, so I'd avoid that setting and the one above it unless you're absolutely desperate.
Wondering if you can get better results by shooting RAW? So was I, which is why I put together this comparison:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.5 RC)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
At ISO 400, there is an improvement to be had by shooting RAW, though it's relatively small. As you can see from the RAW conversion, there isn't a lot of detail left to work with!
|9/15/09 update: RAW conversions redone using release version of Adobe Camera Raw 5.5|
We'll see how the FZ35 does in better light in a moment.
The FZ35 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. It can use a preflash to shrink your subject's pupils, and it can also digitally remove any redeye that it finds. Do note that the second option needs to be turned on in the menu system first! I had both options turned on, and the camera did a good (but not spectacular) job of removing this annoyance. This is your only chance to remove redeye on the camera itself, as there's no tool available in playback mode, as there is on some cameras.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the FZ38's 27 - 486 mm lens. I'm pretty sure that Panasonic cameras automatically correct for barrel distortion when you take the photo, which is why there isn't much here. The test chart didn't show any corner blurriness or vignetting, and I didn't see any of that in my real world photos, either.
Now it's time for the second of the two ISO tests in this review. Since this test is taken under consistent lighting, you can compare these photos with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. With the usual reminder to look at the full size images in addition to the crops, let's take a look at how the FZ35 performed at high ISO sensitivities:
There isn't much to report at ISO 80 and 100. You can start to see some grain appear at ISO 200, but it's not enough to cause me any concern. Noise reduction starts to eat at low contrast detail at ISO 400, giving the image a slightly softer appearance. Even so, a midsize or large print is still a possibility. Detail smudging becomes quite noticeable at ISO 800, so I'd try to avoid this setting whenever possible (though see below for a RAW comparison). ISO 1600 has too much detail loss to be usable.
Below is another JPEG vs. RAW comparison, this time at ISO 800:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As you can see, shooting in RAW mode here gets you an improvement in color saturation, sharpness, and detail. You can probably do even better than me if if you're skilled with your RAW editing software.
|9/15/09 update: RAW conversions redone using release version of Adobe Camera Raw 5.5|
Overall, the DMC-FZ35's image quality was very good, though there's definitely some room for improvement. Exposure was generally accurate, though the camera does clip some highlights here and there, though no worse than the competition. Color looks great -- nice and saturated. The only time the color seemed "off" to me was in the church interior shot in the gallery. Sharpness is right about where I like it -- not too sharp, not too soft. One thing I don't care for is the visible shadow noise that appears in all of my photos, even those taken at the base ISO of 80. It's better than having over-the-top noise reduction smudging away every little detail (you will spot some minor NR artifacts here and there, though), but I was expecting cleaner images from the FZ35. Obviously, noise levels increase as the ISO goes up, though I feel comfortable using sensitivities through ISO 400 in good light. I did not find purple fringing to be an issue -- probably because the Venus Engine HD is digitally removing it!
Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few of the pictures if you'd like, and then decide if the DMC-FZ35's image quality meets your needs.
In case you haven't noticed, one of the biggest new features on the DMC-FZ38 is its high definition movie mode. As I mentioned in the software section of the review, there are two codecs to choose from, each offering their own pros and cons. Here's a quick summary:
- AVCHD Lite
- Pros: Unlimited recording time (outside of Europe), high quality, easy viewing on Blu-ray players or HDTVs
- Cons: Difficult to edit, can only be played back on certain devices
- Motion JPEG
- Pros: Easy to edit and share, viewable on almost all devices/platforms
- Cons: Limited recording time, larger file sizes
When shooting AVCHD Lite movies, you have three bit rates to choose from: 17 Mbps (super high quality), 13 Mbps (high quality), and 9 Mbps (low quality). The resolution and frame rate are always the same -- 1280 x 720, at 60 frames/second. Before you get too excited about that frame rate, let me explain: while the MTS file does indeed contain 60 frames of video per second, the camera's sensor only outputs 30 frames per second. Thus, each frame is recorded twice, giving you the 60 fps number (which I believe is the AVCHD standard). This disparity makes editing an already difficult format even more fun. There's no recording time limit for AVCHD movies (a 4GB memory card holds 30 minutes of SHQ video), unless you live in Europe, where recording stops after 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Sound is recorded in stereo using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator.
If you want to avoid AVCHD and use Motion JPEG instead (which is not a bad idea), then here's what you need to know. The camera can record at 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. The camera can keep recording until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes a little over 8 minutes at the 720p setting.
