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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 12, 2007
Last Updated: June 12, 2007
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 ($350) is the updated version of the popular DMC-FZ7 ultra zoom from last year (see our review). This latest model is an evolutionary upgrade, providing these new features compared to the FZ7:
I don't think anyone's going to complain about those new features, except for maybe the Venus III Engine, which has a rather overzealous noise reduction system (to say the least).
The other features are on the FZ8 are the same as before. You get a great 12X Leica zoom lens, optical image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, full manual controls, a widescreen movie mode, and more.
The DMC-FZ7 was one of my favorite ultra zoom cameras of 2006. Does the FZ8 fair just as well in 2007? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ8 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
While Panasonic bundled a memory card with the DMC-FZ7, here on the FZ8 they chose the built-in memory route. The camera has 27MB of hard-wired memory, which holds one RAW or seven JPEG images, which ain't much. Thus, you'll want to buy a memory card right away (unless you already have one, of course), and I recommend picking up a high speed 1GB card if I were you. The camera supports SD, MMC, and the new high capacity SDHC memory card formats. If you do get an SDHC card, you might want to pick up one with a "Class 4" rating for best camera performance.
While the DMC-FZ8 uses the same battery as its predecessor, Panasonic has managed to squeeze nearly 20% more battery life out of it, mostly due to the more efficient Venus III engine. The CGA-S006 battery packs 5.1 Wh of energy, which is moderate. Here are the battery life numbers for the FZ8 and its competitors:
The FZ8's battery life is a nice improvement over the FZ7's, and the best in the Panasonic line-up. It's actually a bit below average for the group as a whole, but not by much.
I need to mention my usual gripes about proprietary batteries before we move on. First, a spare CGR-S006 battery is really expensive -- they start at $42. Secondly, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day if your rechargeable battery dies. If you want to avoid both of these issues, check out one of the cameras above that uses AAs.
When it's time to charge the battery, just place it into the included external charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. I should add that this is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.
As you'd expect, Panasonic includes a big ol' lens cap with the DMC-FZ8. There's also a retaining strap, to make sure that you don't drop it off a cliff (which I've done).
Image courtesy of Panasonic
Another bundled accessory is a lens hood, which can come in really handy when you're shooting in bright outdoor light. Just screw the included adapter onto the lens barrel, attach the lens hood, and you're set to go.
Need more zoom? Buy the optional teleconverter lens! Image courtesy of Panasonic
There are loads of accessories available for the DMC-FZ8. About the only things missing are an underwater case and external flash. This table lists all of the important accessories:
Well that's not too shabby at all, eh?
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, and the first one is Lumix Simple Viewer, which is for Windows only. This does just what its name implies: it imports photos from the camera and then lets you view, e-mail, or print them. And that's it. It cannot view images recorded in the RAW format.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
Next up we have PhotoFunStudio, which is again Windows-only. This adds a few very basic editing features, but really it's not a whole lot different than SimpleViewer. It is unable to view RAW images either.
ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac
For real JPEG editing tools you'll want to use ArcSoft PhotoImpression, which is for Mac and Windows. While it has a rather quirky interface, this software can do just about everything -- and it works with Macs. You can edit photos (adjusting color/sharpness/lighting), reduce redeye, design creative projects (making calendars, photo books, etc), and more.
Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is PanoramaMaker, which helps you combine photos that you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. It's easy to use, and the results can be really impressive. Just a tip for those of you interested in panoramic shooting: bring a tripod.
SilkyPix for Mac
Panasonic provides SilkyPix Developer Studio 2.0 SE for RAW image editing. This full-featured software for Mac and Windows lets you adjust virtually any RAW property, from white balance to noise reduction to color. The interface is archaic (to say the least), but SilkyPix gets the job done. Another option for RAW editing is Adobe Photoshop CS3, which has a better interface and superior performance.
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, saturation, and noise reduction 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 -- taking up almost five times the space on your memory card.
The manual included with the FZ8 isn't the greatest. Sure, it'll answer whatever question you may have about the camera, but it's about as user-unfriendly as you'll find. Expect a confusing layout and plenty of "notes" on each page.
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-FZ8 looks almost exactly like its predecessor, the FZ7. The only real differences are the mode dial and zoom controller on the top of the camera, which are silver instead of black. The camera is made of a mixture of metal and high grade plastic, and it feels very solid. There's a nice grip for your right hand, while your left hand can slide comfortably under the lens barrel. The control layout is sensible, and easy to figure out without having to consult the manual.
|Images courtesy of Panasonic|
As with most of Panasonic's cameras, the FZ8 is available in two colors: silver and black.
Now let's see how the camera compares to other ultra zooms in terms of size and weight.