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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1/LZ2  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 17, 2005
Last Updated: April 9, 2012

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Now here's something you don't see everyday: midsized cameras with a big zoom lens and image stabilizers! And that's exactly what you'll get with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2. The two cameras share the same body design, 6X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilizer, and 2" LCD display. The only differences are the body color, resolution, and sound recording abilities. The LZ1 ($250) is silver only, while the LZ2 ($300) is available in silver or black bodies (there are minor trim differences between the two models, as well). The LZ1 is 4 Megapixel, while the LZ2 is 5 Megapixel. And finally, the LZ2 can record sound, while the LZ1 cannot.

With that in mind, this review will be a little different than most. I will be reviewing two cameras in one review, using the LZ2 as the "model" in the product photos. I will offer sample photos and some test shots from both cameras.

If you're ready to learn about the "LZ twins", read on!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-LZ1 and LZ2 have average bundles. Inside their respective boxes, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 or 5.0 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-LZ1 or LZ2 camera
  • Two AA Oxyride batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video or A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft software, SD Viewer, and USB drivers
  • 110 page camera manual (printed)

With the LZ1 and LZ2, Panasonic is taking the same road as other camera manufacturers, by building flash memory right into the camera, instead of supplying a memory card. Both cameras have 14MB of onboard memory, which won't hold too many photos. To take more photos you'll want a larger memory card. I'd suggest 256MB as a good place to start for both cameras. The cameras take advantage of high speed SD cards, which is worth the money if you plan on using the burst mode a lot.

Something else you'll need to buy are batteries. Panasonic includes their new "high tech" Oxyride AA batteries. These last a lot longer than regular alkalines, but they still end up in the trash after a few hours. I'd recommend picking up four NiMH rechargeable batteries, which gives you two sets for the camera (it uses two AAs).

Battery life is excellent on both cameras, especially with NiMH rechargeable batteries. The LZ1 can take 370 shots per charge, while the LZ2 does even better with 390 shots. Both of those numbers use the CIPA battery life standard. The included Oxyride batteries will last for about 67% as long as NiMH batteries, while regular alkalines only last for about a third as long.

The LZ1/LZ2 have a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens caps to worry about.

There's just one accessory available for the LZ1 and LZ2, and that's an AC adapter (price not available at press time).

Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the LZ-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 -- 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

The LZ's pack a lot into a relatively compact package. Imagine a Canon PowerShot A95 and add a larger (but non-rotating) LCD display, a 6X zoom (instead of 3X), and optical image stabilization -- and that's the LZ1/LZ2. The cameras are made of a mix of metal and plastic, and they feel quite solid. The important controls are easy to reach, and the camera can be used with one hand or two. As far as size, it's not the smallest camera out there -- probably too big for pockets -- but it was never a burden to carry around.

The official dimensions of the camera are 100.5 × 63.5 × 32.9 mm / 3.96 × 2.5 × 1.3 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) and it weighs 178 grams / 6.2 ounces empty. For the sake of comparison, the PowerShot A95's numbers are 101.1 x 64.6 x 34.7 mm / 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches and 235 grams / 8.3 ounces.

With that out of the way, we can begin our tour of the LZ cameras. Keep in mind that I'm using the LZ2 as the model here.

Where most cameras this size have a 3X, or if you're lucky, a 4X zoom lens, the LZ1 and LZ2 pack a powerful 6X lens. The focal range of this F2.8-4.5 lens is 6.1 - 36.6 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 222 mm. The lens is not threaded and conversion lenses are not available.

The LZ1 and LZ2 have the same optical image stabilization system as Panasonic's FZ-series cameras. 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), 1/8 sec

OIS off, 1/8 sec

Convinced yet? OIS systems won't save the world, but they'll help you take better photos.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.6 m at telephoto, which is about average. You cannot attach an external flash to these cameras.

The only other item of note on the front of the camera is the self-timer lamp, located above the Lumix label. There's no AF-assist lamp on either of the LZ-series cameras.

The lens isn't the only larger-than-average thing on the LZ cameras. The LCD is bigger too -- it's 2.0 inches in size. One thing that's not as impressive is the resolution: the screen has just 85,000 pixels, and you can tell when you look at it. This is one thing you'll want to check out for yourself before you buy, if possible. Despite the low resolution, the screen is bright and motion is fluid. In low light, the screen is unfortunately too dark to be usable -- just like the FZ-series cameras.

Something missing on the LZ cameras is an optical viewfinder. Some people like them (I do!), others never touch them. With the poor low light performance from the LCD, you really start to miss having a viewfinder. If an optical viewfinder is important to you, the LZ cameras are probably not your best choice.

To the right of the LCD are three buttons plus the four-way controller. The top-most button, Display, toggles the information shown on the LCD. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, and also:

  • Up - Backlight compensation + exposure compensation + auto bracketing + white balance fine tuning
  • Down - Review (jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)

I should 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. 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).

