In addition to the usual run-down of AF and AE modes, Panasonic includes two high-speed focusing modes, as well as 9-zone selectable spot focusing. There aren't many other stand-out features though. One of the niftier ones is the flip animation mode, which lets you shoot as many as 100 320x240-pixel images, then string them together into a video clip that's as long as 20 seconds. Another nice touch is the High Sensitivity scene mode, which brings the camera's sensitivity up to an equivalent of ISO 3,200. In all other shooting modes, the sensitivity tops out at ISO 1,600, which is still impressive. The FZ50 includes 15 scene modes, in addition to the high sensitivity mode, so if you're one of those shooters who doesn't like using manual exposure controls, you don't have to.
Tweakers, take note. The DMC-FZ50 can record raw images, as well as the usual JPEG, so you have more flexibility than some non-SLRs offer when adjusting for things such as exposure or white balance after the fact. Another nice anomaly is this camera's 16:9 video mode, which records at a resolution of 848x480 pixels instead of just chopping down the 640x480 pixels of the 4:3 video mode. Also, there's a white-balance adjustment mode, which lets you shift the various white-balance settings to make them more blue, green, amber, or magenta, or a combination of those as they fall into the x/y grid offered by the control. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 performed well in our tests, especially for a 10.1-megapixel superzoom. It took 1.1 second from start-up to capturing its first image, and thereafter took 1.2 seconds between shots without flash and 1.3 seconds with the flash turned on. Raw shooting slowed the shot-to-shot time to 4.5 seconds. Though it doesn't seem so, that's really impressive for a non-SLR digicam. Shutter lag measured 0.5 second in our high-contrast test, which mimics bright shooting conditions, and rose to 1 second in our low-contrast test, which replicates low-light surroundings. In burst mode, we were able to capture 5 VGA-size JPEGs in 1.69 seconds for an average of 2.96fps, and 3 10.1-megapixel JPEGs in 1.6 seconds for an average of 1.87fps.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
As we mentioned earlier, we same some minor speckles of noise even at ISO 100, though it was mostly in shadows and darker colors. At ISO 200, it grew a little, but in both cases, it most likely won't be noticeable in prints. At ISO 400, noise was more apparent and showed in all colors. We also noticed a slight fall-off in the sharpness of finer details. At ISO 800, noise was obvious, but images were still usable for prints, especially at smaller sizes. At ISO 1,600, we saw abundant noise and most fine detail was obliterated. We suggest that you shy away from using this setting and stick to lower ISOs. Despite this, we were pleased to see that Panasonic has started to make some headway in keeping noise under control in their cameras.
The automatic white balance turned in horribly warm images with our lab's tungsten lights. The tungsten preset was much better but still not totally neutral. Manual white balance yielded the best results. On the plus side, the camera does an excellent job of balancing fill flash with existing lights.
Though it's much bigger and more expensive, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50 offers serious competition to our current superzoom favorite, the Canon Power Shot S3 IS. This Lumix won't take away the S3 IS's crown, but it's worth a look if you can get over its large size and somewhat bloated price tag.