Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40

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MSRP: $399.95
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Excellent feature set and shooting options for the money; nice design; great battery life.

The Bad JPEG photo quality tanks at ISO 400; menu system can get confusing.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 is a solid megazoom, but its low-light photos need extra attention.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Image quality 6.0

The Lumix DMC-FZ40 is the lower-priced linemate to Panasonic's other full-size megazoom, the FZ100 . The two are separated by about $100 and a whole lot of features. Many of those features probably aren't deal-breakers for a lot of people, but one of them might be: the FZ100 has a MOS sensor and the FZ40 has a CCD sensor. The sensor change mainly means you lose all of the FZ100's high-speed shooting capabilities.

Other key differences include a lower resolution, fixed LCD; 720p AVCHD Lite movie capture instead of full HD AVCHD movies; and there's no accessory shoe for adding an external mic or flash. If you're not shooting a lot of movies, though, these are for the most part acceptable losses for the price difference.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40
Price (MSRP) $399.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.7 x 3.1 x 3.6 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1.1 pounds
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/Electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 24x, f2.8-5.2, 25-600mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG, raw (.RW2)/AVCHD Lite (.MTS)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps (progressive; 17Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 580 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software PHOTOfunSTUDIO 5.2 HD Edition (Windows), SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Windows, Mac)

The main problem is that buyers tend to see the body style and think they're getting dSLR-quality photos and performance, just without the interchangeable lens part. The FZ40 uses the image sensor of a point-and-shoot, though, so the photos are still those of high-quality pocket camera. Photos are very good up to ISO 200 with nice color and relatively low noise. But as soon as you jump up to ISO 400, noise and Panasonic's JPEG processing result in soft smeary details and yellow blotching. ISO 800 is usable at small sizes, but with more of what happens at ISO 400 visible. Photos taken at ISO 1,600 are just plain bad with noise and color issues. This is unfortunate because you need those higher ISOs if you're doing a lot of shooting indoors or in low light without a flash or you're using the zoom in less than full sun.

However, if you don't mind shooting in raw or raw plus JPEG, you can process the images yourself and get much better results than the JPEGs straight from the camera. This is the case with the FZ100, too, but its shooting speeds are faster than the FZ40's. Raw capture drives the shot-to-shot time from the FZ40 up to 4.1 seconds.

Color is very good from the FZ40 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and reasonably accurate. Plus, there are a number of ways to tweak your color results. Exposure is very good, too. White-balance presets are OK for the most part; however, the auto white balance is not good indoors. Unfortunately, you're stuck with that setting if you're using Intelligent Auto or most of the other automatic shooting modes. Whenever possible, use the presets or take a manual reading, which is really easy to do and you can store two presets.

Panasonic controls the barrel distortion fairly well from the 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens. There's also little sign of pincushion distortion when the lens is extended. The lens is reasonably consistent edge to edge, though there is a slight bit of softness at the far right side and corners. Fringing is somewhat under control, but not completely. It's clearly visible in very high-contrast areas of photos when they're viewed at full resolution, but not really at smaller sizes.

As for movie quality, its AVCHD Lite clips are sharp with good exposure and color. Low-light recording suffers from the same noise problems as in photos. The zoom does operate while recording, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it's difficult to hear.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom (2)
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority,Manual, Creative Movie, My Color, Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Close-up, Scene, Custom
Focus modes Face AF, Tracking AF, Multi AF (23-area), 1-area (flexible and scalable), Manual
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Dynamic Art, Dynamic B&W, Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, Custom; Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots (Standard quality); 3 shots (Fine quality)

Other than the loss of burst modes and full HD movies, there are no significant shooting mode differences. For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto that combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. Overall, it works very well, but photos can end up appearing overprocessed. On a side note, Panasonic sticks "Intelligent" in front of no fewer than eight features in this camera. Remembering what each of them does, where they are in the menus, and when you should and shouldn't use them can cause a bit of a headache. They are helpful technologies, but the marketing is really starting to get in the way of using them effectively.

There are 21 scene modes for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting. Many of them are available for photos and movies. Five of the scene modes have spots on the Mode dial, and each of them has its own sets of scene modes. Portrait mode, for example, has Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, and Creative settings. Creative is basically the Normal option with a slider for adjusting aperture, giving users a midway point between an automatic scene mode and aperture-priority mode.

Similarly, Panasonic includes several options for experimenting with color and style. On the Mode dial is a My Color mode with a bunch of filters brought over from the Lumix G series cameras. With names like Expressive, Retro, Pure, High Dynamic, Pin Hole, and Film Grain, they're a lot like what you'd find in a smartphone app. There are color effects you can play with, too, that are for use when you're in other shooting modes.

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