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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 12, 2007
Last updated: February 5, 2008

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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:

  • A 7.2 effective Megapixel CCD (versus 6MP on the FZ7)
  • Uses Venus III image processor (the FZ7 used Venus II)
  • Higher resolution LCD and electronic viewfinder (the latter is a bit larger as well)
  • RAW image format supported
  • 11-point autofocus system (versus 9-point)
  • "Two speed" zoom controller
  • ISO now goes up to 1250 in regular shooting modes, or 3200 in high sensitivity mode
  • Intelligent ISO mode automatically adjusts ISO based on lighting and subject moving
  • Support for SDHC memory card format
  • Battery life improved by almost 20%

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:

  • The 7.2 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ8 camera
  • CGR-S006 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Lens hood w/adapter
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Lumix Simple Viewer, PhotoFunStudio, SilkyPix Developer Studio, ArcSoft Photo Suite, and drivers
  • 145 page camera manual (printed)

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:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot S5 IS * 450 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S700 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S6000fd 400 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
GE X1 * 600 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS * 275 shots KLIC-8000
Nikon Coolpix S10 * 300 shots EN-EL5
Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom * 530 shots 4 x 2300 mAh NiMH
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 * 320 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 * 380 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 * 360 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 * 270 shots CGA-S007
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 * 300 shots NP-BG1

* Has optical image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

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:

Accessory Model # Price Description
Wide-angle lens DMW-LW55 From $199 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.7X to 25.2 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens DMW-LT55 From $179 Boosts focal range by 1.7X to a whopping 734.4 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Close-up lens DMW-LC55 From $64 Reduces the minimum focusing distance at the telephoto end of the lens; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter DMW-LA2 From $28 Required for conversion lenses; threaded for 55 mm accessories as well
MC protector DMW-LMC52 From $24 Protects your lens without affecting color or exposure; screws onto the lens hood adapter
ND filter DMW-LND52 From $28 Reduces the amount of light hitting the lens by 3 stops without affecting color; allows for slower shutter speeds; attaches to the lens hood adapter
AC adapter DMW-AC7 $45 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Camera case DMW-CZS7
Soft and semi-hard cases to protect your camera

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.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S5 IS 4.6 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 45.6 cu in. 450 g
Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd 5.2 x 3.8 x 5.0 in. 98.8 cu in. 600 g
Fujifilm FinePix S700 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.2 in. 40.3 cu in. 306 g
Kodak Easyshare Z712 IS 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.7 in. 32.1 cu in. 300 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in. 44.2 cu in. 365 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 5.5 x 3.4 x 5.6 in. 104.7 cu in. 668 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.1 cu in. 232 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 48.2 cu in. 375 g

Two things to mention here. First, I wanted to show you how much smaller the FZ8 is than the next step up in the Panasonic lineup, the DMC-FZ50. The FZ50 is a beast, feeling more like a large D-SLR than a fixed-lens camera. As far as midrange ultra zooms go, the FZ8 is about average in terms of size and weight.

Okay, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning as always with the front of the camera.

The DMC-FZ8 has the exact same lens as its predecessor. This F2.8-3.3 Leica lens has a powerful 12X zoom range, covering a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 36 - 432 mm. While the lens itself its not threaded, the barrel around it is. By using the included lens hood adapter you can attach 52 mm filters, or you can purchase the conversion lens adapter and screw on a tele, wide, or macro lens.

Deep inside the FZ8's lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. Tiny movements of your hands can blur your photos, especially in low light situations, or when shooting at the full telephoto end of the lens. Sensors inside the camera detects these movements, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. The OIS system won't work miracles (no 1 second handheld exposures) and it won't stop a moving subject, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Look at this:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken with the same shutter speed: 1/8 sec. As you can see, the OIS system lived up to its billing, producing a sharp photo. If you want another example of the OIS system in action, check out this short sample movie.

