The 8-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 packs a monster-sized 18x zoom lens. There are cameras with higher megapixel counts for less than the FZ18's £250 price tag, but few have as many features. We tested to see if Panasonic had overreached itself, cramming so much into a compact package.
The giant Leica lens dominates the surprisingly lightweight body. There's a contoured grip for the right hand and a curved thumb rest. Other SLR-style features include a large, retro-styled silver mode wheel, a satisfyingly brisk pop-up flash and a viewfinder.
As on many superzooms it has an electronic viewfinder, but this 188,000 pixel EVF is better than most, giving decent real-time previews of your exposure alterations. The FZ18 also has a dioptre that allows you to dial the focus of the EVF to suit your eye. The viewfinder also protrudes slightly from the back of the camera, making it deeper but stopping you from plastering your face up against the 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen.
The FZ18 has so many useful features that we don't have the space to go over them all. Shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes are available, as well as 14 scene modes. Odd choices include aerial photo mode and food mode, which surely can't be used often enough to merit first place in the menus. These are probably best ignored as the primary modes on the mode dial, like sport and landscape, have handy subsets such as indoor and outdoor.
Full manual mode and programmed manual mode give you an enormous amount of control over pictures. Another great feature is the ability to save your settings in three different customised modes.
The enormous zoom, equivalent to 28-504mm on a 35mm film camera, is extremely responsive and feels like it isn't moving in increments at all. It also reacts to the speed you move the zoom rocker, zooming faster when the zoom is pressed harder.
We especially like the calendar view in playback mode, which groups images by date, and the quick shooting menu intuitively controlled by the dinky little joystick.