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Panasonic DMC-FZ5: short review

 
 
David Chien
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      09-21-2005, 11:19 PM
1. Bought off www.tech4less.net. Oddly enough, while they mostly have
open-box and return items in-stock, they actually carried a new DMC-FZ5
for $350! Naturally, that's the one I bought. Shipping was cheap at
$6, but I was surprised to see the FZ5 sell for even less at $314 after
reading the other posts in this group. =(.. Still, a good price for
this camera, and good service from this vendor.

2. The camera is very easy to use and setup if you already know digital
cameras. I was changing menus, modifying settings, etc. right from the
start without reading the manual, and very, very easy to use if you're
coming from the SLR side (the button layouts and controls are very
similar) and have a bit of digicam background (to get through the menus).

3. The camera is as surprisingly light as people have said it is.
Comparing my Sony DSC-P150 to the DMC-FZ5 by simply hand weighing both,
I'd say they're about the same in weight - the metal body of the Sony
making it heavier than the plastic but bigger body of the Panasonic.

It is even lighter than the FujiFilm 2800z I have (which gets
weighed down by the 4 AA batteries - w/o the batteries, it's quite
light), and that's nice!

4. The viewfinder is very sharp, colorful and contrasty, and daylight
readable. No problems or qualms here - it's a beauty. The EVF
viewfinder, however, could be tossed out for the higher-pixel-count
versions found in better long-zoom cameras, like the Minoltas. This
viewfinder is barely decent, and it's more like a camcorder viewfinder
(pixelated and low-res). Stick with the LCD viewfinder instead, which I
think most users will do.

5. AF on this baby is very fast. Matches the Sony in most cases, but
you do have to set it into the faster AF mode. Here, I have my Sony set
to MONITOR AF mode (faster than SINGLE AF); the Panasonic to 1 or 3
point HS (high-speed) AF mode + Continuous AF monitoring - this is the
RECOMMENDED AF mode to set the FZ5 (and Sony) to because it will AF very
quickly. 1/3rd of a second or so, definitely fast.
The bonus here is that like the Sony, if you have locked focus by
pressing the shutter down halfway, you can take a photo instantly, the
very moment the shutter is pressed all the way down. Extremely
responsive here, and very much like the SLRs I own.

That said, the only downside is that this camera has no manual AF
mode or focus point setting like the Sony (where you can preset focus to
0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 5.0m etc). Thus, the BIGGEST downside of this camera is
that it will not AF and allow you to take a focused picture indoors in
low light with flash instantaneously ala Sony set in fixed focus with
forced flash on mode. You will miss shots you would have been able to
catch with the Sony it said mode, and although the AF assist light does
work well, it's too slow to lock focus on a fast moving subject or
quickly enough to catch fleeting moments. Still, it's fine for still shots.

6. The auto-exposure in mixed daylight + fluorescent lighting indoors is
not as good as with the Sony. But, you can manually set white balance
and this works well, but does take a few extra seconds and requires a
white surface nearby.

Daylight exposures are decent in color, contrast, and so forth.
The camera does expose everything to maintain detail in the brightest
areas (as possibly allowed), so it will have a touch lower contrast and
grayer (less bright) image than the Sony by default. This does allow
for manual adjustment later to optimize the image, but also means you
may have to tweak the image for those typical 'consumer wants a juicy,
oversaturated, pop-style color print' that you see nowadays. On the
other hand, it will allow for more 'realistic' colors than the Sony.

7. Noise. It's still there in bright daylight in shadow areas of a
picture in ISO 80 mode, and that's sad vs. the Sony and other cameras
where they've processed that out of their images at <100 ISO speeds. I
don't see why you shouldn't have a smooth, noise-free image at <100 ISO
speeds in bright daylight, and that only shows that the
sensor/processing in the Panasonic hasn't achieved the levels that the
Canon DIGIC II processor has yet, for example.

200 ISO is the highest you'd normally want to use, ever. 400 ISO is
just too muddied in color, etc. to be of much use unless you have to.
(honestly! the same bright colors you see at night in 100-200 ISO turns
into a darker, muddied gray-tinted color at 400 ISO under the exact same
conditions with only the ISO speed changed between shots)

If you need something that will give you more speed, please, don't
bother with this camera!!!!!! Buy a FujiFilm F10 at the minimum (which
can do 400 ISO very well) or something else that'll give you low-light
shots at higher ISO (eg. dSLR) w/o going muddied and 'water-colored' on
you. (Yes, the image does degrade rather poorly at 400ISO vs. many
other digicams; see dpreview.com tests for an example and the noise
level figures.)

