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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 7, 2005
Last Updated: February 5, 2008
Some of the best cameras in 2004 were Panasonic's ultra zoom cameras. Now, for 2005 they are two new models -- the Lumix DMC-FZ4 and DMC-FZ5 -- which replace the DMC-FZ3 as the entry-level model in the group. New features on these two models compared to the "old" FZ3 include:
The nice features of the FZ3 remain, including full manual controls, a huge 12X stabilized lens, fast performance, and an AF-assist lamp.
This chart describes the differences between all of the FZ-series models:
Please note that those street prices were accurate at the time I wrote this and are subject to change. I'll compare the dimensions and weight of these cameras a bit later in the review.
In this review I'll be looking at the 5 Megapixel DMC-FZ5. How does it perform? Well, you'll have to read on to find out. Do note that since this camera is so similar to the FZ3, the reviews will be quite similar (and I mean it).
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ5 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic includes an 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the FZ5, which won't hold very many 5 Megapixel photos. So consider a larger card a required purchase! I would recommend a 256MB card as a good place to start. While the camera can use MultiMediaCards (MMC), I would recommend avoiding them, as they are slower and lower capacity than SD cards. I should point out that the FZ5 does take advantage of high speed memory cards. If you want to enjoy that fancy continuous shooting mode, than a fast SD card is a good purchase.
The FZ5 uses the same CGA-S002A lithium-ion battery as the other FZ-series cameras. Panasonic has managed to increase battery life by 15% on the FZ5 to 300 shots per charge (using the CIPA standard). That makes it the battery life king in the FZ family, though it still falls a little short of the Konica Minolta Z3/Z5 in this area.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. For one, an extra battery will set you back $50 (third party options are available for less). Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall -- no power cord is needed. It takes about two hours to fully charge the CGA-S002A.
Panasonic includes a lens cap with a retaining strap with the camera to help protect that big lens!
Something else you'll find in the box is a big plastic lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood is actually comprised of two parts: an adapter and the hood itself. The adapter can also be used for attaching 55 mm filters (which Panasonic would be happy to sell you).
Panasonic offers just a few accessories for the FZ5, including neutral density (reduces light hitting the lens) and MC protector filters ($30 each), as well as an AC adapter ($80). One thing Panasonic does not offer (unlike on the FZ15/20) are conversion lenses. That doesn't mean that you can't use one, though, as third party lenses combined with the lens hood adapter should work just fine. Our Panasonic forum is a good resource for those interested in conversion lenses.
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the FZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Panasonic's manuals leave much to be desired (just like Sony's... consumer electronics companies just don't make good manuals). Much like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD player, there's tons of fine print and bullet points, and finding what you're looking for can be difficult.
Look and Feel
Unlike the monstrous FZ15 and FZ20 cameras, the DMC-FZ5 is compact and unassuming like the FZ3 before it. The body is made of plastic and metal and it's pretty solid for the most part. The camera is now easier to hold than the FZ3, thanks to a larger right hand grip and relocated shutter release button:
|Note the larger grip and better-located shutter release button on the FZ5||Here's the FZ3 for comparison|
While the FZ5 is compact, it's not close to pocket-sized. Even so, I never found it uncomfortable to carry around, and it's sure a lot smaller than the big FZ cameras!
Now, let's take a look how the FZ5 compares in size to other ultra zoom cameras in this class:
As you can see, the FZ5 is the second smallest ultra zoom camera in the group -- and the smallest with image stabilization, just as the identically-sized FZ3 was.
Okay, let's begin our tour of the FZ5 now!
The FZ5's lens is not quite as impressive as the one on the FZ3, but it's still better than virtually every other ultra zoom lens on the market. The old lens had a maximum aperture F2.8 across the board, no matter what the focal length. That's changed on the FZ4/FZ5, presumably due to the larger CCD that it uses (1/2.5" versus 1/3.2" on the old model) -- the aperture range is now F2.8 - F3.3, which is still very good. One thing that hasn't changed is the total zoom power: 12X. On the FZ5 the focal length is 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 432 mm.
The FZ5 has the same optical image stabilizer as the other cameras in the series. Here are two examples of why you want this feature. Ever taken a indoor photo without flash, only to be disappointed when its blurry? Or what about when you're taking a picture near the telephoto end of the lens and the photo is blurry, despite a fast shutter speed? The OIS system can help.
Sensors in the camera detect this motion and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate for the shake. This lets you use shutter speeds 3-4 stops slower than what you can use on an unstabilized camera. For example, a 1/30 sec shutter speed will result in a blurry photos for most people (unless you have hands of stone), but with image stabilization you'll most likely get a nice, sharp photo. In actuality you can shoot even slower, as this sample illustrates:
OIS on (mode 2), 1/13 sec
OIS off, 1/13 sec
If you need more evidence, check out this movie, which is taken with and without OIS. Personally I think those photos are more impressive than the movie.
