Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 Overview
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review by Mike Pasini and Zig Weidelich
Review Posted: 10/02/09
The Panasonic Lumix FZ35 replaces the company's previous FZ28 model. The Panasonic FZ35 increases the sensor resolution slightly from ten to twelve megapixels, and Panasonic has retained the FZ28's Leica DC Vario-Elmarit-branded 18x optical zoom lens with its useful range from a 27mm wide-angle to a 486mm telephoto.
In the Lumix FZ35, though, the lens's image stabilization system has been upgraded from the previous MEGA O.I.S. to a new POWER O.I.S. system that is said to offer double the stabilizing power. The Panasonic FZ35's lens has a maximum aperture that varies from f/2.8 to f/4.4 across the zoom range. The minimum focusing distance for the Panasonic DMC-FZ35 is ordinarily some 30 centimeters, but drops to just one centimeter at wide-angle when switched to Macro mode. At the tele end, focusing down to two meters is the norm, but a Tele Macro mode drops this to as close as one meter when the zoom is set from 11 to 18x.
As you'd expect for a long-zoom camera, the Panasonic FZ35 offers both an electronic viewfinder and an LCD display. As with the previous model, the Panasonic FZ35's EVF is a 0.20-inch LCD type with 201,600 dots of resolution, and yields a 100% field of view. The Panasonic FZ35's 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution and 100% coverage is also carried over from the previous camera. The Panasonic DMC-FZ35 has a multi-area autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. As with many digital cameras these days, there's also a face-detection function, with Panasonic's implementation using the information when determining both focus and exposure variables. In addition, the Panasonic FZ35 can be programmed to recognize the faces of three specific individuals for labelling purposes. The Panasonic FZ35 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required.
ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 100 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this as far as ISO 6,400 equivalent in the Panasonic FZ35's High Sensitivity Auto mode. Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds are possible, controlled automatically. The Panasonic FZ35 uses Intelligent Multiple metering, with Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes also on offer. There are nine white balance settings including Auto, two Manual modes, five fixed presets, and a color temperature option. A whopping selection of twenty six scene modes let users tailor the look of their images, and among these is a new High Dynamic mode which increases dynamic range and offers three settings -- standard, art or black and white. For the creative types there are both manual and aperture- / shutter-priority modes on the Panasonic FZ35. A new My Color mode allows the user to adjust color, brightness and saturation and preview the effect immediately on the camera's display.
A five-mode flash strobe includes both red-eye reduction and slow-sync capabilities, and has a rated range of up to 8.5 meters at wide-angle, or 5.4 meters at telephoto. The Panasonic FZ35 also includes Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Exposure, Intelligent ISO, and Intelligent Scene Selector functions as seen on past models. As well as Raw and JPEG still images, the Panasonic FZ35 can capture 30 frames-per-second movies with sound at up to high definition 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. Movies can be recorded using either the older QuickTime Motion JPEG compression from the FZ28, or a new AVCHD Lite compression option for lower file sizes.
The Panasonic FZ35 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer SDHC types. There's also 40MB of built-in memory -- relatively generous, but somewhat less than the 50MB of the previous model. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed, standard definition NTSC video output, and high-def HDMI video output (although the cable for this is an optional extra). Power comes from a 7.2V, 710mAh proprietary lithium-ion battery, rated as good for 470 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The software bundle includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 4.0 HD Edition, ArcSoft MediaImpression, ArcSoft Panorama Maker, and SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0SE.
The Panasonic FZ35 ships in September 2009, priced at US$400 -- the exact same price tag at which the FZ28 shipped a year earlier.
Panasonic FZ35 User Report
by Mike Pasini
I spent much of the Summer testing long zoom digital cameras. After most of the others had gone, the Panasonic FZ35 made a brief appearance, shaking things up a bit. It's an interesting camera, the latest in an insanely popular line, that shares many features with the others I reviewed. Its 12-megapixel sensor is about standard, but the 18x zoom ranges from a slightly wider 27mm to a somewhat shorter 486mm telephoto.
While reviewing the other long zooms in this category, I identified a few things to watch for, including shutter lag when shooting at telephoto, overall handling, build quality, and complexity.
Focus. Half-pressing the Shutter button is the only way to live with a long zoom. The other trick to live by, especially if you are shooting at telephoto focal lengths, is simply to avoid autofocus all together by shifting into Manual focus and setting focus at infinity. The Panasonic FZ35's focus was slow to go from close to infinity, but once I had the camera in Manual mode, the joystick made it easy to get to infinity. Also, if it's close to focus, refocusing is very fast, bordering on SLR speeds at both wide-angle and telephoto.
