DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 21, 2003
Last Updated: May 12, 2004

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One of the most unique cameras of 2003 was also one of my favorites: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1 (read our review). I loved the incredible F2.8, 12X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. For whatever reason, shooting with the FZ1 was always fun. But it wasn't a perfect camera; it was only 2 Megapixel, and it lacked any real manual controls.

With the new Lumix DMC-FZ10 ($599), you can have your cake and eat it too (first time I've worked that cliche into a review). You still get the F2.8, 12X stabilized lens, but now there's a 4 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, and a hot shoe! The only catch is that the FZ10 is a fairly large camera compared to other ultra zoom models out there.

Is this the camera ultra zoom enthusiasts have been waiting for? Read on!

Note: the model shown here (DMC-FZ10S) has a silver body. Another model (DMC-FZ10K) with a black body is also available.

What's in the Box?

The FZ10 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Lumix DMC-FZ10 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • CGA-S002A li-ion battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Lens hood
  • Lens cap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • DC cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft Camera Suite and USB drivers
  • 139 page manual (printed)

Panasonic throws a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card in the box with the camera. That's barely enough to start with, so consider a larger card a mandatory purchase. I'd recommend picking up a 128MB or larger card right away. The FZ10 supports both SD and MultiMedia (MMC) cards.

The FZ10 uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery to provide power. The included CGA-S002A battery has a decent amount of energy -- 4.9 Wh. Panasonic estimates that you can take about 200 pictures using the LCD, or 240 pictures using the electronic viewfinder, which is about average.

Downsides of a proprietary battery include the cost ($50), and the fact that you can't just pop in a set of AAs when you're low on juice. This battery is notorious for being hard to find, but I found it in stock at B&H Photo-Video.

When it's time to recharge, just put the battery in the included external charger, and wait 90 minutes. This isn't one of those "plug right into the wall" chargers -- you must use a power cable.

You can also use the charger as an AC adapter to power your camera without using batteries -- a nice touch.

The FZ10 includes a lens cap to protect your fancy lens, but it doesn't use a retaining strap. If that bugs you, you may want to buy one of those stick-on retaining straps.

As an added bonus, Panasonic includes a lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood is threaded for 72 mm (!) filters, as well.

The accessory scene has improved since the FZ1. First, you can now add conversion lenses! Choose from the 0.8X DMW-LWZ10 wide-angle lens, or the 1.5X DMW-LTZ10 telephoto lens. The wide-angle lens brings the wide end of your FZ10 down to 28 mm, while the tele lens brings the top end up to a whopping 630 mm. Do note that you can't use the full zoom range while using these lenses: the wide lens is only for 1-2X, while the tele lens is only for 6-12X.

To protect your lens, you can purchase the DMW-LMC72, a multi-coated filter. There's also a neutral density filter available, known as the DMW-LND72. Both of these require the use of the aforementioned lens hood.

Thanks to its hot shoe, the FZ10 also supports an external flash. Panasonic would be happy to sell you their PE-28S flash ($150), but you can use any standard flash with the camera. More on this later.

Other accessories include things like memory cards, card readers, and a carrying case.

Panasonic includes a whole bunch of ArcSoft's software with the FZ10. This includes PhotoImpression (for editing photos), PhotoBase (for organizing photos), PanoramaMaker (for creating panoramic images), and PhotoPrinter (for printing photos). All of these programs are Mac OS X native -- and Windows compatible too, of course. In addition to the ArcSoft software, USB drivers for Windows are also included.

Panasonic won't be winning any awards for their camera manuals. The information is there, but it can be hard to find, and there's a lot of "notes" on each page.

Look and Feel

The DMC-FZ10 has put on some weight since it was the FZ1. It's bigger and heavier -- this camera is built like a tank. It towers over other ultra zoom cameras:

The FZ10 is considerably larger than the HP Photosmart 945

The unique appearance of the FZ10 will be sure to turn heads. Most of the controls are easy to reach, though I wish that the zoom controller was a little more toward the side of the camera. I also would've liked a larger right hand grip, as it's hard to hold the FZ10 comfortably.