Directly above the lens is the FZ5's pop-up flash. The working range on this flash is an impressive 0.3 - 4.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 3.8 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the FZ5 -- for that you'll want the FZ20.
To the upper-right of the lens are the microphone and AF-assist lamp, with the latter doubling as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations and it has a range of about 1.5 meters.
The rear of the FZ5 looks just like its predecessor, except now the LCD is 0.3" larger (1.8"). The 130,000 pixels on the screen product sharp images, and the screen is bright and colorful as well. One thing Panasonic didn't fix on the FZ5 is low light visibility -- the screen is still just too dark to use in dimly lit rooms.
Like all ultra zoom cameras, the FZ5 uses an electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF has a resolution of just 110,000 pixels, which isn't great. Even so, I never found that to be a problem. The EVF has a diopter correction knob which can be used to focus the image on the screen. Just like with the main LCD, low light visibility on the EVF is poor.
Above the LCD are four buttons plus the power switch. The buttons are for:
To the right of the LCD are the menu and focus / delete photo buttons, as well as the four-way controller. The focus button can be used to activate the autofocus, instead of halfway-pressing the shutter release button. The four-way controller is used for navigating the menus as well as:
I want to talk about those options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in "simple mode". Use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Flash exposure compensation lets you adjust the flash strength using the same range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
The last item to see here is the FZ5's speaker, which is located to the right of the four-way controller.
Here now is the top of the camera. Unlike the FZ15 and FZ20, the FZ4 and FZ5 do not have a hot shoe. So let's start on the mode dial, which has the following options:
Hopefully everything up there is self-explanatory. Do note that you can access the macro focus range in A/S/M mode, so you don't need to use the macro option on the mode dial. In program mode, however, you cannot focus any closer than 30 cm, which is where the macro item is needed.
Panasonic added a new "help" item to the scene menu on the FZ5, as you can see above.
To the right of the mode dial is the is the burst mode button. There are three burst modes on the FZ5: high speed, low speed, and infinite. In high speed mode you can take up to 4 photos at the highest quality setting at 3 frames/second. Low speed mode also records 4 photos (7 at the lower quality setting) but at 2 frames/second. Infinite mode will keep shooting at about 2 frames/second until the memory card is full -- a high speed SD card is recommended for this. The LCD and EVF don't "black out" between shots (though there's a slight pause), so you should be able to track a moving subject.
Above the burst button is a new addition to the FZ5: the OIS button. This lets you switch the OIS mode from Off to Mode 1 to Mode 2. When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo without camera shake. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating the blurring caused by camera shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable under certain situations, such as when you're using a tripod.
The final item on the top of the camera is the zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button. The zoom controller moves the lens from the wide-angle to telephoto position in about 2.4 seconds (a little slower than the FZ3?). I counted nearly 30 steps throughout the 12X zoom range -- nice!
On this side of the FZ5 you'll find the I/O ports for USB + A/V out (one port for both) as well as DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The ports are covered by a fairly sturdy plastic door. The FZ5 supports USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is the "slow" version of USB 2.0.
Nothing to see over here! This is the lens at the full telephoto position, by the way.
The final stop on our tour is the bottom of the FZ5. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and metal tripod mount (not seen in this picture). The battery/memory card slots are covered by a sturdy, reinforced plastic door. I'm not a big fan of having the memory card slot down here because you can't get to it while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5
It takes three seconds for the FZ5 to extends its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
There's a live histogram!
Panasonic has added a new high speed autofocus feature to the FZ4 and FZ5 and boy is it nice. When this option is used, the FZ5 focuses as quickly as any fixed-lens camera out there. The catch is that the LCD and EVF freeze briefly while the camera is focusing. If you don't want the freeze you must use the old focus modes, which are still available.
Anyhow, with the high speed focus mode turned on, the camera focuses VERY quickly -- we're talking 0.2 seconds here folks. The regular focus modes are more like 0.4 - 0.6 seconds. Do note that in hard-to-focus situations those numbers can be a bit higher (over one second). Low light focusing was above average thanks to the FZ5's AF-assist lamp. It's too bad that the EVF and LCD are so hard to use in those situations!
Shutter lag was low, even at slower shutter speeds where it often occurs.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. If you shoot in TIFF mode there can be a delay of 11 seconds while the image is saved, although you can reduce this delay dramatically by using a high speed SD card.
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the FZ5:
Yes, you DO need a larger memory card right away!
As you can see, the FZ5 supports the TIFF image format. This is uncompressed image data that is as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera (as there's no RAW mode). If you plan on using TIFF mode, I'd recommend a high speed SD card to reduce the time between shots.