Handling. I liked the slight heft to the Panasonic FZ35. Unlike many long zooms (which use AA batteries), the FZ35 uses a large lithium-ion battery. It's well balanced in the hand. And it fits the hand well, too. I did have trouble activating some of the buttons (and finding them, too), but physically, the Panasonic FZ35 handled very nicely.
Build. It wasn't quite as well built as the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, the class leader in build quality, but the Panasonic FZ35 was just as well built as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. Points deducted for the buttons put it in third place but it's a solid camera that should hold up well.
Complexity. Well, here the Panasonic FZ35 didn't do as well as its competitors. Maybe that's a good thing, though, because it reflects just how much this camera can do. Still, I was completely at a loss in the field too many times. I resorted to Reset on a handful of occasions because I just had no clue which setting I had tweaked that had disabled some feature I needed. It was never anything obvious and I never did quite figure it out, even when I had memorized the manual (the complete one on the CD).Still, the Panasonic FZ35 is one camera I can say I didn't have long enough to appreciate. I could have spent a week playing with its Creative Movie mode, which lets you set aperture and shutter speed for video capture (unique in this class). And I would have loved to fool around with the teleconverter (for an 18x zoom, mind you) and close-up converter lens. I wouldn't at all have minded trying out the filter package either, with neutral density and polarizing options in addition to a simple protective filter.
But the birds are flying south for the winter and the Panasonic FZ35 had to take off, too. Despite its shortcomings (which you may feel free to confuse with mine), I grew rather fond of it.
Look and Feel. On the whole, the Panasonic FZ35 is a nicely constructed SLR-like design with a comfortable molded grip. I say "on the whole" because it suffers a couple of odd design decisions. It's also a bit big for even a coat pocket, preferring to be hung from your shoulder like a bag. I used it with a spare wrist strap and it didn't mind at all, but I had to transport it in a camera bag.
The first odd design aspect is the Panasonic FZ35's lens hood system. A long zoom needs a lens hood to keep its large front element in the shade. It's also nice protection against bumps and scratching, if you don't buy the optional protective filter (a neutral density and a polarizer are also available as accessories).
Rather than design a bayonet mount for the hood, though, Panasonic provides an adapter that screws onto the lens barrel without impeding the lens extension. The sole purpose of this adaptor is to provide a track that the lens hood's set screw can tap into to hold the Panasonic FZ35's hood onto the lens barrel.
The trouble with this arrangement is that it becomes fairly permanent. You can't just click the hood off to make the camera smaller when you put it away in a camera case. You have to loosen the set screw and remove the hood; and then it's hard to get it back on properly aligned.
The second odd design decision is the location of the stereo microphone. It's on the popup flash. Normally that wouldn't be an issue because when you dial in Movie mode, flash is always disabled. And I'm sure that's as far as the designer thought it through.
The trouble is that on the Panasonic FZ35, you can start recording a movie anytime using the Movie shutter button on the back panel. Now what if you were just shooting with the flash up and saw something you wanted to capture in video? You'd have to remember to snap the flash back down before pressing the Movie shutter button or you'd be aiming the microphones to the sound behind you, not in front of you.
Panasonic says there's no discernible difference in audio quality with the flash up, but it certainly seems as if there would be.
I could complain about the hard plastic on EVF (where your eyeglasses would touch) but that's a common problem with EVF designs. A soft rubber guard there would be much appreciated on a number of cameras.
Otherwise the Panasonic FZ35 resembles other ultrazooms in its compact but boxy design.
Seen from the front, the large lens dominates the landscape with the popup flash rising directly behind it. A small autofocus assist lamp/self-timer indicator is tucked into the top right corner opposite the grip.
The back is the business end with the large 2.7-inch LCD (230K pixels) under the 0.20-inch EVF (201.6K pixels) with a knurled dioptric adjustment on its left and the button to pop up the flash just to the left of that. To the right of the EVF is the speaker and right of that the Movie shutter button. Just a bit more right is the AF/AE Lock button.
At the far right corner of the back panel is the textured thumb grip with the Record/Playback button built into it. To its left, next to the LCD, is the joystick. Below them is the four-way navigator with an OK button in the center. It's surrounded by the EVF/LCD button, the Display button, and the Delete/Release mode button.
