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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 14, 2006
Last Updated: February 5, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 ($650) is the upgrade to their popular FZ30 ultra zoom camera. I was a fan of the FZ30, but was disappointed with its high noise levels. That was a shame, since the camera did almost everything else right.
The FZ50 is here and brings with it several new features, including:
There are a few other minor changes that I'll cover in the review. So what hasn't changed since the FZ30? You still get the same 12X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, full manual controls, zoom and focus rings around the lens, a rotating LCD display, and RAW image format support.
Will this 10 Megapixel monster be the ultra zoom to beat? Find out now in our review of the DMC-FZ50!
To save time, I will be reusing content from both the FZ30 and LX2 reviews here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ50 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic includes a 32MB Secure Digital memory card with the FZ50, which holds nine photos at the highest JPEG quality. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card right away, and you can choose from SD, MMC, or the new SDHC formats. I would suggest a 1GB card as a good starter size, and it's worth spending the extra bucks for a high speed card, as the camera takes advantage of them.
The FZ50 uses the same CGR-S006 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. Despite that, Panasonic engineers managed to squeeze nearly 30% more juice out of this battery, which makes the FZ50 much more competitive in this area. Here, have a look:
The FZ50's battery life numbers are a little bit above average, which is good news!
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- an extra CGA-S006 battery can set you over $50 (though less expensive generic options are out there). 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. As the chart above shows, there are indeed a few ultra zooms out there that use AAs.
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 CGR-S006.
As you'd expect, there's a lens cap (and retaining strap) in the box with the FZ50, so that huge Leica lens can be safe. As you can see, this is a big camera.
Also in the box with the FZ50 is a lens hood, which you may want to use when you're shooting outdoors.
There are quite a few optional accessories for the FZ50, and I've compiled them into this handy chart for you:
It's worth pointing out that those conversion lenses do not require an optional adapter -- they screw right onto the FZ50's lens. I should also mention that you can use third party external flashes with the camera as well, but more on that later.
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, though only two of them are Mac compatible. The first one is Lumix Simple Viewer (Windows only), which does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing. The version of Simple Viewer that came with my FZ50 could not even display RAW images.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and rename images, and it can also convert RAW images to JPEG format.
SilkyPix Developer Studio for Mac OS X
If you want to manipulate the RAW images produced by the FZ50 then you'll want to use the included SilkyPix Developer Studio software. While this software won't win any awards for its user interface, it does let you edit plenty of RAW properties, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, tone and color, and noise reduction. I found its processing speeds to be quite sluggish on my dual processor Mac Pro.
If you have Adobe Photoshop CS2 then you can also use the latest version of the Camera Raw plug-in to open and edit the FZ50's RAW images.
The RAW format, by the way, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. Because of this, you can change things like white balance, sharpness, and saturation without lowering the quality of the original image. So if you screwed up the white balance you can fix it -- it's like taking the shot all over again. The catch is that RAW files must be first processed on your computer before you can export them into more common formats such as JPEG. In addition, RAW files are considerably larger than JPEGs -- 20MB a pop!
ArcSoft PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X
Also included on the software CD are Arcsoft's PhotoImpression 5 and Panorama Maker. While PhotoImpression has a rather unusual interface, it's chock full of useful features -- and is way better than SimpleViewer or PhotoFunStudio. It has all kinds of editing features (including redeye reduction) plus tools for printing, e-mailing, and various creative projects. PanoramaMaker takes a bunch of photos and combines them into a single panoramic shot.
I'm not a huge fan of Panasonic's camera manuals, whether it's for cameras or DVD players. They're not terribly easy to read, with lots of "notes" on every page. You will get your question answered -- you'll just have to work a bit to find what you're looking for.
Look and Feel
The DMC-FZ50 looks exactly like the FZ30 before it, which isn't too surprising, since nearly all of its changes are internal. That means that it's a full size, SLR-style camera that certainly won't fit in any of your pockets. The camera is made of a mix of metal and plastic, and it feels very solid in your hands. Speaking of which, there's a huge grip for your right hand, which makes the camera very easy to hold. There are manual zoom and focus rings around the lens, giving the camera a real professional feel. While the camera does have more than its share of buttons, it's still pretty easy to just pick up and use.
|Images courtesy of Panasonic|
Like the FZ30 before it, the DMC-FZ50 comes in two colors: silver and black. You have probably figured out which one I have by now.
Now, here's a look at how the FZ50 compares to other ultra zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
4.6 x 3.1 x 3.0 in.
42.8 cu in.
410 g Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd
5.2 x 3.8 x 5.0 in.
98.8 cu in.
600 g Fujifilm FinePix S9100
5.0 x 3.7 x 5.1 in.
94.4 cu in.
650 g Kodak EasyShare P712
4.3 x 3.3 x 2.8 in.
39.7 cu in.
403 g Kodak EasyShare Z710
3.8 x 3.1 x 2.9 in.
34.2 cu in.
285 g Nikon Coolpix S10
4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in.
20.4 cu in.
220 g Olympus SP-510 Ultra Zoom
4.2 x 2.9 x 2.8 in.
34.1 cu in.
325 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
5.5 x 3.4 x 5.4 in.
101 cu in.
674 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
5.5 x 3.4 x 5.6 in.
104.7 cu in.
668 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7
4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in.
38.2 cu in.
310 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1
4.4 x 2.3 x 1.6 in.
16.2 cu in.
234 g Samsung Digimax Pro815
5.2 x 3.4 x 2.1 in.
37.1 cu in.
850 g Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2
4.5 x 3.3 x 3.7 in.
54.9 cu in.
389 g Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5
4.5 x 3.3 x 3.7 in.
54.9 cu in.