Returning to our tour now, the next thing to see on the front of the camera is its pop-up flash. The flash, which is released manually, is quite powerful, with a working range of 0.3 - 6.0 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 5.4 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the FZ8 -- you'll have to step up to the much larger FZ50 if you want to do that.

The only other items of note on the front of the camera are the AF-assist lamp and the microphone, which are located to the upper-right of the lens. The AF-assist lamps is used as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also doubles as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

While the FZ8's LCD is the same size as on the FZ7, the resolution has nearly doubled, going from 114,000 to 207,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp on this screen. Outdoor visibility is decent at default settings, and quite good if you turn on the "Power LCD" function. Low light visibility is also impressive, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

Like all ultra zoom cameras, the FZ8 uses an electronic viewfinder, or EVF. What's nice about EVFs is that they show you 100% of the frame (no parallax error here), and they show the same menus and screens as the main LCD. The EVF on the FZ8 is 33% larger than the one on the FZ7, and it has 65% greater resolution. It's pretty nice, though it's nowhere nearly as sharp and bright as a regular optical viewfinder. The EVF really sticks out from the back of the camera, which helps keep nose prints off of the LCD. There's a diopter correction knob on the side of it, which focuses what you're looking at.

Just to the left of the EVF is the release for the pop-up flash. Jumping to the other side we find the speaker, EVF/LCD button (which switches between the two), and the power switch.

Selecting an area in the frame on which to focus

Below the power switch is the same joystick controller that was found on the FZ7. You'll use this for adjusting manual settings like shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation. You can also use it for selecting the area of the frame on which to focus. As you can see in the examples below, you can move both single and multi-point autofocus areas around the frame.

Quick setting menu

While you'd never know it by looking at the back of the camera, holding this joystick button down opens up a "quick setting menu", shown above. This menu lets you adjust the focus mode, metering, white balance, ISO, resolution, and compression settings. I'll talk more about all of those later in the review.

Below that is the Display button, which toggles what is shown on the LCD, and also turns on two of the FZ8's "LCD modes". Those modes include Power LCD, which brightens the screen for outdoor viewing, as well as the new High Angle feature, which makes it easier to see the screen when the camera is held above your head. I don't know how the high angle feature works, but it does -- and well.

Next, we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, and also for:

  • Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, flash exposure compensation -- see below
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec, 10 sec / 3 pics) -- this last item takes three photos after a ten second wait
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)

I want to 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 it 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. Flash exposure compensation lets you adjust the flash strength using the same range. 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.

Burst mode menu

The last thing to see on the back of the FZ8 is the Burst mode / Delete photo button. Press it in record mode to activate the camera's excellent continuous shooting modes, of which there are three: low speed, high speed, and infinite. In low speed mode I was able to take five JPEG images at the highest quality setting at 2 frames/second. In high speed mode, the total number of shots stayed the same (at five), but the frame rate went up to 2.9 frames/second. The infinite mode, which requires a high speed memory card, will let you keep shooting at 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. The LCD and EVF keep up fairly well with the action, with just a brief "freeze" between each shot.

You're probably wondering why I didn't mention RAW in the previous paragraph. That's because you cannot shoot RAW photos in burst mode, which isn't terribly surprising.

Let's move on to the top of the camera now. First up is the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Simple mode Dumbed down menu system for real beginners
Playback mode More on this later
Intelligent ISO mode A high sensitivity mode that boosts ISO (to a maximum of your choosing) depending on subject motion
Program mode Point-and-shoot, with full menu access; a Program Shift feature lets you select from various shutter speed/aperture combos by using the joystick
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture from a range of F2.8 - F8.0 and the camera uses the appropriate shutter speed
Shutter priority (Tv) mode Just the opposite: you choose the shutter speed from a range of 8 - 1/2000 sec and the camera picks the aperture; do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at the smallest aperture settings
Full manual (M) mode You select both the shutter speed and aperture; same aperture range as above; shutter speed range expands to 60 - 1/2000 sec
Movie mode More on this later
Print mode For when you're connected to a Pictbridge-enabled photo printer
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, self-portrait, scenery, sports, panning, night portrait, night scenery, food, party, candle light, baby, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo

As you can see, the DMC-FZ8 has full manual exposure controls. It also has plenty of scene modes, and a unique Intelligent ISO mode that boosts the ISO (up to a limit of your choosing) based on available light on subject movement.