There are several different ways to record a movie. In any shooting mode, simply press the red button on the back of the camera to start filming. If you're in Intelligent Auto mode, the camera will select a video scene mode for you, and even detect faces. If you want manual controls for your videos too, then you'll love the FZ35. It offers shutter and aperture priority modes, and a full-on manual mode that lets you select both of those. The shutter speed range is 1/30 - 1/20000 second, and you can go a little slower if you're manually focusing. The camera also lets you adjust the ISO sensitivity manually, with a range of 400 - 6400. If you've got Auto ISO turned on, then you can also set an upper limit for the camera to use.
Movie menu options
The FZ35 lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. The lens moves slowly and quietly, so the sound of the motor is not picked up by the microphone. The optical image stabilizer is available too, of course. Two other options of note include continuous autofocus (handy for when your subject is moving) as well as a wind cut filter. Something you won't find: any kind of editing tool (grr).
By the way, Panasonic recommends the use of a Class 6 SDHC card when recording HD videos.
It's sample movie time! First up are three AVCHD Lite movies, taken at the highest quality setting. I used Handbrake to convert them to easily viewable MPEG-4 files, though you can download the original MTS files if you're feeling adventurous.
And now, for the Motion JPEG sample -- no conversion needed! Be warned that this is a much larger download than the other three videos.
If you're having any trouble viewing any of these samples, make sure you have the latest version of QuickTime installed.
The DMC-FZ35 has the standard Panasonic playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last option lets you enlarge an image by up to sixteen times, and then move around in the image. This comes in handy when you want to see if someone had their eyes closed in a photo.
|Four ways to view photos||Filtering photos by category|
There are several ways in which you can view your photos. Normal play is your everyday one photo at a time view, and the slideshow feature does just as it sounds. Mode play lets you filter photos by whether they were stills or movies (you can select from AVCHD or M-JPEG). Finally, there's the category view, which lets you sort by things like portrait, landscape, baby, and more. The camera automatically puts photos into categories for you, so there's nothing you need to do to make this feature work.
|That enough thumbnails for you?||Calendar view|
I already told you that the FZ35 could show thumbnails of your photos -- how does thirty at a time sound? You can also jump to photos taken on a specific date using the calendar tool you see above.
Editing tools are fairly basic. Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped. A redeye removal tool would've been a nice touch. The leveling feature is a handy one, and perfect for people like me who can't seem to get a straight horizon if their life depended on it. Unfortunately, there are no movie editing tools on the FZ35 -- not even something to trim unwanted footage off of a clip.
The FZ35 shows you a decent amount of information about each photo. If there's some metadata attached to a picture (such as the name and age of a baby), it will be shown as well.
The camera moves from one photo to the next without delay.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is a very capable super zoom camera/camcorder hybrid. It offers an 18X optical zoom lens with a nice focal range, an enhanced image stabilization system, full manual controls, expandability and, of course, plenty of bells and whistles. It's also pretty good in the movie department: you can record 720p video until your memory card fills up (except in Europe), manual controls are available, and you have full use of the optical zoom and image stabilizer. Of course, no camera is perfect, and the FZ35 does have its flaws (such as shadow noise in photos and a video codec that's frustrating to work with), but despite that, it's easily one of the top super zoom cameras on the market.
The FZ35 is a compact camera by super zoom standards. The body is made mostly of plastic, with some metal thrown in for good measure, and it feels pretty solid. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, but if you choose to use two, make sure you don't block the AF-assist lamp with your left hand. The FZ35's 18X optical zoom Leica lens features an impressive zoom range of 27 - 486 mm, and you can expand that further by lowering the resolution a bit. The camera uses Panasonic's new Power OIS image stabilization system, which is supposed to do a better job at reducing camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release button. I can't vouch for how much better it is than the old system, but it worked quite well during my time with the FZ35. On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD display, with 230,000 pixels. Yeah, a larger and sharper screen would've been nice, but the one here is still pretty nice. It's bright, sharp, and easy to see outdoors. The camera also has an electronic viewfinder that's average in most respects. The FZ35 has a ton of accessories available, including conversion lenses and filters. About the only thing it doesn't support is an external flash.
The DMC-FZ35 is loaded with features for still image shooting. If you're a point-and-shoot kind of person, there's no auto mode better than Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. It does just about everything you can think of, including auto scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and subject tracking. If you want to select a scene mode on your own, there are plenty to choose from. Five of the scene modes even offer a little taste of manual controls, though in a totally non-intimidating manner. The most notable new scene mode is called High Dynamic, and it's supposed to improve the contrast balance of your photos. It does indeed do that, and the "art" mode gives you the over-the-top color of an HDR photo, though a lot of detail in your photos is lost in the process. The FZ35 not only detects faces (which it does very well), it even recognizes them. So, if your favorite niece is registered and shows up in the frame, she'll get focus and exposure priority over everyone else. The DMC-FZ35 also has a full suite of manual controls, which include shutter speed and aperture, white balance (including custom, color temperature, and fine-tuning options), and focus. The RAW image format is also supported, and Panasonic includes powerful but clunky software to work with those files.