Here's how the FZ10 compares to other cameras in its class, in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 5.5 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 78.5 cu in. 518 g
Fuji FinePix S5000 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 43.6 cu in. 337 g
Kodak EasyShare DX6490 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 310 g
HP Photosmart 945 4.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 in. 55.5 cu in. 389 g
Minolta DiMAGE Z1 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.2 in. 42.7 cu in. 305 g
Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.7 in. 29.5 cu in. 305 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1 4.5 x 2.8 x 3.3 in. 41.6 cu in. 318 g
Toshiba PDR-M700 4.3 x 2.7 x 2.6 in. 30.2 cu in. 298 g

See what I meant about the FZ10 being big? It's not as big as my Canon D60, but it's getting there.

Okay, let's begin our tour of the camera now.

The feature that makes the FZ10 unique is its Leica 12X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. There are actually gyroscopes inside the camera, which sense "camera shake". The camera then moves the lens elements to compensate for the motion. This gives you a few extra stops of shutter speed -- in other words, you can shoot at a slower shutter speed than you could without image stabilization! It's a real boon for those who are shooting sports or wildlife.

Unlike other lenses which typically have a maximum aperture range of around F2.8-3.5 (or more), the FZ10 is F2.8 at both the wide-angle and telephoto positions. That gives you extra flexibility when shooting in low light situations (i.e. being able to use a faster shutter speed).

The focal range of the lens is 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 420 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can attach the lens hood to use 72 mm filters, and the FZ10 also supports the two conversion lenses that I already mentioned.

Directly above that lens is the FZ10's pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of 0.4 - 4.0 m at wide-angle, and 1.2 - 2.1 m at telephoto. If that's not good enough for you, add your own flash using the hot shoe that I'll show you in a minute.

Other items on the front of the camera include the microphone and self-timer lamp. Unfortunately, there's no AF-assist lamp or passive AF system as seen on some other cameras. At this point in time, the majority of ultra zoom cameras are still lacking either of those.

On the back of the camera, you'll find a large 2.0" LCD display -- up from 1.5" on the FZ1. Unlike some other big LCDs, this one is high resolution, with 130,000 pixels. Images on the LCD are bright and fluid, and you can adjust the screen brightness in the setup menu.

To the upper-left of the LCD is the FZ10's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This is essentially a small LCD display that you use as if it was a regular optical rangefinder. Like the main LCD, the EVF shows 100% of the frame. It's also high resolution, with 114,000 pixels, and everything moves smoothly. I did find it very difficult to see anything on the EVF in dim lighting -- Panasonic does not boost the gain like some other manufacturers (such as Minolta) do. The EVF has a diopter correction knob, to help focus the image on it.

There are several buttons to the right of the EVF. These include:

  • EVF/LCD - toggles between the two
  • Display - choose what is shown on LCD/EVF
  • Exposure - adjust the aperture/shutter speed when in manual mode; also used for program shift (described later)
  • Power switch

Above those is the button which pops up the flash.

To the right of the LCD are two buttons (menu, delete photo) as well as the four-way controller. In addition to its menu navigation functions, the controller also does the following:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + exposure bracketing (3 shots in a row with different EV values) + flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, forced off)
  • Down - Review (jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (2 or 10 sec)

To the right of the four-way controller is the FZ10's speaker.

One of the new additions to the FZ10 can be seen right here -- a hot shoe. You can attach any standard flash to it, and Panasonic sells a few of their own. The shutter speed range available when using the flash is 1/60 - 1/250 sec.

To the right of that is the mode dial, which has the following options:

  • Program mode
  • A/S/M mode - aperture, shutter priority, and manual modes; see below
  • Macro mode - more on this later
  • Portrait
  • Sports
  • Panning - capture the subject sharply, but with a blurry background
  • Night portrait
  • Movie mode - more later
  • Playback mode - more later

Program mode is the "auto" mode on the FZ10. The camera picks both the shutter speed and aperture for you. However, a feature called program shift will let you choose from several combinations of shutter speeds and apertures. This comes in handy in situations where you want a smaller aperture (for more depth of field) or a fast shutter speed (to freeze the action), but the camera isn't giving it to you.