Some of the interesting/bizarre scene modes include baby mode (which saves the age of up to two babies along with the photo), pet mode (which does the same), starry sky (kind of a bulb mode), and aerial photo (for taking photos out of airplane windows). There's also a high sensitivity mode, which boosts the ISO to 3200 for some really lousy looking pictures. Don't use this mode -- just boost the ISO by yourself, and be conservative!

Manual focus

To the right of the mode dial are two buttons. The first one switches between the three focus modes on the camera: autofocus, auto macro, and manual focus. In manual focus mode you'll use the joystick to set the focus distance yourself. A guide showing this distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, so you can verify proper focus. In addition, you can move this enlarged area around in the frame, which is handy for shooting on a tripod.

The second button controls the camera's optical image stabilization system, and there are three options to choose from. Mode 1 turns the OIS system on as soon as you halfway press the shutter release button, which makes it easier to compose your photo. Mode 2 only activates the system when the photo is actually taken, which results in more effective shake reduction. Finally, you can turn the whole OIS system off. Why would you do this? Quite simply, sometimes the IS system can actually blur your photos -- most notably when the camera is on a tripod.

Above those buttons is the final items on the top of the camera -- the zoom controller and the shutter release button that sits inside it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.3 seconds at "full speed". If you slightly press the controller, the lens moves considerably slower, which is good for precise adjustments. I counted over forty steps in the 12X zoom range -- nice.

Here's one side of the FZ8, with the lens at the full wide-angle position. Over on the lower-right side you can see the camera's two I/O ports, which are covered by a plastic door of average quality. The ports include USB + A/V out and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). One upgrade that the FZ8 did not get was in the USB department. It still has the same, slow USB 2.0 Full Speed interface of its predecessor.

Here's the other side of the FZ8, with the lens at the full telephoto position.

We conclude our tour with a look at the bottom of the FZ8. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (hard to see in this shot), as well as the battery/memory card compartment. This compartment is protected by a sturdy reinforced plastic door. Do note that you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included CGA-S006 battery can be found on the right side of the photo.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8

Record Mode

It takes about 2.6 seconds for the DMC-FZ8 to extends its lens and prepare for shooting. That's not terribly fast.

A live histogram is shown in record mode

Like most Panasonic cameras, the FZ8 is really snappy when it comes to focusing. If you're using one of the "regular speed" AF modes, expect to wait between 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, and closer to a second (and sometimes a bit longer) at the telephoto end. If you use the high speed AF modes then you can expect almost instant focus times when there's good lighting. Low light focusing can be a bit slow, but the camera locked focus consistently.

I did not find shutter lag to be an issue on the FZ8, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal. When taking JPEGs, you'll wait about a second between shots. For RAW images, about three seconds. These numbers are the same even when using the flash, which was a pleasant surprise.

There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the FZ8. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality # images on 27MB onboard memory # images on 1GB SD card (optional)
4:3 7M
3072 x 2304
RAW 1 58
Fine 7 270
Standard 14 540
2560 X 1920
Fine 10 390
Standard 21 770
2048 X 1536
Fine 16 600
Standard 33 1180
1600 X 1200
Fine 27 970
Standard 53 1880
1280 x 960
Fine 41 1470
Standard 78 2740
640 x 480
Fine 130 4640
Standard 210 7550
3:2 6M
3072 x 2048
RAW 1 65
Fine 8 300
Standard 16 600
2048 x 1360
Fine 19 680
Standard 37 1310
16:9 5.5M
3072 x 1728
RAW 2 77
Fine 9 360
Standard 19 710
1920 x 1080
Fine 25 910
Standard 48 1720

Lots of choices, as you can see. The FZ8 supports the RAW image format (which I described earlier), and it's available at all three aspect ratios. A standard quality JPEG is saved along with the RAW image. Gone is the TIFF mode from the FZ7, though I don't think it will be missed.

