Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: September 13, 2009

Last Updated: November 13, 2010

The Lumix DMC-FZ35 ($399) is the update to Panasonic's popular FZ28 super zoom camera. While both cameras share the same basic design and 18X, 27 - 486 mm Leica lens, the differences are more than skin deep. The biggest changes are an improved image stabilizer, faster autofocus system, and an enhanced movie mode, though there's plenty more. This chart compares the major features of the FZ28 and FZ35:

Feature DMC-FZ28 DMC-FZ35
Resolution (effective) 10.1 MP 12.1 MP
Image processor Venus Engine IV Venus Engine HD
Image stabilizer Mega OIS Power OIS
Startup time * 1.5 sec 1.2 sec
AF speeds (wide/tele) * 0.71 / 0.75 sec 0.29 / 0.31 sec
Continuous shooting rate 2.5 fps 2.3 fps
Face recognition No Yes
Max movie resolution 1280 x 720 1280 x 720
Max HD movie recording time 8 mins 3 hours **
Movie codec support M-JPEG AVCHD Lite, M-JPEG ***
Movie audio recording Mono Dolby Digital Stereo
Manual controls in movie mode No Yes
HDMI output No Yes
Built-in memory 50 MB 40 MB
Battery life (CIPA standard) 460 shots 470 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in. 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in.
Weight (empty) 370 g 367 g

* In Panasonic tests
** Cameras sold in Europe limited to 30 minutes
*** Recording time limited to 8 minutes when using M-JPEG

And those are just the major changes! There are a few other differences that I'll touch on as this review progresses.

Speaking of reviews, this one's starting now, so keep reading!

The Lumix DMC-FZ35 is known as the DMC-FZ38 in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ35 camera
  • CGR-S006A lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Lens hood w/adapter
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD, SilkyPix Developer Studio, ArcSoft Media Impression and Panorama Maker and documentation
  • 36 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

Like most manufacturers, Panasonic has built memory right into the DMC-FZ35, instead of including a memory card. The FZ35 has 40MB of built in memory, which holds just five photos at the highest JPEG quality setting. That means that you'll need to go memory card shopping right away, unless you already have one. The FZ35 supports SD and SDHC memory cards, and I'd suggest a 4GB one to start with. If you'll be recording a lot of movies, it may be worth going even larger. You'll want to use a card with a Class 4 or 6 speed rating for best results.

The FZ35 uses the familiar CGR-S006 rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery is packs a modest 5.0 Wh of energy into its plastic shell. Let's see what kind of battery life numbers Panasonic managed to squeeze out of it, and how that number compares to those from other super zooms:

Camera Battery life
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS * 600 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Casio Exilim EX-FH20 * 430 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z980 * 400 shots 4 x 2100 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix P90 200 shots EN-EL5
Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom 340 shots ** 4 x alkaline AA
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 * 470 shots CGR-S006
Pentax X70 170 shots D-LI92
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 * 390 shots NP-FH50

* HD movie mode
** Tested with alkaline batteries; NiMH numbers will be considerably higher

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The DMC-FZ35 has some pretty tough competition, especially from the Canon SX20. In this super zoom group (which is missing the Samsung HZ25W, since I have almost zero information about it), the FZ35's are well above average.

There are a few things to mention about the proprietary battery used by the FZ35 and many of the cameras on the above list. First, they're expensive -- a spare CGR-S006 will set you back at least $50. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery should your rechargeable die, as you can with AA-based cameras.

Another Panasonic-specific battery issue: some folks like to use generic batteries in their camera. Panasonic's latest models check to make sure you're using a genuine Panasonic battery. If you're using a third party battery, the camera will likely complain about it and shut down.
Update: Turns out that my Panasonic contact was incorrect about this. You can currently use generic batteries with the FZ35, though that may change in the future.

When it's time to refill the CGR-S006 battery, just put it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall, and it'll take the battery from empty to full in two hours.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 in the hand

The FZ35 comes with a big 'ol lens cap (with retaining strap) to keep that Leica lens protected from the elements.

Something else you'll find inside the box is a lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood consists of two parts: a screw-on plastic ring for the lens barrel, and the hood itself, which attaches to the ring via a thumb screw.

Panasonic offers a plethora of accessories for the Lumix DMC-FZ35. They include:

Accessory Model # Price Description
Telephoto conversion lens DMW-LT55 From $167 Boosts the focal range by 1.7x, bringing the telephoto end of the lens to a whopping 826 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Close-up lens DMW-LC55 From $78 Significantly reduces the minimum focus distance for tele macro shooting; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter DMW-LA3 $30 Required for using the tele and macro conversion lenses above
Neutral density filter DMW-LND46 From $40 Reduces the amount of light coming through the lens by three stops, allowing for use of slower shutter speeds or wider apertures
Polarizing filter DMW-LPL46 From $62 Circular polarizer reduces reflections and darkens sky
MC protector DMW-LMC46 From $40 Protects the front element of your lens
AC adapter DMW-AC7 From $35 Power the camera without draining your battery
HDMI cable RP-CDHM15
From $29
1.5 and 3.0 meter cables for connecting to an HDTV; generic cables can be found for a lot less
Soft case DMW-CZS7 $24 Holds just the camera
Camera bag DMW-CZ18 $40 Holds the camera and a few accessories

Not too shabby! While the two conversion lenses require the adapter, the filters attach directly to the camera. The only thing missing here is an external flash.

PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD in Windows

Panasonic includes quite a bit of software with the DMC-FZ35. First up is PhotoFunStudio 4.0 HD, which is for Windows only. This software has the usual image viewing and organizing features, and I especially like you can filter photos by things like scene mode or if faces are recognized. You can also drill-down by date, as you can see above. One thing I don't care for about PhotoFunStudio is its reliance on "wizards" to do everything, which just adds unnecessary steps.

Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio

The still image editing tools haven't changed a whole lot since the last version of PhotoFunStudio. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.

While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them or export them to other formats.

Two additional photo editing products included with the DMC-FZ35 are ArcSoft MediaImpression and PanoramaMaker. You can read more about those in my review of the Lumix DMC-FX580.

SilkyPix in Mac OS X

For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies you with SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky and hard to use. That doesn't mean that the software isn't capable -- quite the opposite, in fact. SilkyPix is a powerful RAW editor, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to white balance (with fine-tuning) to the tone curve. You can also adjust noise reduction, lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and much, much more.

If you've got Photoshop CS4, you can also use the Camera Raw plug-in (version 5.5 or newer) to work with the FZ35's RAW files.

So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the FZ35's image sensor. In order to do anything with this information, you must first process it on your Mac or PC, as shown above. When you do that, you can adjust white balance, exposure, and more, without reducing the quality of the image. It's as if you get to take the photo again. Do note that RAW files are larger than JPEGs, taking up more space on your memory card, and they can also reduce camera performance in certain situations (like shooting in burst mode).

Trimming a video in PhotoFunStudio

Jumping to the video side of things, there are a couple of basic editing tools available in PhotoFunStudio. You can trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip (though the interface hurts my brain), burn your movies to a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, or upload a video to YouTube. There aren't any serious editing tools here, and there's no way to convert AVCHD Lite files to another format.

So what about working with movies using other (non-Panasonic) software? I'll break this section down into three parts: viewing, transcoding, and editing. This is specifically for AVCHD Lite files, not Motion JPEG, as those are easy to view on your computer.

Viewing AVCHD Lite movies

The first thing to know is where the AVCHD files are kept. On your memory card, they're the .MTS files in /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM. They'll have very descriptive names, such as 00001.MTS.

If you're on a Mac and want to just watch your AVCHD Lite files, I recommend VLC (free) or Toast Titanium 10 (not free). QuickTime Player cannot open the MTS files, but you can transcode them into another format to do that (see below).

Those of you already running Windows 7 can view AVCHD movies in Windows Media Player, without having to install any additional software. If you're running an older version of Windows, you may want to try VLC or K-Lite Codec Pack.

Transcoding (converting) AVCHD Lite movies

Life gets a lot easier when you convert AVCHD Lite movies to more common formats. Some editing suites (mentioned below) do this automatically, but let's just say that you want to convert an MTS file to MP4 or WMV format.

My personal favorite for the Mac is Handbrake. It's not pretty, but it's free, fairly quick, and managed to maintain the faux 60 fps frame rate of the original movies. Other options include Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn movies to DVD or Blu-ray disc), VLC, and VoltaicHD, though the frame rate of the resulting movie was always 30 fps (not that it seems to make a difference).

Windows users can also use Handbrake, VLC, VoltaicHD, Free AVCHD Converter, or CoreAVC. I didn't test all those out to see what the resulting frame rate was.

Editing AVCHD Lite videos

AVCHD Lite is not an editor-friendly codec. There aren't any native editors on the Mac side, though things are more promising for Windows users. If you've got a Mac, you can import the videos using the latest version of iMovie 09. The software transcodes the MTS files to Apple Intermediate Codec, so you're not natively editing AVCHD Lite. Still, it works just fine. Final Cut Pro works in a similar way (no native editing), though it's vastly more complex (and more powerful).

Some modern editing suites for Windows actually work natively with the AVCHD Lite files. Two products that I know work are Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Pinnacle Studio 12 Plus/Ultimate, and Sony Vegas. There are probably others, and there's a list on Wikipedia of software that supports AVCHD (the regular version, at least).

That's more than enough about software, if you ask me!

The manual situation has taken a turn for the worse on the Lumix DMC-FZ35. Panasonic no longer includes a full, printed manual in the box. Instead, you get a roughly 35 page "Basic Manual" which is, well, very basic. For more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is on an included CD-ROM disc. That manual will answer all the questions you could possibly have, but I would much prefer a printed manual to a digital one. Neither of the manuals are what I'd call user friendly, with lots of fine print and confusing tables. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.