8. NO TIME REMAINING for the battery life! =o =O =o =O

This is the single, largest problem of the battery system in the
FZ5 coming from the Sony, which does have a down-to-the-last-minute live
counter of the remaining battery life. You only get three, two, one or
no bars, and that's simply unacceptable in a modern digicam. They have
the technology to allow for accurate time-remaining battery life
indication, and Panasonic should have done this.

That said, two hours or so to charge, two hours or so to drain, and
the Sony does far better in battery life (4+ hours easily).

What this does mean is that it's fine for a typical home consumer
who takes a few shots with the kids on outings for the day, but not for
the semi-pro to pro who want's to use it all day long for a photo shoot
to take 700+ photos over the course of 6+ hours (which my Sony P150 did
just fine a few months ago).

9. The lens is interesting. At wide-angle, it's mostly like a 5MP
version of the 7.2MP image my Sony produces, just less detail due to the
smaller size, but overall, about the same. But at longer zoom lengths,
the zoom really shines. At 3x in direct comparison, the Sony image has
lost a lot of detail (eg. a corrugated roof becomes all smooth) whereas
the Panasonic shines by retaining quite a bit of detail and producing a
detailed, sharp photo (for an all-in-one, don't think this camera beats
or matches a dSLR). I was surprised by this, and happily so. The Sony
is a good P&S camera that's primarily used at the wide-angle mode; the
Panasonic shines zoomed in on subjects.

Naturally, bigger glass = better quality potentaily, which is what
the Panasonic has.

10. Image stabilization works, but not as perfect as you'd 'want' it to
be. Yes, it'll get rid of most of the shake as long as you hold it
steady, but only so far. Try it in 12x in MODE 2 indoors at work, and
you'll still have to take a few shots to get a stable image (f/3.3,
1/20th, 80 ISO exposure). The problem here? The camera is actually so
light in weight, it's shaky because there's nothing to counteract the
natural hand motions, so the anti-vibration has to counteract a lot of
this as well. It does give you an extra edge at other zoom lengths, but
don't think you won't need the faster ISO speeds (and here, if they'd
drop the stablizer and lens onto a FujiFilm F10, oh! that would be
something nice! - NICE ISO 400+ shots + stablized images = nice low
light shots).

But otherwise, think of it as on any other camcorder with
stablizizer - works, but don't expect miracles.

It does work all the time in movie mode, so you don't get
super-shaky videos, but the problem then?... zooming is not allowed
during movie recording =( =( =(

11. Movie mode. Decent 320x240 for what it is at 30fps, standard *.MOV
quicktime file, but other than that, nothing too amazing. It's not
horrible by any means, so you will get a watchable, good movie from this
camera, but don't throw away your camcorders out yet.

Here, wish they dropped in the latest MPEG-4 video mode at 640x480
30fps like on other digicams just out.

12. Is this better than the Xacti C4/C5 MPEG-4 camcorder + 4/5 MP
digicams with 5x zooms? Don't know. Don't have those to compare
against, but those leaning more towards a decent camcorder replacement
should look at the Sanyo Xacti's first rather than this one. You'll
still get decent photos, and you get the benefit of far better movie
recordings.

However, both did feel responsive and good in my hands when I
tried both in store, so maybe that'll be my next purchase? (Just too
lazy right now to get one imported from Japan; or spend hundreds more on
the USA release of the same.)

13. Viewfinder - ooh, just did lunch outside and it's still nicely
daylight viewable. Like it.

14. Flash. Nice that it's not auto-fire when the flash unit is down,
and that's one less menu to go through. Still, this is a preference -
auto-popup or manually activated flash.....

15. Controls and layout are as simple as the design team said they were
after. Easy to use, understand and remember where everything is. Not
crazy & confusing like some digicams.

However, do wish they did drop in two control dials front and
back of the grip ala a SLR for faster aperture and shutter speed (etc)
adjustments w/o having to menu button to those settings.

16. Battery and flash card loading - very easy-to-open slot, etc, but on
the bottom, so you can't change anything on a tripod. Otherwise, easy
to use and load.