Full wide-angle Full telephoto Full telephoto + extended optical zoom
(18X total, 3M setting)

As with its predecessor, the FZ8 has an "extended optical zoom" feature, which I've illustrated above. By lowering the resolution, you can get additional zoom power without using digital zoom, which reduces image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use. For example, if you select the 3 Megapixel setting, you can get a total zoom power of 18X. By the way, you can do the same thing with your favorite image editor on your computer -- the camera is basically just cropping the center of the image.

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 totally different menu systems on the FZ8. If you set to the mode dial to the Simple position, you'll get the very basic simple menu. Items here include:

  • Picture mode (Enlarge, 4 x 6, e-mail)
  • Auto review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Clock set

In the other shooting modes you'll get a more traditional menu. Do note that some of these items may be "grayed out" in certain shooting modes. And with that, here's the complete list of items in the record mode menu:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, flash, halogen, white set 1/2) - see below
  • WB adjust - see below
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
  • Metering (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • AF mode (Multi-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - see below
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera is always focusing, which reduces AF delays; puts extra strain on batteries
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white, sepia)
  • Picture adjustments - lots of useful options in here
    • Contrast (Low, standard, high)
    • Sharpness (Low, standard, high)
    • Saturation (Low, standard, high)
    • Noise reduction (Low, standard, high)
  • Flip animation - cool tool for making stop-motion animation
    • Picture capture - take up to 100 photos
    • Create motion picture - turn them into 320 x 240 movie
    • Delete still pictures - delete the photos you've taken
  • Conversion lens (Off, wide, tele, close-up)
  • Clock set

White balance fine-tuning

As you'd expect on a camera with full manual controls, there is a custom white balance option available. Just point the camera at a white or gray object and you're set. The FZ8 lets you store up to two custom WB settings. The camera also lets you manually fine-tune your selected white balance setting. You can move the WB in the amber/blue and green/red directions -- or both.

I already told you about the autofocus performance on the FZ8, but I should tell you what the tradeoff is that comes along with using the high speed AF modes. That is, the image on the LCD/EVF will freeze very briefly while the camera is focusing.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessed via the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Clock set
  • World time (Home, travel)
  • Monitor/viewfinder brightness (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments) - these can be set separately
  • Guide lines - put a composition grid and more on the LCD
    • Rec info (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Pattern (3 x 3, complex)
  • Travel date (on/off) - when set, records what day of your vacation a photo was taken (e.g. day two)
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - images will always be shown on the LCD in playback mode
  • 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)
  • Zoom resume (on/off) - whether zoom returns to last position when camera is turned on
  • MF Assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - what part of the frame is enlarged when using manual focus
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • AF beep (Off, low, high)
  • Shutter sound (Off, low, high)
  • Volume (0-6)
  • File number reset
  • Reset
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • TV aspect ratio (16:9, 4:3)
  • MF units (meters, feet)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to the scene mode position
  • Dial display (on/off) - whether a "virtual" mode dial is shown on the LCD as you rotate the real one
  • Language

All of those should be self-explanatory, so let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?

The DMC-FZ8 produced a tack sharp photo over our standard macro test subject. The colors look good, and the camera captured plenty of detail. While there's not much in the way of noise here, you will see a bit of noise reduction artifacting around the "lips" and "feet" of the figurine. I'll have more on that issue in a bit.

The minimum focus distance on the camera is 5 cm at wide-angle, 2 m between there and the 11X position, and 1 m at the full telephoto (12X) position. Kind of unusual, yes. You can lower the tele macro distance considerably by picking up the optional close-up conversion lens that I mentioned way back in the beginning of the review.

