DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 Review

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35

Record Mode

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.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality # images on 40MB onboard memory # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
4:3 12M
4000 x 3000
RAW + JPEG 1 105
RAW 2 135
Fine 5 290
Standard 12 560
8M
3264 x 2448
Fine 8 400
Standard 17 790
5M
2560 x 1920
Fine 12 590
Standard 25 1130
3M
2048 x 1536
Fine 27 1220
Standard 53 2360

2M
1600 x 1200

Fine 43 1910
Standard 81 3610
0.3M
640 x 480
Fine 195 8770
Standard 310 12290
3:2 10.5M
4000 x 2672
RAW + JPEG 2 120
RAW 2 150
Fine 6 310
Standard 13 620
7M
3264 x 2176
Fine 9 440
Standard 18 850
4.5M
2560 x 1712
Fine 19 890
Standard 38 1700
2.5M
2048 x 1360
Fine 30 1360
Standard 58 2560
16:9 9M
4000 x 2248
RAW + JPEG 2 140
RAW 3 180
Fine 7 350
Standard 15 680
6M
3264 x 1840
Fine 10 470
Standard 20 930
3.5M
2560 x 1440
Fine 23 1040
Standard 45 1980
2M
1920 x 1080
Fine 40 1800
Standard 77 3410

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

  • Picture size (see above chart)
  • Quality (see above chart)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Intelligent ISO (on/off) - see below
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • ISO limit set (Auto, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - how high the camera will boost the ISO
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, custom 1/2, color temperature) - see below
  • Face recognition (Off, on, memory, set) - see below
  • AF mode (Face detection, AF tracking, 11-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - see below
  • Pre AF (Off, quick, continuous) - two ways to reduce focus times; continuous always has the camera trying to focus, while quick waits for the "jitter" to stop before doing so
  • AF/AE lock (AF, AE, AF/AE) - what this button does
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, normal, high) - see below
  • Minimum shutter speed (1/250 - 1 sec) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use in auto mode
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - the old style digital zoom that degrades image quality
  • Picture adjust
    • Contrast (-2 to +2)
    • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
    • Saturation (-2 to +2)
    • Noise reduction (-2 to +2)
  • Stabilizer (Off, auto, mode 1, mode 2) - see below
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Flash synchro (1st, 2nd curtain)
  • Redeye removal (on/off) - automatically removes redeye after a photo is taken
  • Conversion (Off, tele, close-up)
  • Clock set

Motion Picture options (only unique settings listed)

  • Rec mode (AVCHD Lite, Motion JPEG) - much more on this later
  • Rec quality
    • With AVCHD Lite (Super high, high, low)
    • With M-JPEG (HD, WVGA, VGA, QVGA)
  • Exposure mode (P, A, S, M) - yes, full manual controls in movie mode; only shown in Creative Motion Picture mode
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400)
  • ISO limit set (Auto, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400)
  • Continuous AF (on/off)
  • Stabilizer (Off, mode 1)
  • Wind cut (on/off)

Setup options

  • Clock set
  • World time (Home, destination)
  • Travel date - saves the destination and number of days into your trip that a photo was taken
    • Travel setup - set departure and return dates for your trip
    • Location - enter the name of your destination
  • Beep
    • Beep level (Off, low, high)
    • Beep tone (1, 2, 3)
    • Shutter volume (Off, low, high)
    • Shutter tone (1, 2, 3)
  • Volume (0 - 6)
  • Custom setting menu - store up to 3 sets of camera settings to the "C" position on the mode dial
  • Function button set (Review, sensitivity, white balance, metering mode, AF mode, Intelligent Exposure) - define what pressing down on the four-way controller does
  • Monitor/viewfinder brightness (-3 to +3)
  • LCD mode (Off, Auto Power LCD, Power LCD) - the last item cranks the screen brightness up all the way, while the "auto" mode does it as needed
  • Display size (Standard, large) - increase the font size in menus
  • Guide line
    • Rec info (on/off) - display recording info when showing guide lines
    • Pattern (Rule of thirds, complex)
  • Histogram (on/off) - whether this is shown in record mode
  • Rec area (on/off) - whether the 16:9 aspect ratio for movie recording is shown on the LCD/EVF
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether highlight clipping is shown when reviewing photos
  • MF assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - whether the manual focus frame enlargement feature fills the screen or is in a box
  • Economy
    • Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 mins)
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - whether photos are always replayed on the LCD, even when you're using the EVF
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 2 secs, hold, zoom) - post-shot review; the last option enlarges the image by a factor of four
  • Zoom resume (on/off) - whether the lens returns to its previous position when the camera is turned on
  • File number reset (yes, no)
  • Reset - back to default settings
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - allows you to control the camera with your Panasonic TV remote when connected via HDMI
  • Scene menu (Auto, off) - whether the scene menu pops up each time you select that spot on the mode dial
  • Menu resume (on/off) - whether the camera goes back to the same spot in the menu system that you last used
  • Version display
  • Format memory
  • Language
  • Demo mode - I guess this is for retail stores

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:

IE off
View Full Size Image
IE low
View Full Size Image
IE standard
View Full Size Image
IE high
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:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800

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:

ISO 400

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:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

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:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera


RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)


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.

Movie Mode

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.


Decisions, decisions

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.


View converted movie (9.1 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/MPEG-4)
Download original MTS file (26.5 MB)


View converted movie (8.1 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/MPEG-4)
Download original MTS file (23.7 MB)


View converted movie (6.5 MB, 1280 x 720, 60 fps, QuickTime/MPEG-4)
Download original MTS file (18.9 MB)

And now, for the Motion JPEG sample -- no conversion needed! Be warned that this is a much larger download than the other three videos.


View movie (53.1 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/M-JPEG)

If you're having any trouble viewing any of these samples, make sure you have the latest version of QuickTime installed.

Playback Mode

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.


Leveling tool

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.

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