In aperture priority mode, you choose the aperture, and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. The range of apertures is F2.8 - F8.0.

Shutter priority mode is exactly the opposite. You can select from a shutter sped range of 8 - 1/2000 sec.

In manual mode, you choose both the aperture and shutter speed. The ranges are the same as above. Do note that the faster shutter speeds are only available at the smaller apertures: 1/1300 requires the aperture to be F4.0 or higher, 1/1600 sec wants F5.6 and above, and 1/2000 sec needs F8.0.

The zoom controller, wrapped around the shutter release button, (very) quietly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.6 seconds. The controller is also very precise, so you can get the lens exactly where you want it. As I mentioned before, I wish that Panasonic placed it a little more toward the top-right of the body -- but that's just my opinion.

Below the zoom controller is a button for continuous shooting. The FZ10 has a very impressive burst mode, thanks to the "Venus Engine" LSI that powers the camera. In low speed mode, you can take 5 or 7 shots in a row (depending on the image quality setting) at 2 frames/second. But the real action is in high speed more, where you can take the same number of shots at 4 frames/second -- excellent.

There are several things to see on this side of the FZ10. The first is the manual focus ring around the lens, which the FZ1 lacked. When in manual focus, turn the ring to make precise adjustments to the focus. It seemed a little oversensitive to me, but that's purely subjective.

Manual focus

Speaking of manual focus, to the right of the ring is the switch to put the camera into manual focus mode. If you press the switch down all the way, the camera will autofocus, giving you a head start. As you can see above, the camera enlarges the center of the frame for you, so you can make sure your subject is properly focused. I would've really liked to have seen some kind of display of the current focus distance, though.

On the far right of the above picture, under a plastic cover, are two of the FZ10's I/O ports. These include A/V out and USB. The FZ10 doesn't support the USB 2.0 standard -- then again, neither do the majority of cameras.

On the other side, also under a plastic cover, is the other I/O port: the one for DC-in. By plugging in the included AC adapter, you can power your camera without draining your battery.

The bottom of the camera is where you'll find the tripod mount, battery compartment, and SD/MMC card slot.

The metal tripod mount is oddly placed, neither centered on the body, nor inline with the lens. Its placement means that you cannot swap memory cards or batteries while the cameras is on a tripod.

The included battery and memory card are shown at left.

Using the Panasonic DMC-FZ10

Record Mode

It takes about 4.8 seconds for the FZ10 to turn on and "warm up" before you can start shooting. Most of that time is taken up by the lens moving to the wide-angle position.

Autofocus speeds were about average, with the camera taking a little under a second to lock focus in most situations. Focusing in low light wasn't wondrous, which is typical for cameras without an AF-assist system.

Shutter lag was low at fast shutter speeds, and noticeable (but still brief) at slower shutter speeds (where a tripod is advised anyway).

Record mode now features a histogram

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a one second delay between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature is off). You cannot delete a shot as it's being recorded to memory, but you can enter review mode (using the four-way controller) to do so.

Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the FZ10:

Image Size # photos on included 16MB SD Memory card
Fine Quality Standard Quality
2304 x 1728 8 16
1920 x 1080
17 34
1600 x 1200 17 34
1280 x 960 22 43
640 x 480 69 129

That HDTV option is an interesting one -- it's actually shoved to the back of the list in the menus. You'll essentially get a "widescreen" photo in this mode -- perfect for display on a 16:9 TV!

There is no TIFF or RAW image format on the FZ10.

Files are named Pxxxyyyy.JPG, where x = 100 - 999 and y = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap memory cards.

Let's move on to menus now.