If you read my review of the Nikon D40x then you've already heard this, but here it goes. San Francisco is famous for its summer fog, and on this particular night there was enough of it to affect the night test photo a bit. The fog has softened things up a bit, and given a kind of washed out look to the buildings. Since I can't control the weather, there's not much I can do about it. So keep that in mind when comparing these night shots to those from other cameras I've reviewed.

That said, the FZ8 took a good, but not great photo of the SF skyline. The camera took in plenty of light, thanks to its manual shutter speed control. The buildings are sharp, and purple fringing is nonexistent. While there's not much in the way of noise to be found here, there are noticeable artifacts caused by the camera's overzealous noise reduction system. If you view the full-size image you can see these artifacts in the form of smudged and "pitted" details (look at the Transamerica Pyramid on the right for a great example of these). Now this won't show up in smaller sized prints, but if you're making large prints or viewing the image at 100% on your computer screen, you'll see them -- and it only gets worse at higher ISOs.

Speaking of which, let's move on to the night ISO test now:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1250

If there's one word which sums up the FZ8's low light ISO performance, it would be "yuck". You get noticeable detail loss due to noise reduction as soon as you leave ISO 100, and I would say that photos taken at ISO 400 and above are unusable. Shooting in RAW gets rid of the noise reduction artifacts, but there's still heavy detail loss due to noise. As you can also see, there is some color shifting going on at the higher ISOs.

Bottom line: the FZ8 isn't a great low light / high ISO camera. We'll see how it performs in better lighting in a moment.

The DMC-FZ7 had "some" redeye, and things haven't really changed on the FZ8. It's not the horrible, demonic redeye that you see on a compact camera, but it's still noticeable. Your results may vary, but there's a good chance that you'll have to deal with this annoyance as well.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the FZ8's 12X Leica lens. This effect can be seen when you take pictures of buildings (for example), making them appear to "curve" toward the center of the frame. The camera had no issues with vignetting or blurry corners, a testament to the quality of the lens.

Here's the "normal light" high ISO test. This shot is taken in the studio, and can be compared between cameras. While the crops below give you a decent idea as to the noise levels at each settings, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1250

There isn't a huge difference between the ISO 100 and 200 shots -- there's just a little bit more noise reduction artifacting visible in the latter. At ISO 400, color saturation takes a hit, and noise reduction artifacts become a lot more noticeable. You should be able to make a midsize print at this setting, though, especially if you use the workarounds I'm going to mention in a second. Things just get worse at ISO 800, and at ISO 1250 things are looking pretty bad. I would avoid those settings unless you're really desperate.

In good lighting and at low ISOs, the Lumix DMC-FZ8's photo quality is very good. If light levels drop, or you increase the ISO, things could be a lot better. The FZ8 takes well-exposed, sharp photos, with pleasing, saturated color (just look at these birds, this lizard, or this rose). Purple fringing isn't a problem, since the Venus III processor removes it automatically from your photos. While noise isn't much of a problem on the camera, noise reduction artifacting is, and this is the FZ8's real weak point. Once you leave ISO 100, you'll really notice the effects of the camera's heavy noise reduction, including smudged or mottled details (see examples one, two, and three). This heavy NR is an unfortunate "feature" of the Venus III engine, and I really hope Panasonic addresses it in future cameras.