The top panel holds the popup flash in the middle with the Mode dial to the right. The Power switch is just right of that, toward the back. On the front edge of the grip is the Shutter button surrounded by the Zoom lever. And behind it is the Focus button and the AF/AF-Macro/MF button.
Both sides have protruding chrome eyelets for the shoulder strap. The left side has and HDMI socket and DC In socket behind a nicely sprung hinged door. The right side has a Digital/AV Out socket behind a smaller but just as nicely hinged door.
On the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod socket right next to the hinge for the card/battery door. The battery itself is pretty large as these things go. Its connectors are recessed behind a plastic guard, which prevents it from accidentally discharging. Very smart.
Close-up and telephoto lens converters are also available, which attach via a lens adaptor.
Controls. Panasonic impressed me a long time ago for having the smarts to use a small Power switch instead of a button on its cameras. The Panasonic FZ35's switch is easy to find, simple to use, and unambiguous, unlike most Power buttons.
The Mode dial inherits some of that intelligence. It's large and tall but easily turned with just your thumb from the shooting position.
Same praise for the Shutter button on the sloping front edge of the Panasonic FZ35's grip and the Zoom lever surrounding it (which I find much preferable to a Zoom toggle switch on the back panel of a camera). The zoom itself operates at two speeds based on how far you move the zoom lever (slower when you just nudge it, faster when you push it further). That's a great help when shooting video.
Then we come to the small round buttons, of which the Panasonic FZ35 has six. I had a very hard time using the two on the top panel that control Focus target and AF/AF-Macro/Manual. They were the least sensitive buttons I've ever had to press. I almost always felt like putting the camera down and stomping on them to get them to actuate.
The back panel buttons (which control AF/AE Lock, EVF/LCD, Display, and Release Mode/Trash) did not seem so resistant. But I have to confess that's the oddest location yet for an EVF/LCD button. I was shooting away from the house and actually had to go home to look up in the manual where the EVF/LCD button is. I looked all around the EVF, which is bordered by a button to pop up the flash, a small speaker (what's that doing there?) and the Movie shutter button and the AF/AE Lock. No EVF/LCD button nearby, though. Once you find it, just above the nav cluster, it seems obvious enough, but that control really needs to be right next to the EVF.
A Fn button (which is also Down on the navigator) can be set in the Setup menu to be control Review, Sensitivity, White Balance, Metering Mode, AF Mode, or Intelligent Exposure. I like that flexibility.
Menu System. Using the FZ35 is a dance between the numerous buttons and the two menu systems. There's a Quick Menu system accessible by pressing in the joystick for the most common settings you might want to change. And there's a main Menu system accessible from the OK button on the navigator for major settings, including the Setup menu.
Switching between Record and Playback modes is accomplished with a small but very prominent switch located on the thumb grip area. It may seem an odd position, but I found it very well placed.
Lens. The 18x optical zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens has 11 elements in 8 groups with 3 aspherical lenses and 2 ED lenses. Focal lengths range from 27mm to 486mm in 35mm equivalents with 4x digital zoom that can stretch the 18x optical range to 72x and, with Extra/Extended Optical Zoom (available at small image sizes), to a maximum of 140.8x (4x times 35.2x at a 3-Mp image size).
Aperture using a multistage iris diaphragm ranges from f/2.8 to f/8.0 at wide-angle and f/4.4 to f/8.0 at telephoto.
Panasonic has enhanced the image stabilization system in the FZ35 with its Power O.I.S. The new image stabilization functions in three modes: Auto, Mode1 and Mode2. Auto applies the optimum jitter compensation based on the situation. Mode1 continually compensates for jitter, aiding composition. Mode2 compensates for jitter only when the Shutter button is pressed, saving battery power. Stabilization is less effective, Panasonic warns, when there's a lot of jitter, when zoom magnification is high, in digital zoom range, following a moving subject and in low light.
Chromatic aberration was noticeable on a number of images as a few bright pixels in the corners slightly echoing one form or another. That isn't uncommon among long zooms, however.
And while there's most likely barrel distortion at wide-angle, you don't notice any because Panasonic likes to correct such distortion in the camera (even on Raw shots, for converters that officially support the camera's RW2 images).
Modes. The Panasonic FZ35 offers a wide range of shooting modes, starting with the standard Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes. In addition, it features an Intelligent Auto mode that can detect Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, and Baby scene modes.
You can also elect to set an advanced Scene mode on the Mode dial. Options include Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Close-up, and Night Portrait modes.
