/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

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

Joshua_Goldman.jpg

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.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40K - digital camera
7.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40

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.

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.

For those who like to take more control, the FZ40 does offer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes. Apertures are f2.8-8 wide and 5.2-8 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second. There is also a manual mode for shooting movies. There's a Program mode, too, should you want to adjust things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.

If you like to shoot close-ups, the FZ40's macro function can focus as close as 0.4 inch to a subject. The results are fairly sharp below ISO 200 with plenty of fine detail, though a little sharpening with software improves things. A button to the right of the LCD lets you quickly switch to macro autofocus or manual focus. It will also enter macro in Intelligent Auto mode when you get closer to a subject.

Again, without the high-speed benefits of the FZ100's MOS sensor, the FZ40's shooting performance is nothing special. Shutter lag is relatively low at 0.5 second and 0.9 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot-to-shot without the flash, you're waiting 1.6 seconds; adding the flash drags that time to 4 seconds. Its time from off to first shot is 1.5 seconds, which is above average for its class. Lastly, it's capable of shooting continuously for up to five photos at 1.6 frames per second at its full 14-megapixel resolution. A 3-megapixel high-speed burst is available as well that shoots at up to 10fps.

FZ40's control panel
The FZ40's controls are well spaced and easy to use, but its menus can get a bit confusing.

The camera is well designed and generally nice to use. There's an ample hand grip so you can comfortably handle its 1.1-pound weight. The grip houses a memory card and a large rechargeable battery CIPA rated for up to 580 shots. On top along with the shutter release/zoom lever, power switch, and Mode dial is a one-touch record button for movies and one for setting the variable autofocus area.

On back below the small, but serviceable electronic viewfinder is a decent 3-inch LCD. To its left are the main controls for menu navigation and shooting. They're all well-spaced and easy to press, and there's a jog dial for quickly changing things like aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. However, because of the abundant feature set it's all too easy to get lost trying to find a setting in Panasonic's menu systems. It's not insurmountable, but if you frequently make changes it can quickly become frustrating.

Without the accessory shoe on top and no mic input, you can't add on a flash or a mic. But there are conversion lenses and filters available for it, and Panasonic includes a lens hood.

Having tested the FZ100 before the FZ40, it's definitely a case of "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" for me. I really missed the fast shooting of the FZ100, especially since it meant I could capture in raw plus JPEG without slowing down. On the other hand, it is $100 more, so if you don't need the fast shooting for sports, kids, or wildlife, or the movie capture features, the FZ40 is worth the investment.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
1.5
0.9
0.8
0.4

Nikon Coolpix P100
1.8
1.4
0.6
0.4

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40
1.5
1.6
0.9
0.5

Fujifilm FinePix HS10
2.2
2.4
1.1
0.7

Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
1.8
3.5
0.8
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40K - digital camera
7.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 6