To get the best image quality out of the camera, especially at ISOs other than 100, then you'll want to tweak a few settings. The easiest thing is to go to the picture adjustments submenu and set the noise reduction option to "low". Another option yields better results, though it requires a lot more work, and that is to shoot in RAW mode. When you're doing that, no noise reduction is applied, so you don't have all the detail loss like in the JPEG images. The catch is that you have to process the images on your computer (as you do with all RAW photos), reducing the noise during the conversion process. If you're the kind of person who mostly prints 4 x 6's, shoots at the lowest ISO setting, or doesn't view the photos at 100% on your computer screen, then you can ignore all this. But if you make large prints, want to increase the ISO sensitivity above 100, or are a "pixel peeper" like yours truly, then you may want to fool around a bit with the settings.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, and print a few of the photos if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the FZ8's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The FZ8's movie mode is essentially unchanged from the one found on the FZ7. You can record movies at either 848 x 480 (16:9) or 640 x 480 (4:3) at 30 frames/second until the file size hits 2GB, or your memory card fills up (whichever comes first). Sound is recorded along with the video. The built-in memory doesn't hold much video (and you can't record at the highest quality settings to it anyway), so you'll want a large, high speed memory card for longer movies. A 1GB card holds about 9.5 and 11 minutes of 848 x 480 and 640 x 480 video, respectively.

To get longer movies you can lower the resolution to 320 x 240, or cut the frame rate down to a very choppy 10 fps (not recommended).

As is usually the case, you cannot operate the optical zoom while recording a movie. The image stabilizer is active, however, which helps remove the "shakes" from your video clips.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.

Here's another view of the usual train station video, in widescreen no less!

Click to play movie (22.1 MB, 848 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Lumix DMC-FZ8 has a nice playback mode with a few unique features. The basic playback features include slideshows, voice captions, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in many sizes), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area. Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped, as well.

The camera offers a calendar view of your photos, in addition to the usual one-at-a-time and thumbnail views.

The FZ8 has a rather unique date printing feature. You can print the date/time on your photo, the age of your baby or pet (if you used those scene modes, of course), or what day of your vacation you took the photo on. Do note that the camera will downsize the image to 3 Megapixels or less when using this feature, which is fine for what most people will be doing with them (printing them at 4 x 6).

If you're viewing a movie, you can grab a single frame, or create a collage consisting of nine frames (you can select the interval between each frame, as well). There's no way to edit movies on the camera, unfortunately.

The camera lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all -- a feature I always appreciate. Lastly, as you'd expect, you can copy images between the internal memory and an optional memory card.

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.

The DMC-FZ8 moves between photos with almost no delay.

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is a full-featured ultra zoom camera that offers robust performance, tons of features, and a solid design, all for under $350. It's kept from greatness only by its overaggressive noise reduction, which noticeably reduces image quality, especially in low light, or if the ISO is higher than 100. For the typical digital camera buyer, who will be printing 4 x 6's and maybe an occasional 8 x 10, the noise reduction isn't a huge issue, and for those people I can highly recommend the FZ8. If you like to take high ISO shots, frequently make large prints, or enjoy staring at 100% views of your photos on your computer monitor, then the FZ8 may not be the best choice.

From the outside, the Lumix DMC-FZ8 doesn't look much different than its predecessor, the FZ7. In fact, you won't notice the changes until you start using the camera. The new Venus III engine gives the camera great performance and battery life, but negatively affects image quality with its heavy noise reduction. The LCD and electronic viewfinder have both been given resolution boosts, making the FZ8 is more competitive with other ultra zooms. The LCD's handy Power LCD and high angle functions make it easy to see in bright outdoor light, or when the camera is held above you, respectively.

The camera's build quality is very good. It's made of a mix of metal and plastic, and it comes in both silver and black. The important controls are in the right places, and the camera can be operated without having the read the manual (though you may not notice the "quick menu" without doing so). About my only design-related complaint is that you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod. The camera has the same, excellent quality 12X Leica lens as the FZ7, with a zoom range of 36 - 432 mm. Should you want to expand that range, Panasonic has conversion lenses available. Like all of the Lumix cameras, the FZ8 has Panasonic's optical image stabilization system, which effectively reduces the blurring effects of "camera shake".

