Superzooms are the wannabes of the compact-camera market. They're for folk who don't want the cost, weight, bulk or scary hands-on controls of a digital SLR, but still want a camera that can do everything. But what's the 12.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 got that all the rest don't? Well, a rather modest price tag of around £270 is a good start.
And the humble price is just the start. The DMC-FZ38's 18x optical zoom might not sound much compared to the 26x zoom on the Olympus SP-590 UZ, say, but you're hardly going to miss it, because the DMC-FZ38 still offers the equivalent of a 486mm zoom at full stretch. And it comes with Panasonic's new Power OIS image stabilisation, which the company reckons is better at reducing low-frequency vibration. The DMC-FZ38 was certainly remarkably steady in our hands, even at full zoom.
The DMC-FZ38's autofocus system is super-fast. We don't know what Panasonic's done to make it so fast, but we wish every other manufacturer would do it too. There's still a short delay at longer zoom settings while the camera locks onto the subject, but nothing like the sluggish indecisiveness that afflicts other cameras of this type.
You can either shoot in the 'intelligent auto' mode, which does everything but tell you when to press the shutter, or switch to one of the program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority or manual modes to take control of the shutter speed and lens aperture yourself.