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
There are two menu systems on the FZ5. One is used only in "simple mode" and it's quite stripped down. The other is the menu you're used to seeing on the other FZ-series cameras. Here's a quick look at the simple menu:
All the other menu options are fixed and cannot be changed.
If you do want to change those other menu items you'll have to use one of the other shooting modes. In those you'll get to use the attractive new menu system that I also saw on the FZ20. The full menu includes the following options:
The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
Well that's enough menus for one day, so let's move on now to our photo tests!
The DMC-FZ5 did a great job with our usual macro test subject. Mickey is very sharp, and the colors are accurate and saturated.
You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at the telephoto end in macro mode.
The night shot test turned out nicely as well (okay, it's a little crooked). Everything is very sharp (maybe too sharp?) and the camera took in plenty of light. There's no purple fringing to be found here, as the "Venus Engine II" image processor removes it automatically. With shutter speeds as long as 8 seconds, night shots like this are easy on the FZ5. Just remember your tripod, and turn off OIS while you're at it.
Using that same shot, let's have a look at the effect of the ISO sensitivity on noise levels.
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
As you can see, noise is reasonable through ISO 200. At that point, detail starts to go south, as the ISO 400 shot clearly shows.
There's a bit of redeye to be found in our flash photo test, just as there was with the FZ3. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll experience this issue.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the FZ5's lens. You'll notice what this does to your pictures when you photograph things like buildings: they appear curved. I don't see any vignetting (dark corners) in this shot, thankfully.
Overall I was very pleased with the photos from the DMC-FZ5. They're well-exposed, colors are saturated, and images are sharp. Like with the night shot above, the sharpening may be turned up a tad bit high, and you can see some "jaggies" on straight edges as a result. Purple fringing was not a problem at all, again thanks to the FZ's image processor. Noise levels were comparable to other 5MP cameras, as well.
Please don't just take my word for it -- have a look at our gallery and decide if the FZ5's photos meet your expectations! I encourage you to print the photos too!
The FZ5's movie mode is the same as on its predecessor -- nothing special. You can record video at 320 x 240 at either 10 or 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.
The included 16MB memory card can hold a whopping 25 seconds of video at the 30 fps setting. Buying a 256MB SD card will allow you to take a movie 8 minutes long.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer functions in movie mode which certainly comes in handy.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.
Here's a brief sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (3.8 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-FZ5 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the FZ5.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode.
One other feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.
Photo playback speed varies a bit, depending on the speed of your SD card. It can range from instant on an "ultra" card to about 0.5 second on a regular one. Either way it's still very quick!
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 is a very good ultra zoom camera, just like its predecessor. Some of the changes were welcome: a higher resolution CCD, larger LCD, and much faster focusing. Some things got a bit worse: the lens is now slower. And some things didn't change: composing photos in low light is frustrating. But if you don't want to carry around the monster that is the DMC-FZ20, this is a great choice. The FZ5 takes very sharp (maybe too much so) 5 Megapixel photos with nice color and no purple fringing. The lens on this camera, while not as nice as the one on the FZ20, is still way better than average: F2.8-3.3, 12X zoom. Did I mention the great image stabilizer feature?
Camera performance is excellent, and the new high speed focus modes scream. The burst modes are impressive as well, especially with a high speed SD card. Battery life has been improved since the FZ3, and it's better than what you'd find on most cameras. The camera features an AF-assist lamp for focusing in low light, but it's not terribly useful when you can't see your subject on the EVF or LCD. There are also quite a few manual controls to be found here -- only manual focus is missing -- plus there are numerous scene modes for the point-and-shoot crowd. If you want to expand the camera, you can add Panasonic's own filters or third party conversion lenses.
There are some downsides, though. Images are a little too sharp, leading to some "jaggies". Redeye is slightly above normal, as well. The FZ5's movie mode hasn't changed for the better since the FZ3, which is too bad. Same goes with the bottom-loading SD card slot, which is inaccessible while you're using a tripod. Aside from those and the EVF/LCD issues, there really isn't much else to complain about! Thus, the FZ5 gets my recommendation, just like its predecessor. It's a great semi-compact ultra zoom with a very useful image stabilization system and great performance.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other low-cost ultra zoom cameras include the Canon PowerShot S1 (has image stabilization), Fuji FinePix S5100, HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX7590, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 (has IS) and Z20, Kyocera Finecam M410R, Nikon Coolpix 4800, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15 and DMC-FZ20 (both have IS), and the Olympus C-765 and C-770 Ultra Zooms.
Oh and don't forget the FZ5's less capable little brother, the DMC-FZ4!
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FZ5 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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