We like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4, but this 1-megapixel upgrade is even better. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 has the same optically stabilized 12X Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens (the different focal-length range is the result of pairing it with a different sensor), it has similar performance and image quality and, unlike its cheaper sibling, includes a microphone and speaker for audio annotation or video film clips with sound.
Manual exposure controls, an SLR-like design, and advanced options that include lossless TIFF file storage will appeal to the photo enthusiast, while an abundance of scene choices, such as a neophyte-friendly Simple mode, ease snapshooters into the world of the megazoom. Some Rube Goldberg touches--including a lens hood that must be removed each time you use the flash or the autofocus-assist lamp--are annoying, at best. However, once you get used to the FZ5's quirky design, it works quickly and well. The 12-ounce, 3.4-by-5-by-4.2-inch Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 has a few design kinks--some major, some minor--that give it an idiosyncratic character. With its eye-level, through-the-lens electronic viewfinder, a pentaprismlike hump created by the pop-up flash, and a petal-style lens hood, the camera looks like a palm-size digital SLR with a silver plastic-and-metal body. However, if you use the traditional SLR-style shooting stance, with the right hand digits around the grip while the left hand cradles the lens barrel, you'll end up blocking the autofocus assist lamp.
First-time users will need to slip on a bayonet-mount adapter that holds the lens hood, the optional 55mm filters, and a snap-fit lens cap. Thereafter, you can leave the adapter in place and reverse the lens hood over the barrel for storage, although we didn't bother most of the time. The hood does cut a swath blocking about one-third of the autoassist lamp's beam, and it casts a giant shadow when using the flash, so you'll have to remove it when using either feature.
The top surface hosts the shutter release and its concentric zoom lever, along with a key that activates either of two optical-image-stabilization modes or disables the feature, a key for selecting any of three different burst modes, and a nine-position mode dial. The modes include Manual, Programmed, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Simple, Review, Close-up, Motion Picture, and Scenes.
The back panel houses the low-resolution 110,000-pixel electronic viewfinder (EVF) window, which has diopter correction for the diminutive view; a 130,000-pixel, 1.8-inch LCD; a flip-up flash button; an on/off switch; and dedicated buttons that include an EVF/LCD toggle switch, a display info control with a live histogram, a menu button, and a focus lock/trash can key.
The four-way cursor pad lacks an OK/Enter button, which can be confusing; a variety of keys are used to make selections, depending on the function. For example, menu choices are activated by pressing the right arrow key and confirmed by pressing the menu button again. To set the shutter speed or aperture, you must press a dedicated Exposure button, make your adjustments using the left/right and up/down keys, then press Exposure to confirm. The up key is used to adjust exposure compensation (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments), flash compensation, white balance, or bracketing--except in Simple mode, where it's used to activate backlight compensation. The left and right keys are used to set any of the four values, and then the down key must be pressed to confirm. Once you've figured it all out, you just need to remember that the left button also sets self-timer; the right button adjusts flash modes, and the down button activates picture review, zoomable to as much as 8X. Between the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5's long 36mm-to-432mm (35mm-camera equivalent), 12X zoom range and its macro focus down to two inches, you'll find the camera's optical image stabilization (OIS) very handy. (For information about image-stabilization technologies, check out "Digital cameras with 12X zoom: to infinity and beyond.") The FZ5 has two OIS modes: one operates similarly to continuous autofocus, continually making adjustments, while the other kicks in only when you press the shutter release halfway. Either mode lets you shoot using a shutter setting from two to three speeds slower than you'd normally need, making it possible to take long telephoto images or close-ups without a tripod or a high shutter speed. Turning the stabilization off can improve performance, however.
There are enough exposure modes to please the most finicky photo enthusiast, including choices of multizone, center-weighted, or spot metering, which are available with the Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual Exposure modes. The FZ5 also provides shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second and apertures from f/2.8 to f/8 in 1/3 f-stop increments; the maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/3.3, depending upon focal length.
Those who need hand-holding can select the Simple mode, which locks in some settings such as autofocus mode and white balance and simplifies others. For instance, in Simple mode, your image-size choices are Enlarge, 4-by-6-inch, and E-mail. Scene modes include Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night Scenery, Night Portrait, Panning, Fireworks, Party, Snow, and Macro.
Although it lacks a manual focus, the FZ5 supplies an unusually broad array of autofocus options. In addition to continuous and single autofocus, your choices include nine-area or one-area (center) focus zones, plus high-speed three-area and one-area focus zones, which focus more quickly but can freeze the viewfinder image. You may also choose whether focus-lock occurs when you partially depress the shutter release or when you tap the focus button.
The built-in flash has Fill, Auto, First and Last Curtain Slow-Sync, and Auto with Red-eye options and is good out to 14.8 feet with the camera set on Auto ISO and the lens set to the wide-angle position. (No spec was provided for telephoto range.)
Frivolous but fun features include a Flip Animation mode that captures 100 images at 320x240 resolution to create as much as 20 seconds of rough animation, and a limited motion-picture mode that grabs clips with audio at just 320x240 resolution, at a rate of 10fps or 30fps. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5's Venus II image processor did a good job, particularly with the three robust burst modes: low-speed, which takes 4 full-resolution shots at a nearly 3fps clip; high-speed, or 7 shots at VGA resolution and about 3.5fps; and Infinity, which can fill up your memory card at 2fps.
When the camera was powered down, time to first shot was 3.7 seconds, and after that we could snap off pictures at speedy 1.6-second intervals (4.1 seconds with flash). TIFF mode demanded 13.5 seconds to write each picture to the SD card. Shutter-lag times were almost identical for both high-contrast and low-contrast lighting at 0.8 and 0.9 second, respectively. The focus-assist lamp on the left side of the camera worked well when we remembered to remove the lens hood and keep our fingers from blocking its LED glow.
The EVF and LCD screens were a mixed bag. Both showed 100 percent of the scene, but the EVF was coarse and tiny compared to the view through some competing megazoom models we've tested recently, such as the which has a much larger display. The Panasonic's rear-panel LCD is smaller than the Minolta's, too, but was bright enough for composing images indoors, and, like the EVF, subject to only a small amount of ghosting. Neither worked well in dim light, as they didn't electronically gain up to improve the view.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|
Exposures were generally excellent, with lots of detail in the shadows and highlights, as we discovered when we put the Lumix to work at a professional softball game under glaring sunlight. Both players' faces shadowed by their caps and bright highlights including clouds in the sky were pleasingly rendered.
Skin tones sometimes displayed a slight magenta cast, and colors tended to be a little muted but were otherwise accurate, except under incandescent illumination which often took on a warm glow whether we used automatic or preset white balance. The red-eye prevention system virtually eliminated red from pupils, but our electronic flash pictures were woefully underexposed at distances of more than 10 to 12 feet.