Below the four-way controller are two more buttons: menu and burst mode / delete photo. The burst modes are pretty impressive on the LZ-series cameras. You can choose between three shooting modes: high speed, low speed, and unlimited. At high speed mode you can take 3 or 4 photos (LZ2/LZ1) at the highest quality setting at 3 or 4 frames/second (LZ2/LZ1). At the low speed setting you can take the same number of pictures, but at 2 frames/second. The unlimited shooting option will keep shooting at 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. A high speed SD card is recommended for this mode.

Here now is the top of the camera. Right in the center is the microphone (the LZ1 does not have one), and below that is the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Macro mode For close-up shots; more later
Economy mode Take pictures with lower power consumption (lower LCD brightness, faster "sleep" when unused
Normal picture mode Fully automatic mode with all menu options available
Playback mode More on this later
Simple mode Fully automatic, with a simplified menu system (and fewer options)
Scene mode 1/2 You pick the scene and the camera uses the appropriate settings; choose from portrait, sports, scenery, night scenery, night portrait, fireworks, party, and snow; the two spots on the mode dial are for saving your favorite scenes so you don't have to reselect them everytime

Hopefully everything up there is self-explanatory. I'll have more about the simple mode later in the review.

The next item of note is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.1 seconds. Panasonic has always been good about giving you lots of "stops" in the zoom range, and these two cameras are no exception. By quickly pressing on the zoom controller you'll find that there are 20 stops throughout the 6X range.

To the right of the shutter release / zoom controller is 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.

Below that button is the power switch.

On this side of the LZ's you'll find the I/O ports for USB + A/V out (one port for both, the LZ1's is video out only) as well as DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The ports are covered by rubber cover. The LZ's support USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is the "slow" version of USB 2.0.

On this side of the camera you'll find the SD/MMC card slot. The LZ's can use SD or MMC memory cards, though only the former is recommended. A plastic door of average quality covers the slot.

We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount and the battery compartment. As you can see, the LZ's use two AA batteries. A fairly sturdy plastic door keeps your batteries safe and sound.

The included Oxyride batteries are shown at right.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 and LZ2

Record Mode

It takes a rocket-fast 1.3 seconds for the LZ's to extend their lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Hot!


There's a live histogram in record mode

Autofocus speeds are about average, ranging from 0.4 - 0.6 seconds in most cases. At the telephoto end, focusing will take a bit longer. It's too bad that the high speed focusing modes from the FZ4 and FZ5 didn't make it to these models as well -- those were really impressive. Low light focusing was poor, due mostly to the lack of an AF-assist lamp.

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.

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 two cameras:

Resolution Quality # images on 14MB built-in memory # images on 256MB card (optional)
2560 x 1920
(LZ2 only)
Fine 5 99
Standard 11 195
2304 x 1728
(LZ1 only)
Fine 8 139
Standard 15 272
2048 x 1536
(LZ2 only)
Fine 9 154
Standard 17 299
1920 x 1080 Fine 13 231
Standard 25 435
1600 x 1200 Fine 14 250
Standard 27 476
1280 x 960 Fine 22 381
Standard 40 693
640 x 480 Fine 68 1173
Standard 111 1906

The LZ-series cameras do not support the RAW or TIFF formats.

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 LZs. One is used only in "simple mode" and it's quite stripped down. Here's a quick look at the simple menu:

  • Pict mode (Enlarge, 4 x 6, e-mail) - change the resolution and quality
  • Battery type (Alkaline/NiMH, Oxyride)
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Clock set

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. There you'll find an attractive, easy-to-use menu system with the following options:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, white set) - the last option will let you use a white or gray card to set a reference for white, allowing for accurate color under any lighting; I mentioned the ability to fine-tune the WB earlier in the review
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 64 [LZ1 only], 80 [LZ2 only], 100, 200, 400)
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture [LZ2 only]
  • AF mode (5-area, 3-area, 1-area, spot)
  • Slow shutter (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 sec) - choose the slowest shutter speed the camera will use; do note that the slower ones really need a tripod for best results
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white, sepia)
  • Picture adjust (Natural, vivid)

Okay that's all for this menu -- everything should be self-explanatory here.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Battery type (Alkaline/NiMH, Oxyride) - supposedly you need to change this to make the battery life indicator work properly
  • Monitor brightness (-7 to +7 in 1-step increments)
  • Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 3 sec, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
  • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
  • Economy (Level 1, 2) - how quickly the camera shuts the LCD in Economy mode
  • Beep (Off, soft, loud)
  • Clock set
  • File number reset
  • Reset
  • USB mode (PC, PictBridge/PTP)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to one of the two scene mode positions
  • Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese)

Well that's enough menus for one day, so let's move on now to our photo tests! I will sometimes use just one camera for the tests for which I expect similar results. For other tests, both cameras were used. Let's go!

LZ1 LZ2

Both cameras produced tack sharp (and I mean it) renditions of our famous macro subject. Most colors are good, but the red cloak is too orange for my taste, especially on the LZ1. The custom white balance feature was used on both cameras, so my 600W quartz studio lamps were not a problem.

You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at the telephoto end in macro mode, which isn't too bad.


LZ1


LZ2

Well I'm certainly not going to win any awards for framing these shots the same, am I? Most of the important buildings are here and they're the same size, so I think these images are comparable. To take long exposures like this you must use the Night Scenery mode -- that's how you get the slowest shutter speeds.