The Scene mode option on the dial provides access to the follow Scene modes: Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Flash Burst, Panning, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial photo, Pin Hole, and Film Grain. Some Scene modes have a simple set of options to tweak them, as well. Pet, for example, asks for the Name and Age of the pet.
But, wait, we're not done with the Mode dial quite yet!
While the Panasonic FZ35 has a dedicated Movie mode button (press it to start or stop recording) on the back panel, it also has a Creative Movie mode button on the Mode dial. In this mode you can control depth of field by setting the aperture (from f/2.8 to f/8.0 in wide-angle and f/4.4 to f/13 in telephoto) and control playback speed by setting the shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/2,000 second. Options let you cut wind noise and enable continuous autofocus. Audio is recorded in stereo and may pick up noise from the zoom.
The My Color mode provides Color, Brightness, and Saturation sliders.
And finally, the Custom option can register and recall up to three custom camera configurations.
Movie Formats. The Panasonic FZ35 offers the choice of AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG movie formats. AVCHD, created by Sony and Panasonic, stands for "Advanced Video Codec High Definition." In January, AVCHD released a new format variant called AVCHD Lite that limits video resolution to 1280x720p (compared to AVCHD's 1920x1080i) and is intended for less powerful hardware.
Panasonic says the new AVCHD Lite format has been optimized for recording movies, unlike Motion JPEG, which is optimized for recording still images. An AVCHD movie, the company claims, has less image noise than an Motion JPEG movie and it can record twice as long on the same size memory card as an Motion JPEG movie.
So why both formats in the Panasonic FZ35? Well, Panasonic admits AVCHD, which uses the H.264 MPEG-4 codec to compress the video stream, consumes "a huge amount of CPU power." It also isn't as widely supported as Motion JPEG. You'll need iMovie '09 on the Mac, for example, to edit AVCHD Lite movies -- but software is only half the story. You also need a recent vintage, powerful computer to edit AVCHD. It plays back just fine directly from the camera to an HDTV, of course. For more on this, including recommended codecs and conversion software, see our Panasonic GF1 review's video page.
If you select AVCHD, you can choose between three quality levels (Super High at 17 Mbps, High at 13, and Low at 9) using the same 1280x720 resolution and 60 frames per second. While the format records 60 fps, the sensor only outputs 30 fps, recording each frame twice.
If you select Motion JPEG, you can choose between the two 16:9 formats HD and WVGA, or the two 4:3 formats VGA and QVGA, all four of which are recorded at 30 fps.
Still Options. I was glad to see that the Panasonic FZ35 offered the full range of aspect ratios: 16:9, 4:3, and 3:2. I was also glad to see Raw captures and Raw+JPEG, too. There is some delay in writing Raw captures to the card but it isn't excessive.
Storage & Battery. With about 40MB of built-in memory, the Panasonic FZ35 primarily relies on SD-format memory cards. It supports SD and SDHC cards with the faster cards recommended for video recording. Panasonic recommends SD cards whose speed class is Class 6 or higher for video capture.
Panasonic estimates a 2GB card will hold 105 Raw+JPEG images, 290 high quality JPEGs, 15 mins. of AVCHD Lite SH video, or 8 minutes, 20 seconds of high quality Motion JPEG video.
Power is supplied by a 7.2V, 710 mAh lithium-ion battery rated for 470 shots according to CIPA standards. An AC adapter is also available as an option.
Shooting. My first shots were just around the house. What I noticed immediately was how well the Panasonic FZ35 captured the subtleties of the natural light, diffused by the fog falling on common household objects. I don't think I've ever seen a more alluring tax collector's envelope (see photo lower right).
Normally one of these shots is enough before I start salivating for big game, but it was such a pleasure to see smooth tonal transitions I kept looking for the same kind of shot. I was surprised to see the camera used ISO 80 for most of them and an easily handheld 1/80 or 1/100 second shutter speed.
When I did get outside in the fog, I found a couple of flowers. I'm particularly fond of the orange begonia shot (which was protected from the wind, unlike the poisonous angel trumpet). It's a handheld macro shot, too.
Then it was time for a real test: Opera in the Park.
Overcast again (well, that's summer on the coast). But a large crowd and a great test for the zoom -- both optical and digital. Not a bad test for video capture, either. I shot from my perch but I also walked around the venue grabbing a shot here and there. That's when shooting with the Panasonic FZ35 was the most fun. It seemed to anticipate just what I wanted to do and it got the shot.