17. Decently fast startup and shutdown times. Not the fastest, but never
annoying long vs. the quick startup on the Sony P150. I don't notice,
so it's not that long.

---

So, that said, it's day two of ownership and it's a nice 12x digicam for
the price. I'll probably be eyeballing the Sony R1 when that comes out
(the images online are already drop-dead amazing for an all-in-one 10MP
digicam, esp. from a 24mm zoom lens - perfect for replacing my SLR +
24-135mm Tamron zoom, which still remains a solid workhorse), the Sanyo
Xacti C4/C5 series (better video mode), or something new with better
features. At the minimum, it's a good camera for anyone who had a
Fujifilm 2800/3800 and wanted something with longer reach, more
features, lighter weight, and better image quality in a petite
all-in-one package.
 
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David J Taylor
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      09-22-2005, 08:37 AM
David,

Thanks for your review. I think I'd agree with most points except:

- battery life. Agreed there's no countdown to the last minute, but with
a battery in the camera and one spare I've not run out even during a whole
day's shooting. Two full-charged spares should give enough margin for
anyone!

- image stabilisation. I think this is as good as advertised - I see
about a 10X gain. You commented that 1/20s is not sharp at maximum zoom,
but maximum zoom is 432mm so you would expect (using the quoted 3-stop
gain) to have a maximum sharp exposure of 1/432s x 8 => 1/54s. An
exposure of 1/20s is about three times longer than you would expect, so
it's not surprising that results are not sharp.

In use, I would always try and find a brace for such long exposures,
leaning against a nearby object or pressing the camera into something
solid (with a cloth to protect the camera).

One thing I found which you didn't mention was that for long exposures
(say 2 -10 seconds) you need to switch away from program mode. This
confused me to start with, wondering why the images were dark when
replayed! Soon sorted and piccies retaken, though.

David


 
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measekite
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      09-23-2005, 01:13 AM


David J Taylor wrote:

>David,
>
>Thanks for your review. I think I'd agree with most points except:
>
>- battery life. Agreed there's no countdown to the last minute, but with
>a battery in the camera and one spare I've not run out even during a whole
>day's shooting. Two full-charged spares should give enough margin for
>anyone!
>
>


While strongly considering the FZ5, I read an article by Herbert Keppler
in Pop Photo (Oct 2005) about conterfit batteries with the potential of
fire or explosions. These batteries show up as identical twins of the
OEM. I was considering finding a good aftermarket battery as a
possibility but now I am very concerned about damage to my camera from
heat and leaks and/or damage to my eyes from an exploding battery. How
can you tell what is legitimate and what is not?

>- image stabilisation. I think this is as good as advertised - I see
>about a 10X gain. You commented that 1/20s is not sharp at maximum zoom,
>but maximum zoom is 432mm so you would expect (using the quoted 3-stop
>gain) to have a maximum sharp exposure of 1/432s x 8 => 1/54s. An
>exposure of 1/20s is about three times longer than you would expect, so
>it's not surprising that results are not sharp.
>
>In use, I would always try and find a brace for such long exposures,
>leaning against a nearby object or pressing the camera into something
>solid (with a cloth to protect the camera).
>
>One thing I found which you didn't mention was that for long exposures
>(say 2 -10 seconds) you need to switch away from program mode. This
>confused me to start with, wondering why the images were dark when
>replayed! Soon sorted and piccies retaken, though.
>
>David
>
>
>
>

 
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Bruce Graham
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      09-23-2005, 03:42 AM
In article <CEIYe.1196$(E-Mail Removed)>,
(E-Mail Removed) says...
> While strongly considering the FZ5, I read an article by Herbert Keppler
> in Pop Photo (Oct 2005) about conterfit batteries with the potential of
> fire or explosions. These batteries show up as identical twins of the
> OEM. I was considering finding a good aftermarket battery as a
> possibility but now I am very concerned about damage to my camera from
> heat and leaks and/or damage to my eyes from an exploding battery. How
> can you tell what is legitimate and what is not?
>

the camera manufacturers want this sort of article to be published. The
battery is a *high* margin sale. Millions of aftermarket L-ion batteries
are used in cameras, phones etc. without problems. If you want to worry
about fire hazards, vacuum the dust out of old CRT computer monitors and
power supplies first. Probably a good idea to pull the wall plug on your
TV before leaving the house too. If you do all these things, then pay
extra for the manufacturers original battery for your camera.

