Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall color and hue accuracy, with only minor oversaturation of some colors.
Saturation. The Panasonic DMC-FZ18 oversaturates blue and green tones slightly, color is surprisingly accurate. Images will likely appear undersaturated to eyes used to more vibrant color. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Panasonic FZ18's skin tones were pretty good, though slightly flat in some cases and slightly pink in others. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Panasonic FZ18 showed small color shifts in the reds, cyans,
and blues, but overall hue accuracy was generally good and color quite pleasing.
Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Slightly warm with Auto white balance, very warm with Incandescent setting, but good color with Manual white balance. About average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was slightly reddish in the Panasonic FZ18's Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting had a very strong warm cast. Manual mode was the most accurate overall. The Lumix DMC-FZ18 required a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, slightly less than average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is good, though the blue flowers are quite dark with some purplish tints. Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the DMC-FZ18 falls for the trap.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Slightly flat and dark color, though good exposure despite high contrast.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 performed well, with good exposure in the outdoor house shot, except that shadows are too deep and highlights too bright. Though the exposure is a hint dim overall in the +0.7 EV portrait shot, this is the closest it gets to good skin tones without excessive highlights taking over the face. Shadow detail is limited by noise artifacts as well as noise suppression, but highlight detail in the portrait is actually pretty good. The camera's low contrast setting does help things out, though the tonal gradations in the skin tones become more harsh.
High resolution, 1,500 ~ 1,600 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,500 lines vertically from the Panasonic FZ18. Extinction didn't really occur, though lines began to merge around 1,800-1,900 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, with only minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.
|Though edge enhancement is evident,
detail is somewhat soft overall when
viewed at 100 percent onscreen.
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here.
Sharpness. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18's detail is limited by a significant amount of noise suppression in the shadow areas. Slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but overall results are still good. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows fairly high noise suppression in the Panasonic FZ18's images, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail, where the individual strands merge as the shadows deepen. There is some chroma noise even at the lowest ISO, but it's still not terrible. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate to moderately high noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though very high noise with strong blurring and yellow blotches at higher settings.
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,250||ISO 1,600|
The Panasonic DMC-FZ18's lower sensitivity settings show moderate to moderately high noise, with strong pixels visible even at ISO 200. Noise takes a big jump at ISO 800, with strong blurring and bright color shifts from noise pixels. At the higher ISOs of 1,250 and 1,600, fine detail is practically gone and the image quite blurry overall. In this indoor incandescent shot, the FZ18 leaves yellow blotches in the hair even at the lowest ISO setting, rising to an unacceptable level from ISO 800 to 1,600.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 had some difficulty dealing with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with slightly washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is very limited, thanks to strong noise suppression that smudges detail in the strong shadows. The Panasonic FZ18 required about average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +0.7 EV, though the overall image is a hint dim. (The highlights were much too bright for my taste at +1.0 EV.) The camera's low contrast setting helps even out the exposure a little, but in real life, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Low light. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Exposure was uneven, however, jumping around a bit even at the lowest setting. Noise increases with higher ISOs, but this is expected, especially as high as 6,400. Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject almost down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
Powerful flash at close range, though not a match for the camera's 18x optical zoom. Our standard shots required slightly more than average exposure compensation, coverage was pretty uniform.
|28mm equivalent||504mm equivalent|
Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, but much better than average. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it. In the Indoor test, the Panasonic FZ18's flash underexposed our subject just a little at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. It also required slightly more exposure compensation, at +1.3 EV.
ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, the Panasonic FZ18's flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright all the way out to a distance of about 14 feet, decreasing in brightness slightly from that point on. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target was bright to about 8 feet, but the images darkened gradually from there.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 125
Auto ISO 125
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the DMC-FZ18 performs exactly as Panasonic says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 125). At telephoto, the image is slightly dim, though the camera did not boost ISO to compensate. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Good print quality, good color, sharp 11x14-inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 had enough resolution to make good looking 11x14 inch prints. 13x19 inch prints were reasonable, but chroma noise shows up in shadows and detail is soft. ISO 200 shots are better than expected at 11x14, with good color and detail, and only a little more noise in the shadows. ISO 400 shots are soft at 11x14, but look quite good at 8x10. ISO 800 shots don't look bad at 8x10, except that some areas are very soft depending on the type and level of detail. ISO 800 and 1,250 shots look pretty good at 5x7, but ISO 1,600 shots are better at 4x6.
Because the Panasonic FZ18 had trouble in incandescent lighting, I gave that a closer look too. Though they're quite prominent in the ISO 800 images onscreen, the yellow blotches in Marti's hair aren't as pronounced in the printed pictures at 8x10 inches. They're there, but not so bad that it's objectionable. The rest of the image isn't so great though, so stepping down to 5x7 at 800 helps a bit. The images remain a bit washed out in terms of color and contrast. ISO 1,250 and 1,600 are okay at 4x6, but not great.
Overall, the Panasonic FZ18 gets quite a boost from the printed results, as did its predecessor the FZ8. Of course, that's why we do these printed tests, because that's where it really matters for most people. So long as you don't spend a lot of time pixel-peeping on a computer screen, you'll be very happy with the printed results from the Panasonic FZ8. Venture above ISO 400 only if you're good at framing your images in the camera, because you won't want to do much cropping. And avoid extreme incandescent lighting, because the camera doesn't do well, especially above ISO 400.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 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!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.