The FZ10 has a very basic (in terms of appearance and operation) menu system. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done. Here's what you'll find there:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, flash, white set) - the last one there is manual WB; shoot a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Spot mode (on/off) - focus and metering measured on a spot in the center of the frame
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 second voice clip with each photo
  • Continuous autofocus (on/off) - when on, camera is always trying to focus; puts extra strain on batteries
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3X digital zoom will reduce photo quality
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white) - cool means "bluish", while warm means "reddish"
  • Picture adjustment - much improved over the FZ1
    • Contrast (High, low)
    • Sharpness (High, low)
    • Saturation (High, low)
  • Image stabilizer (Off, mode 1, mode 2) - see below
  • Flip animation - see below

There are two types of image stabilization on the FZ10 (versus just on and off on the FZ1). Mode 1 keeps the stabilizer on at all times. Mode 2 only turns on the stabilizer when the picture is taken -- Panasonic this has a "higher stabilizing effect".

The "flip animation" feature is new, and is rarely seen (except on some Sony cameras). It allows you to make stop-motion animation using your camera. First, you take up to 100 pictures, moving your subject a little bit each time. When you're ready to put them together, you use the "create motion image" option, choose a frame rate (5 or 10 frames/sec), and away you go. The stills are then assembled into a 320 x 240 QuickTime movie.

There is also a setup menu on the FZ10, which is another "tab" in the record and playback menus. The setup options are:

  • Monitor/EVF brightness (-3 to +3)
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 3 sec, zoom) - see below
  • Beep (Off, low volume, high volume)
  • Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 min)
  • MF assist (on/off) - enlarge the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Reset settings
  • Clock set
  • USB mode (Mass Storage, PTP)
  • Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - always use the LCD in playback or review mode
  • Volume (0-7)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)

The "zoom" option in auto review is a little bizarre. After you take a picture, it's shown normally on the LCD for about a second. But then it automatically enlarges by a power of four, and that is shown for 2 seconds. I suppose this is a way to check the focus.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The FZ10 did a fine job with our usual macro test subject (who stands about 3" tall). Detail and color both look good.

One annoyance about macro mode: you can only select it as an item on the mode dial. This may not sound like a big deal, but it also means that you can't take a macro shot while in A/S/M mode. I ran into this myself when taking the above shot, which I couldn't take in macro mode, because the slowest shutter speed available is 1/2 second.

So here's what I had to do to take a macro shot in A/S/M mode. First, I went into macro mode, had the camera lock the focus. I then flipped the focus switch to MF, and moved back to A/S/M mode. Another thing you can do is to just adjust the focus yourself while in A/S/M mode.

Since I was in a good mood, I took an extra macro shot. This one was taken really close to the subject -- practically up against it. It was, of course, taken at wide-angle, hence the barrel distortion. You can make out plenty of detail in this shot!

The macro mode on the FZ10 allows you to get as close to your subject as 5 cm / 0.16 ft at wide-angle, and 2 m / 6.6 ft at telephoto.

At wide-angle, I was able to get a subject as small as 50 x 35 mm to fill the frame. (I'm still learning how to do this one, so bear with me for a while).

One big complaint of mine about the FZ1 was its lack of shutter speed control. That's no longer an issue on the FZ10, thanks to its full suite of manual controls. That allows you to take nice night shots like the one above (though I suppose I could've done a slightly longer exposure). Noise and purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) are not an issue at all in this 4 second exposure.

To give you an idea about the relationship between ISO sensitivity and noise, here's the same night shot taken at each of the available ISO values:

ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

As you can see, noise is low until ISO 200, where it starts to pick up. ISO 400 is quite noisy.

Despite having a flash that pops up and away from the lens, there's still some redeye to be found on the FZ10. It's not horrible by any means, but it's still noticeable. You can usually get rid of it using software.
(Notes: Test photo shot at auto ISO, with redeye reduction on. Crop slightly enlarged.)

The distortion test (taken at wide-angle) shows very noticeable barrel distortion, and no vignetting (dark corners).

Overall, I was very happy with the quality of the FZ10's photos. They're colorful, sharp, and generally well-exposed. Noise levels may be a tiny bit above average, but that did not bother me. Nor did the purple fringing, which is "par for the course" on ultra zooms. I did notice some "jaggies" on edges in the photos I took, which could be attributed to either JPEG compression or the in-camera sharpening system (I vote for the latter). All of those are minor quibbles, though -- I rank the FZ10's photo quality at the top of the class, along with the two Olympus models.

As always, don't just take my word for it -- please view the photo gallery and see what your eyes tell you!