 
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David J Taylor
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      09-23-2005, 07:41 AM
measekite wrote:
> David J Taylor wrote:

[]
>> - battery life. Agreed there's no countdown to the last minute, but
>> with a battery in the camera and one spare I've not run out even
>> during a whole day's shooting. Two full-charged spares should give
>> enough margin for anyone!
>>
>>

>
> While strongly considering the FZ5, I read an article by Herbert
> Keppler in Pop Photo (Oct 2005) about conterfit batteries with the
> potential of fire or explosions. These batteries show up as
> identical twins of the OEM. I was considering finding a good
> aftermarket battery as a possibility but now I am very concerned
> about damage to my camera from heat and leaks and/or damage to my
> eyes from an exploding battery. How can you tell what is legitimate
> and what is not?


Good point - I would either buy from a reputable manufacturer or go on
price. If it's really cheap, it's likely to be not very good. I would
expect to pay about half the Panasonic price. In Europe I would recommend
Hahnel. I would buy from a reputable supplier as well - personally I
would avoid e-bay. I believe that Thomas Distributing has a good
reputation in the US:

http://www.thomas-distributing.com/batteries.htm

but sadly they refuse to supply outside the USA.

David


 
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David J Taylor
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      09-23-2005, 07:45 AM
Bruce Graham wrote:
[]
> the camera manufacturers want this sort of article to be published.
> The battery is a *high* margin sale. Millions of aftermarket L-ion
> batteries are used in cameras, phones etc. without problems. If you
> want to worry about fire hazards, vacuum the dust out of old CRT
> computer monitors and power supplies first. Probably a good idea to
> pull the wall plug on your TV before leaving the house too. If you
> do all these things, then pay extra for the manufacturers original
> battery for your camera.


However, batteries, even original batteries can cause fires, so be
careful. Many portable PCs have been recalled because of this sort of
problem, and try not to put batteries in your pocket with a bunch of keys
which might cause a short-circuit.

I would avoid the cheapest batteries because they may not have the
capacity or life they should.

David


 
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David Chien
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      09-23-2005, 06:14 PM
Yawn! Here I am with tons of non-OEM LiIon batteries, and they all work
fine. The point here is to keep in mind that OEM and non-OEM batteries
can both blow up -- heck, anything that's made incorrectly in a OEM
battery can lead to it blowing up, catching on fire, etc.

Simply look at the data spec sheets for bare LiIon batteries and you can
see all of the usual precautions, temp. ranges, charge rates, etc, that
need to be in place for a LiIon battery not to blow up on you, and
you'll see that it can happen to both non-OEM and OEM batteries.

What the article DOESN"T tell you is the actual rate of OEM and non-OEM
batteries blowing up, catching on fire, etc - seperately. You'd
probably find that the rate is very very low, and that the almost
'random' occurences of battery blowups is very rare.

non-OEM makers really don't have an interest in batteries blowing up on
them, and while they make not take as much care to design the circuitry
to work properly to control charging of the battery, they're sure not
going to try and have them blow up -- after all, they just want to make
money, sell batteries, and keep the customer coming back time and again.

LiIOn batteries are a 'markup' product for sure -- that's why you see
such a large difference between the cutthroat pricing of the China made
batteries and the typical OEM battery at 10x+ the price.

--

Now, that said, if you know what's inside these batteries, and accept
the marginally higher risk, then cheap batteries are a dream and the way
to go. All of the ones I've bought off ebay.com work fine, and they
certainly work perfectly in all of the digital equipment I've used over
the years.

If you don't like risk or don't understand how much risk you're taking
here, then buy the OEM battery so you can safely sue the company later
on if it does blow up on you and get some decent chance of a settlement
to pay for the medical bills =P =P =P

---

Keep in mind that they're talking specifically about LiIon batteries
here for digital cameras, laptops,etc. - in sizes large enough to be a
hazard and which usually require a charging circuit to prevent such.

Not talking about LiIon AA batteries, watch/PC cells, NiMH, Alkaline,
etc. - these are safe and won't blow up on you like a LiIon cell will.

---

Also, keep in mind that there are two ways typically they do blow up /
catch fire on you. 1) improper charging rate/temperature control 2)
shorting Control these two points and you'll be fine even with most
non-OEM batteries.
 
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