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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 14, 2007
Last Updated: February 4, 2008
If the 10X or 12X lens on your typical ultra zoom camera just isn't enough, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 ($399) might interest you. Based on the DMC-FZ8, the FZ18 packs a whopping 18X zoom lens into a body that's still relatively compact (by ultra zoom standards). Not only is the zoom powerful, but it has a nice focal range: 28 - 504 mm.
Other features on the FZ18 include an 8.1 Megapixel CCD, optical image stabilization (standard on all Panasonic cameras), full manual controls, a 2.5" LCD display, widescreen movie recording, and more.
Is the FZ18 the right choice for people who want a real ultra zoom? Find out now in our review!
Since the cameras share much in common, I'll be reusing portions of the FZ8 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ18 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Like with most cameras these days, Panasonic has built memory into the FZ18 in lieu of including a memory card. The cameras has 27MB of onboard memory, which holds just one RAW or six high quality JPEGs. Thus, you'll want to get a larger memory card right away, if you don't have one already. The FZ18 supports, SD, SDHC, and MMC memory card formats, and I'd suggest a high speed, 1GB card as a good place to start.
The DMC-FZ18 uses the same CGR-S006 lithium-ion battery as the FZ8. This battery packs (no pun intended) 5.1 Wh of energy, which is decent for a camera in this class. Here's how the FZ18's battery life stacks up against the competition:
The FZ18's numbers are more-or-less average for this group. Of the cameras on the above list, only three have an 18X zoom lens -- including the FZ18.
I have to mention my usual gripes about proprietary batteries before we move on. First, an extra CGR-S006 battery is really expensive -- they start at $40. 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. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.
As you'd expect, Panasonic includes a lens cap (with a retaining strap) to protect that big 18X lens.
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.
18X zoom not enough? Attach this beast and you'll have 30X!
Image courtesy of Panasonic
There are loads of accessories available for the DMC-FZ18. About the only things missing are an underwater case and external flash. This table lists all of the important accessories:
The FZ18 becomes quite a powerhouse with that teleconverter. Just don't forget your tripod!
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 - main window
PhotoFunStudio for Windows - edit window
Next up we have PhotoFunStudio, which is again Windows-only. This adds a few basic editing features, including brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness adjustment, plus redeye removal. There's also a one-touch image enhancement option. If you're looking for RAW editing (or even viewing) capability, you won't find it here -- keep reading.
ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac
Another photo editing tool included with the camera is ArcSoft PhotoImpression, which is for Mac and Windows. While it has a rather quirky interface, this software can do just about everything. 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 2.1 SE for all your RAW editing needs. 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 (with the latest Camera Raw plug-in), which has a much more sensible interface and superior performance.
The RAW format, by the way, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. Thanks to 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.
Panasonic's manuals have never been very good, whether for televisions or digital cameras. The one included with the FZ18 is detailed, but you can expect a confusing layout and lots of "notes" on each page. You'll get your question answered -- you'll just have to work for it.
Look and Feel
The DMC-FZ18 doesn't look a whole lot different from its little brother, the FZ8. It's a fairly compact ultra zoom, especially considering the powerful lens it contains. The body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and it feels pretty solid. The camera has a good-sized grip for your right hand, so it's easy to hold. You'll probably want to hold the camera with two hands when you're shooting telephoto, to avoid blurring from camera shake. The FZ18 has a decent number of buttons, but they're logically laid out and easy to reach.
|Images courtesy of Panasonic|
As with most of Panasonic's cameras, the FZ18 is available in two colors: silver and black.
Now, here's a look at how the FZ18 matches up against the big zoom competition in terms of size and weight: