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Panasonic Lumix SZ5 Preview

by 
Posted: July 18, 2012

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5 is something of a case of trickle-down at work. The company has taken the WiFi wireless networking technology that it debuted in last year's LUMIX DMC-FX90, and brings it within a whisker of the entry-level point to the LUMIX camera lineup.

The camera to which the new LUMIX SZ5 bears the strongest resemblance is the SZ1, a model that was announced at the start of the year. Currently, the SZ1 retails at just US$20 above the low-water mark in the LUMIX line, with a price tag of US$130. Although there are some important differences between the pair, beyond the SZ5's WiFi connectivity, by and large the feature set is very similar. Certainly, much more so than to the similar-looking but more capable SZ7 that was also announced last January.

Compared to the FX90, the Panasonic's SZ5 retains much the same feature set as the earlier model received via firmware updates, and adds a couple more features aimed at improving usability still further. As in an FX90 with current firmware, the Panasonic Lumix SZ5 can connect to Android or iOS smartphones running LUMIX Link software. This allows for remote zoom and shutter control with a live view feed, and lets you review captured images remotely. There are two main features that are new to the SZ5. The first allows you to configure the camera, and have it automatically transfer data to your PC wirelessly whenever you plug the camera in to charge its battery. The other addition allows wireless connection to a DLNA-compliant Panasonic Viera display, so that you can view and control slideshows from across the room. Both features require a wireless router, as the camera can't connect to your computer or Viera display directly.

Beyond the WiFi connectivity, the Panasonic SZ5 is a pretty straightforward long-zoom camera, and as mentioned, quite closely-related to the low-cost SZ1 model. That's a bit of a shame, as we'd have preferred to see it based on the SZ7 instead; for only $50 more at retail, and $20 in terms of list pricing, the SZ7 offers a lot more camera.

Be that as it may, Panasonic has chosen an SZ1 base. That translates to a CCD-based camera with a rather lethargic burst shooting performance of 1.5 frames per second, although thankfully resolution has been dialled back just slightly to 14 megapixels, where the SZ1 was a 16 megapixel model. The SZ7 by contrast can manage ten frames per second, albeit for just four frames.

ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 1,600 equivalents, with no Auto ISO mode. Instead, like the SZ1, there's only an Intelligent ISO mode; also dropped is the SZ7's ISO 3,200 sensitivity setting. (There is, however, a high sensitivity mode that can reach to 6,400 equivalent.)

Like both the SZ1 and SZ7 models, the SZ5 bears a 10x optical zoom lens with 25 to 250mm-equivalent focal lengths, a rather dim f/3.1 to f/5.9 maximum aperture, and Leica DC Vario Elmar branding. On the rear panel is a three-inch LCD that, like the SZ1, dates itself rather with a resolution of just 230,000 dots, versus the 460,000 dot display in the SZ7.

Some other areas in which the Panasonic SZ5 follows in the footsteps of the SZ1, and trails the SZ7, include video (no Full HD, no AVCHD compression, and only monaural sound), connectivity (no HDMI), and creativity options (no multi-shot 3D, handheld night shot, bracketing, fine white balance adjustment, or variable image compression.) Perhaps to fit in the software necessary for WiFi support, the SZ5 actually trails both its nearest siblings in terms of internal memory, with just 55MB available, where the other models offer up 70MB.

Battery life is rated the same as the SZ1, some 250 shots on a charge. This may not tell the whole story, however; we're not certain that the industry-standard CIPA battery tests involve the WiFi connectivity, and hence the test may not be accounting for the SZ5's most significant feature not present in the SZ1.

A couple of other notable differences are a wider, slightly less tall body versus the SZ1 and SZ7, and a newer version of the company's PHOTOfunSTUDIO software than was bundled with the previous cameras. (But note that it's the Standard edition that's included, like in the SZ1, not the Advanced edition that ships with the SZ7.)

As compared to the DMC-FX90, the Panasonic SZ5 has similar size, although it's a little lighter and ever so slightly slimmer, despite the longer-zoom lens. That's perhaps in part due to the lack of a touch panel. Like the SZ7, the FX90 offers a much faster burst performance, better movie recording and creative options than does the SZ5. It also adds an HDMI connection not available in the new camera, has greater battery life, and a higher-res LCD panel.

As we've said, it's really a bit of a shame that the SZ5 wasn't based on the SZ7, rather than the SZ1. Perhaps there wouldn't have been enough differentiation from the FX90, but as-is, the Panasonic SZ5 strikes us as the camera to buy if you're on a really tight budget, and WiFi's a must-have feature. Otherwise, we'd either drop the WiFi connectivity and go for the SZ7 if you need a more generous zoom range, or forgo the newer WiFi features and opt for the FX90 if you can sacrifice some zoom for immediate photo sharing via your smartphone.

If you're set on the SZ5, available body colors will include black and silver. Panasonic will not be announcing pricing and availability until roughly 30 days before the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-SZ5 goes on sale.