Both of the cameras did a good job with this scene, taking in plenty of light. The buildings are very sharp (just like the macro shot above), but noise levels are also quite high. Purple fringing was not a problem for either camera.

Since I got identical results from both cameras, I'm using the LZ1's flash test shot here. As you can see, there's quite a bit of redeye. The Panasonic FZ-series cameras were quite good at resisting redeye, but that apparently didn't get passed down to the LZ's. While your results may vary, I'd expect to deal with this annoyance at least occasionally.

We switch to the LZ2 for the distortion test. As you can see, there is moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. You can also see some vignetting, or dark corners. Unfortunately this vignetting also appears in my real world test shots in the photo galleries.

Overall image quality on the LZ's was good, but not great. First, the good points. The camera took well-exposed photos, with accurate color and very little purple fringing. Images were also extremely sharp. That leads to the negatives: the images were so sharp that "jaggies" appear on straight lines, and images seem a little too grainy for my taste. I also spotted vignetting in some of my photos. For examples of these issues, check out the church (LZ1, LZ2) and library (LZ1, LZ2) shots. While vignetting can make your prints look a little strange, I don't think the other issues will affect things too much, unless you're doing large format prints. I didn't see any major differences between the photo quality on the two models -- they share the same good and bad points.

That was a real mouthful. So don't just listen to me -- use your own eyes to judge the photos! Check out the LZ1 and LZ2 photo galleries and decide if their photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

Like other recent Panasonic cameras, the movie mode on the LZ's isn't anything to write home about. You can record video at 320 x 240 at 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. As you can imagine, that doesn't take long when you're using the built-in memory, so you'll want a larger memory card for longer movies. A 10 frame/second mode is also available, though the video will be quite choppy.

The LZ2 records audio along with the movie, while the LZ1 does not. 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 are nearly identical sample movies for your enjoyment. I'm getting pretty desperate for source material, as you'll see:


Click to play LZ1 movie (3.8 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Click to play LZ2 movie (3.5 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play them? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The LZ's have a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, audio captions (10 seconds, LZ2 only), and zoom and scroll. The cameras are 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.

You can rotate, resize, and crop your photos right in playback mode. A "copy" feature is also available, for moving photos from the internal memory to an SD/MMC card and vice versa.

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 is pretty snappy, with a 0.5 second delay between photos, and that's with a regular speed SD card. From my experience with other Panasonic models, a faster SD card lets to faster image playback.

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2 are two cameras don't quite live up to their potential. The biggest features of the LZ's are the midsized body packing a 6X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. You won't find anything else on the market quite like these two. Unfortunately, there are some annoying flaws which keep the cameras from being as great as the FZ-series cameras that I've given rave reviews to over the past few years.

First, the good news. The LZ's are well constructed, midsized cameras. Instead of the typical 3X or 4X zoom lens, these cameras have a 6X zoom lens, giving you a lot more telephoto power than you're used to. To help steady keep the camera steady and images blur free, the cameras offer Panasonic's optical image stabilization system, which does just as it sounds (and well, too). You'll be able to get sharp images which would be blurry on other cameras -- just don't expect miracles. Camera performance is very good for the most part, especially in terms of startup, shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times. The LZ's burst mode and battery life numbers are excellent as well. The LZ's are almost 100% point-and-shoot, with the only manual control being the very welcome custom white balance feature.

Image quality on the LZ's is a mixed bag. Colors look nice, as do exposure and purple fringing levels. Photos are extremely sharp, perhaps too much so. Along with this sharpness comes "jaggies" on straight edges and some fuzziness on fine details. Vignetting (dark corners) and redeye were also a problem. While I appreciate the larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display on the camera, it's basically useless in low light situations, and there's no optical viewfinder to bail you out. Along those lines, I found low light focusing to be poor. The LZ's movie mode isn't great either when compared to most of the competition.

I like the concept of the DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2 a lot. I just wish the execution was a little better (the LZ3 and LZ4, maybe?). The two cameras earn my recommendation, but mostly for outdoor shooting. Those taking indoor and low light shots will likely be disappointed with the camera's performance in those situations.

What I liked:

  • Good quality, sharp photos (but see issues below)
  • 6X optical zoom lens in a midsize body
  • Optical image stabilization system
  • Excellent performance
  • Good continuous shooting mode
  • Great battery life
  • Histograms in record and playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Images a little too sharp, leading to "jaggies"; some vignetting
  • Redeye
  • LCD doesn't "gain up" in low light
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Poor low light focusing; no AF-assist lamp
  • Paltry 14MB of internal memory doesn't hold many photos at highest quality
  • Movie mode isn't great

No other manufacturer makes a camera quite like the LZ1 and LZ2. Some non-stabilized models to consider include the Canon PowerShot A520, Casio Exilim EX-P505, Fuji FinePix E550, Kodak EasyShare DX7440, Nikon Coolpix 4800, Olympus C-5500 Sport Zoom, and the Pentax Optio 750Z.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-LZ1 and LZ2 and their competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out the LZ1 and LZ2 photo galleries!

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.