Movie Mode

The movie mode has been improved a bit on the FZ10. On the FZ1, you could record 320 x 240 video (with sound) until the memory card is full. That was nice, but the 10 frames/sec frame rate was not. Fear not: there's now a 30 frames/second mode, which produces much smoother video!

The included 16MB card can hold 25 seconds of 30 frames/sec video, or 75 seconds at 10 frames/sec. A 512MB card can hold 1020 and 2950 seconds, respectively.

You cannot use the zoom during filming, but you can position it wherever you want before you begin filming.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a very exciting sample movie, taken at the 30 fps setting:

Click to play movie (4.0MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The FZ10 has a pretty nice playback mode. Panasonic covers all the basic features, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, image protection, voice captions, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled, as well.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom 2, 4, 8, or 16 times into your photo, and then scroll around. I do wish that the scrolling was faster.

There are a few advanced playback features as well, including image rotation, resizing and trimming (cropping). In both cases, you can choose to save or delete the original photo.

Deleting photos is a snap: just use the button on the back of the camera. You can delete one, multiple, or all photos. I appreciate the ability to delete a group of photos -- this is a rare feature.

At first glance, the FZ10 doesn't show you much about your photos. But press the "display" button and you'll get some exposure information, including a histogram.

The camera moves through photos at an average pace, with a delay of a little more than a second between photos.

How Does it Compare

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 has a lot going for it. It has a 4 Megapixel CCD, F2.8, 12X optical zoom lens with image stabilization, full manual controls, and support for both conversion lenses and an external flash. Put it all together and you've got a camera that's at the top of my list for ultra zoom cameras, along with Olympus' C-750 (which offers more manual controls in exchange for a smaller, unstabilized lens). The FZ10 has great photo quality, it's fun to use, and both its movie and burst modes are better than average. The large 2" LCD is a nice touch. Speaking of large, the FZ10 is a big camera -- the biggest ultra zoom model out there. While some may disagree, I see the FZ10 as a "serious" camera, rather than a "take anywhere" camera.

No camera is perfect, and that includes the FZ10. Luckily most of my issues with it are fairly minor. For one, it didn't really offer standout performance, except for its great burst mode. I don't like how the memory card slot is inaccessible while the camera is on a tripod. And while there is an easy workaround, I'd prefer to activate macro mode via a button, rather than a spot on the mode dial. There were a few image quality issues, but none of them bothered me: some redeye, purple fringing, and "jaggies" were all apparent. And finally, I found the electronic viewfinder to be nearly useless while shooting in dim light (where the camera didn't focus terribly well anyway).

Even with those issues, I still really like the DMC-FZ10, and I highly recommend it to those looking for a top-notch, fun-to-use ultra zoom camera.

What I liked:

  • Love that lens: F2.8, 12X, optical image stabilization
  • Very good photo quality
  • Easy and fun to use
  • Full manual controls
  • 30 frames/sec movie mode (though still 320 x 240)
  • Large, sharp LCD and EVF (though the latter is not useable in dim light)
  • Excellent burst modes
  • Histogram in both record and playback modes
  • Hot shoe
  • Supports conversion lenses and filters
  • Built like a tank

What I didn't care for:

  • Some purple fringing and "jaggies" in images
  • Poor low light focusing / no AF-assist lamp
  • Minor redeye
  • Macro mode can't be used in A/S/M mode (unless manual focus counts)
  • EVF difficult to use in low light
  • Unwieldy: bulky, hard to hold
  • Can't access battery or memory card while camera is on tripod

Ultra zoom cameras are quite popular now, and there are many choices. Here are some other models to consider: Fuji FinePix S5000 and S7000, HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX6490, Minolta DiMAGE A1 and Z1, Nikon Coolpix 5700, Olympus C-740 and C-750 Ultra Zoom, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 and DSC-F828, and the Toshiba PDR-M700. Of those, only the Minolta A1 has image stabilization -- though it works in a different manner than on the FZ10.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local retailer to try out the DMC-FZ10 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out the review of the FZ10 at Steve's Digicams!

Buy it now

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.

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