The worst of these shots used digital zoom. Since we were shooting at full image size, we only had access to the 4x digital zoom and, as Panasonic points out in the manual I memorized, that's going to degrade quality. What's degraded, though, is the detail, not the color. At screen sizes, these aren't bad shots. But lesson learned.
At the other end of the Panasonic FZ35's focal length range, the wide-angle came in very handy. Starting at 27mm rather than a more typical 35mm, I was able to include a good deal more than usual in shots where I couldn't back up any more. One example is the bicycle paddock.
Then it was over to the dahlia garden. They try to steal the show every year. And their personalities are just as colorful, come to think of it. The Panasonic FZ35 insisted on ISO 80 for these. I insisted on Aperture Priority, opening the lens up to reduce depth of field.
While you can see some purple fringing in these if you look closely, color was generally very pleasingly rendered in the diffused light.
At dinner, I shot my espresso cup, giving new meaning to the phrase "a shot of espresso." I took my first shot at ISO 1600 from a full wide-angle view in Macro mode (which does not let you zoom). Then we got it into our head to take the shot even closer with Macro Zoom (which does let you zoom). That was a more compelling composition, at least.
We also shot some Raw files for you to play with using your favorite Raw processor.
Somewhere between the 27mm and 486mm I found quite a bit of fun with the Panasonic FZ35, and captured more than a few worthy images, with a tonal quality that I can only call pleasing. And the best part is, the Panasonic FZ35 made it all seem easy.
Panasonic FZ35 Basic Features
- 12.1-megapixel 1/2.33 CCD sensor
- 18x, 27-486mm equivalent zoom
- 4x digital zoom
- ISO 80-6,400
- 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second shutter speed range
- Max aperture: f/2.8
- Electronic optical viewfinder, 201,600 RGB pixels
- 2.7-inch color LCD monitor, 230,000 dots, articulating mount
- Full Manual through Automatic exposure available, including Aperture and Shutter priority and 26 Scene modes
- SDHC/SD cards
- 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 inches (118 x 76 x 89 mm)
- 15.0 ounces
Panasonic FZ35 Special Features
- Movie mode captures up to 720p HD movies
- POWER O.I.S. Optical Image Stabilization
- High ISO scene mode up to 6,400 (at reduced resolution)
- Multi-area AF system with single-point high-speed focusing mode
- Face detection can memorize faces
- Autofocus tracking
- Intelligent multiple metering with Center-weighted and Spot metering
- Intelligent Exposure
- Intelligent ISO
- Intelligent Scene Selector
- High dynamic range scene mode
- NTSC and HDMI output ports
- DC-in port
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Panasonic FZ35
- Battery pack
- Battery charger
- AV cable
- USB cable
- Lens cap
- Lens cap string
- Shoulder strap
- Lens hood
- Lens hood adaptor
- Operating instructions
- CD-ROM with PHOTOfunSTUDIO 4.0 HD Edition, ArcSoft MediaImpression, ArcSoft Panorama Maker, and SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0SE
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB should be a minimum.
- Medium camera case
Panasonic FZ35 Conclusion
There's nothing quite like a long zoom that can capture a room without backing you into a wall or reach across a meadow to snap some shy wildlife. They will never be small but they are getting compact. The Panasonic FZ35 is one of the finer specimens I tested this summer.
My appreciation for the Panasonic FZ35 started with its solid build quality and excellent optics, which enjoy a more robust image stabilization. As we learned the camera, I was impressed with the HD movie options, including aperture and shutter speed control, and Raw support with full manual operation. But, at the other end of the spectrum, the Panasonic FZ35's Intelligent Auto mode made it easy to work with the camera right away and the full suite of aspect ratios made it fun. When you want to work in Scene modes, Panasonic gives you a few fun things to tweak there, too.
Outright prolonged applause for the accessories Panasonic has made available for the FZ35, too. The neutral density and polarizing filters will get shots you won't get with other long zooms. And the converter lenses extend the close-up and telephoto of the already wide range of the 18x zoom to places other zooms don't go.
Image quality, too, was up to snuff. The usual caveats apply to higher ISO shooting with a digicam, with images degrading at ISO 400 and falling apart at ISO 1,600 except for 5x7 or 4x6-inch printing. But the Panasonic FZ35 likes to set itself at ISO 80, and the color and tone the FZ35 captured was really a pleasure to review.
That lens hood and the scattered, stiff buttons are really the only drawback to the Panasonic FZ35 that I ran across in my two weeks with the camera. Fortunately they are minor enough not to rob the Panasonic FZ35 of a well-deserved Dave's Pick.