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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15

By: Dave Etchells

Panasonic introduces a four-megapixel digicam with the high quality optics of a 12x Leica lens.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 10/30/2004

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Lumix DMC-FZ15's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the FZ15 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the DMC-FZ15's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Generally good color, minor color shifts and slightly pink skin tones. The DMC-FZ15's generally produced good to very good color. Its white balance system tended to leave slight color casts in the images, but they were minor enough that most users probably wouldn't notice them. Analytically, it showed some color shifts, tending to push blues and reds both slightly toward purple, and browns and oranges slightly toward red, but again the effect was fairly minor. The main thing I noticed was a tendency to make skin tones overly pink, although here again, most users probably wouldn't notice the effect. Under the difficult Incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait test, the camera's Auto and Manual white balance settings both produced very good results. (Most cameras' Auto white balance systems have a very hard time with this subject.)

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, and an effective contrast adjustment. The DMC-FZ15's exposure system performed well, accurately exposing most of my studio shots. The camera only slightly underexposed the "Sunlit" Portrait, requiring a small positive exposure boost to brighten the midtones. Most impressive was that the camera's contrast-adjustment control worked very well with the deliberately awful lighting of my Outdoor Portrait test, the resulting images holding highlight detail much better than most. The one significant exposure problem came on my "far field" shot of the house in sunlight, which the FZ15 overexposed a fair bit.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,150 lines of "strong detail." The DMC-FZ15 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically, though you might argue for about 600 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,150 lines, in both directions. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,550 lines.

  • Image Noise: Generally good noise levels, relatively little loss of subject detail. The FZ15's image noise levels are about average among cameras of its class, but the best news is that it seems to give up relatively little subtle subject detail in the process of suppressing its sensor noise. Particularly at low ISO, there's still good detail to be found in hair, foliage, etc. A menu option lets you tweak the anti-noise processing, but its effect is fairly subtle.

  • Closeups: A tiny macro area with great detail in the dollar bill, but the flash is ineffective. The DMC-FZ15 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.58 x 1.19 inches (40 x 30 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was strong in the dollar bill. However, the coins and brooch were soft due to the very short shooting distance, and possibly some lens distortion in the corners. (The left side of the frame was soft as well.) The DMC-FZ15's flash had a difficult time throttling down for the macro area, and was mostly blocked by the large lens barrel. (Definitely plan on using external lighting for close-in macro shots with the FZ15.)

  • Night Shots: About average low-light shooting capabilities, with good color. Image noise is high at the highest sensitivity setting, not bad otherwise. Good low-light autofocus performance. The DMC-FZ15 has a maximum exposure time of eight seconds, which combined with its adjustable ISO setting, results in pretty good low-light shooting capabilities. However, I only obtained a bright exposure at the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test with the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 64, images were bright only as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux), and at ISO 100, images were bright to about 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux). At ISO 200, images were bright as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux). Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting. I was pleased with the FZ15's autofocus performance, as it could focus well down to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 foot-candle without its AF illuminator, and in more or less complete darkness (on nearby objects) when the AF-assist light was enabled.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder. The DMC-FZ15's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor was also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DMC-FZ15's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion, though fairly low pincushion. Low chromatic aberration, and good corner-to-corner sharpness. Optical distortion on the DMC-FZ15 was high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.01 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared better, as I measured approximately 0.13 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was quite low, showing only about four or five pixels of very faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) While the corners of the frame got softer at maximum telephoto, the FZ15's images were generally much sharper from corner to corner than those of most cameras I test, testimony to the quality of its Leica optics.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Reasonably good shutter response, particularly for a long-zoom model, and very good shot to shot performance. The FZ15 for the most part does pretty well in the speed department, provided that you avoid its 9-area autofocus mode. When operating in its 9-area AF mode, the FZ15's shutter lag is positively sluggish, ranging from 1.33 - 1.47 seconds. (Slow even when compared to other long-zoom digicam models.) In any other AF mode though, the shutter lag ranges from 0.52 - 0.99 second as the zoom is varied from wide angle to telephoto. The lag for wide angle focal lengths is quite short, while that for telephoto focal lengths is on the long side of average, but still not bad for a long-zoom digicam. Manual focus lag time is a little better, at 0.30 second, and prefocused, it's positively blazing, at 0.039 second. Cycle times on the other hand are really fast. In manual-focus single-shot mode with a sufficiently fast card (we tested with a Lexar 32x SD card), it can capture large/fine JPEG files to the memory card nonstop, at just over a half-second per shot(!) With slower cards, it'll make you wait a little every 3-4 shots, but it's still very fast. So... If you avoid its 9-area AF mode (which is really best suited to landscapes or still life shots), the FZ15 is a reasonably responsive camera, with excellent cycle times and buffer capacity. And, if you can live with manual focus or prefocusing prior to your shots, the FZ15 would be great for fast-paced action.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life. With a worst-case run time (capture mode with the rear LCD turned on) of 140 minutes and a run time of four hours in playback mode, the FZ15's battery life is better than most. I'd still advise purchasing a second battery to keep as a spare, but for many users, the FZ15's run time will be plenty.

 

Conclusion

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On the whole, I was very favorably impressed with the Panasonic DMC-FZ15. It has an attractive case, a nice "feel" in the hand, an excellent image-stabilized lens, great versatility, and very good image quality. If you avoid its 9-area autofocus mode, it has reasonably fast shutter response for a long-zoom digicam, and its shot to shot cycle times are excellent. Image-wise, about my only quibble is that it tends to render skin tones a bit more pink-looking than in real life, something that some users may actually prefer. Rather than repeat all my personal observations again here, I'll just refer interested readers back up to the "User's Report" section of this review. Bottom line, the DMC-FZ15 is a very capable camera that brings a touch of pro quality to a high-end consumer digicam, with an excellent 12x zoom lens, and optical image stabilization to boot. With a full range of exposure control modes, including a full manual setting and no less than nine preset "Scene" modes, the DMC-FZ15 is an approachable camera for both novices and more experienced users alike. Recommended, and a Dave's Pick for the long-zoom category.

 

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