The FZ8 is a full featured camera. For those just starting out, there are plenty of scene modes available. If you're really a beginner, there's even a "simple" mode with a grand total of four menu items (one of which is for setting the date and time). While many of the FZ8's scene modes are useful, you'll want to avoid the high sensitivity mode, which produces some really poor quality photos. If you're willing to lower the resolution by half, you can get more zoom power out of the camera -- up to 18X total zoom at the 3 Megapixel setting. For those who want manual controls, the DMC-FZ8 has them all. That includes shutter speed and aperture, focus, and white balance. You can even fine-tune the white balance if you desire, which is a feature you won't find on most $350 cameras. Other nice "pro" features include support for the RAW image format, and the ability to move the focus zone around the frame (and not just in single-point mode). Regardless of your skill level, you'll certainly enjoy the FZ8's movie mode, which can record widescreen movies at 30 frames/second with sound and image stabilization.

Camera performance is one of the FZ8's strongest assets. While it's startup speed isn't the fastest out there, just about everything else is top-notch. That includes focusing times (especially with the high speed modes), shot-to-shot speeds (which are fast, even in RAW mode or with the flash), and menu operation. The burst mode is nice, offering short bursts as fast as 3 frames/second, or unlimited shooting at 2 frames/second. Do note that you cannot shoot RAW images continuously, though. While battery life has been improved since the FZ7, the FZ8's numbers are slightly below average in the ultra zoom group. In a move I cannot understand, Panasonic did not add support for the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol on the DMC-FZ8. Sigh.

The most important feature on a camera is its image quality, and its here where the FZ8 stumbles a bit. Set the ISO to 100 and give the camera plenty of light, and the results are very good. You'll get nice, saturated color, perfect sharpness, and no purple fringing. While you'll see a bit of noise reduction artifacting in these situations, it's nowhere near as bad as when the ISO hits 200 or above, or when light levels drop. Then the Venus III's overzealous NR system will either smudge or mottle the details in your photos, which reduces your print sizes, and makes viewing the images on your computer a less-than-pleasant experience. Setting the noise reduction option to low helps, and shooting in RAW mode helps even more, but in my opinion workarounds shouldn't be required to get the best quality images out of the camera. As I said in the first paragraph, this won't affect the small print crowd, but for those making larger prints, you might want to consider a non-Panasonic camera.

I pretty much hit on all of the FZ8's negatives in the preceding paragraphs, so now it's time to wrap things up. Do I like the DMC-FZ8 and recommend it to most people? Easily. Do I wish it produced better quality photos when the ISO isn't 100 and the lighting isn't perfect? Absolutely. The FZ8 is a great choice for the typical digital camera buyer, but enthusiasts who put image quality first may want to consider other options.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (at lowest ISO setting and in good lighting)
  • Superb 12X optical zoom Leica lens; lens can be precisely adjusted with new two speed zoom controller
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Well built for the price
  • Large, sharp 2.5" LCD display; screen visible outdoors and in low light; useful Power LCD and High Angle features;
  • Robust performance, especially in terms of focus and shot-to-shot speeds
  • AF-assist lamp; good (but somewhat sluggish) low light focusing
  • Full manual control (and then some), plus plenty of scene modes
  • RAW image format supported
  • Powerful flash
  • Strong continuous shooting mode
  • Nice movie mode records in widescreen format (848 x 480)
  • Support for conversion lenses and filters

What I didn't care for:

  • Heavy noise reduction smears/mottles details when ISO is above 100, or in low light
  • Some redeye
  • Useless high sensitivity mode
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on tripod
  • Manual leaves much to be desired

Some other ultra zooms to consider include the Canon PowerShot S5 IS, Fuji FinePix S700 and S6000fd, GE X1, Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS, Nikon Coolpix S10, Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 and DMC-TZ3 (the FZ8's big and little brothers), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FZ8 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our extensive photo gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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 or technical support.

Want a second opinion?

You can read more reviews of the FZ8 at Digital Photography Review, Steve's Digicams, Megapixel.net, and CNET.