The other hat that the FZ35 wears is one of a camcorder. On the surface, everything sounds great. The camera can record 720p video at 60 frames/second with digital stereo sound until your memory card is full. You have full use of both the optical zoom and image stabilizer, the camera can focus continuously, and a wind cut option can make outdoor videos tolerable. And did I mention the full manual controls?. Now, the bad news. If you're using the AVCHD Lite codec, which is great for showing videos on an HDTV, the camera isn't actually outputting 60 frames per second -- it's just saving each frame twice. The video files produced by the camera are hard to find, and even harder to work with in an editor (and Panasonic doesn't include anything to convert these files to more common formats). And, if you live in Europe, you can only record for up to 30 minutes, regardless of how large a memory card you have installed. Thankfully, there is an option for using the good old Motion JPEG codec instead of AVCHD Lite. Motion JPEG movies are much easier to edit and share. The camera still records at 1280 x 720 (this time at a true 30 fps), but the file sizes are larger and recording stops after just eight minutes. The bottom line is to use Motion JPEG if you're going to edit or share videos, and AVCHD Lite if you're going to just plug the camera or memory card into your HDTV.
Camera performance was solid. The FZ35 extends its 18X zoom lens and is ready to shoot in 1.5 seconds, which is good for a super zoom. Panasonic promised faster autofocus speeds on the FZ35, and they delivered -- it's one of the fastest focusing cameras in its class, whether at wide-angle or telephoto. Low light focusing was also fairly responsive, as long as you keep your fingers from blocking the AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag was just barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds, and shot-to-shot delays ranged from 2 seconds for JPEGs to 4 seconds for a RAW + JPEG combo. The DMC-FZ35's burst mode was disappointing. You can take 3 or 5 photos in a row at 2.3 frames/second, and that's it. In addition, burst mode is for JPEGs only -- no RAW images allowed. On a more positive note, the FZ35's battery life is well about the group average.
Photo quality was very good in most respects. The FZ35 takes accurate exposures, though you'll see highlight clipping at times, as you will on most compact cameras. Color was spot-on in most situations -- nice and vivid. Sharpness was right in that sweet spot at lower ISOs, though that drops off as the sensitivity increases. At the base ISO of 80 you will spot a fair amount of noise in shadow areas of your photos -- more than I would've liked to see. You'll also see some noise reduction artifacting at times, though it doesn't really start to smear details away until you get above ISO 400. While redeye made an appearance, it wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, the FZ35 doesn't have a removal tool in playback mode, so if it slipped past the dual removal systems when you took the photo, you'll have to wait until you're on your computer to fix this annoyance. Purple fringing was well controlled, courtesy of the Venus Engine HD image processor.
I've got a pair of issues to mention before I wrap things up. First, you won't be able to access the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod. Second -- and I hope this isn't the start of a trend -- the FZ35's full manual is only included in digital format on an included CD-ROM. The quality of the manual itself also leaves much to be desired.
Despite some annoyances -- most of which can be worked around -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is an impressive super zoom camera. For those of you who want a full-featured super zoom camera with elaborate movie recording features, the FZ35 should be high on your list.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Packs an 18X, 27 - 486 mm lens into a relatively compact body
- Optical image stabilization
- 2.7" LCD display offers very good outdoor visibility
- Full manual controls, with support for the RAW image format
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects (and recognizes) faces, tracks a moving subject, reduces blur, and brightens shadows, all automatically
- Snappy performance in most areas
- High dynamic range feature improves contrast, though at the expensive of detail
- HD movie mode records at 720p with digital stereo sound, and offers use of optical zoom, image stabilizer, manual controls, and more
- Lots of optional accessories
- Strong battery life
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- More shadow noise than I'd like, even at base ISO 80
- Some redeye; no removal tool in playback mode
- Movies created with AVCHD Lite codec are difficult to share and edit; frame rate isn't true 60 fps
- Unremarkable continuous shooting mode
- Easy to block AF-assist lamp with fingers
- Larger and sharper LCD and EVF would be nice
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Full manual only on CD-ROM; quality of documentation leaves much to be desired
Some other super zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FH20, Kodak EasyShare Z980, Nikon Coolpix P90, Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom, Pentax X70, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-FZ35 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the DMC-FZ35's image quality looks!