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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5

By: Dave Etchells

Panasonic updates its 12x optically stabilized Leica lens digicam to five megapixels.

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Page 13:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 05/09/2005

"Gallery" Photos

Readers interested in seeing a sample of more pictorial images shot with the DMC-FZ5 can visit our Panasonic DMC-FZ5 Photo Gallery.

 

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-FZ5'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 FZ5 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-FZ5's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

    • Color: Generally very good color, a slight tendency toward a warm cast. Auto white balance struggled with incandescent lighting, but manual white balance did very well.. The DMC-FZ5 generally produced very good color throughout our testing. Strong reds, blues, and greens tended to be a bit oversaturated, but color as a whole was more accurate than average. The FZ5 did tend to leave slight warm casts in its images, but they were well within what I'd consider to be acceptable limits. Skin tones were good, slightly more pink than in real life, but definitely acceptable. Indoors, the Auto and Incandescent white balance options struggled with household incandescent lighting, but the camera's Manual white balance option did very well. All in all, very good, pleasing color.

    • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but high contrast. The Panasonic DMC-FZ5 handled my test lighting quite well, though the camera's slightly high native contrast resulted in lost highlight and shadow detail in harshly-lit subjects. In outdoor lighting, the camera generally required less exposure compensation than average on shots that typically need it, while indoors it required about an average amount of adjustment. Overall, very good results.

    • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300 - 1,400 lines of "strong detail." The DMC-FZ5 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart for its 5.0-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,100~1,200 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,400 lines horizontally, and to about 1,300 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,650 lines.

    • Image Noise: Moderate image noise, with a fairly fine grain pattern. The DMC-FZ5 generally showed moderate image noise with a fine grain pattern. There was noise in the blue channel, even at ISOs 80 and 100, but it was for the most part invisible when viewing the full-color image. At ISOs 200 and 400, the noise level increased, with stronger blue and yellow pixels present that were visible on-screen. Noise was most distracting at the 400 ISO setting, even though a modest amount of subtle detail was traded away to reduce it. While the noise at ISO 400 was quite distracting on-screen or in large prints, it didn't look bad at all in 5x7 inch prints, and was for all intents and purposes invisible at 4x6.

    • Closeups: A very small macro area with great detail. Flash had a lot of trouble up close though. The DMC-FZ5 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.59 x 1.20 inches (40 x 30 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was strong in the dollar bill. The coin and brooch details were soft, due to the shallow depth of field that's a natural consequence of such a close shooting range. Details softened slightly toward the corners of the frame, but were fairly sharp on the dollar bill. (Most digital cameras produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The DMC-FZ5's flash was partially blocked by the lens though, and thus ineffective for even moderate closeups. (Definitely plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the Panasonic FZ5.)

    • Night Shots: Good low-light exposures. Good color and exposure, with low image noise. Good low-light autofocus, but somewhat limited viewfinder capability. The Panasonic FZ5 is a very good low-light shooter, able to focus in pretty dim lighting (about 1/6 foot-candle), and with the exposure flexibility to handle quite dark conditions. Its biggest limitation for after-dark use is its EVF/LCD viewfinder, which is really only usable down to about 1/4 foot-candle. Still, that's about 1/4 the brightness of typical city street lighting at night, so the FZ5 should do just fine for after-dark shooting in most lighted areas. The DMC-FZ5 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 400 ISO setting. At ISO 200, images were bright down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level, though the target is visible at the lowest light level of the test. At ISOs 80 and 100, images were bright down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level. Noise was fairly low in most shots, though it crept up to a high level at ISO 400. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the DMC-FZ5 should do very well for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings.

    • Viewfinder Accuracy: An accurate "electronic" optical viewfinder. The DMC-FZ5's "electronic" optical viewfinder (EVF) was quite accurate, showing about 99 percent accuracy at the wide angle zoom setting. At telephoto, the top measurement line was cut off in the final frame, but the coverage was also quite close to 99 percent. The LCD monitor produced identical results, since it's the same view on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DMC-FZ5 did quite well here.

    • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion at wide angle, low pincushion at telephoto. Good corner sharpness and chromatic aberration at wide angle and normal focal lengths, about average at telephoto. Geometric distortion on the Panasonic DMC-FZ5 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better, as I found only 0.2 percent pincushion distortion there (about two pixels' worth). Chromatic aberration and corner softness were low at wide angle and medium focal lengths, higher but still about average for a long-ratio zoom lens at the telephoto end.

    • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: A little slow on startup, but very good shutter response, excellent cycle times. The Panasonic FZ5 is a little slow off the mark, getting its lens deployed when you first turn it on, but after that it's quite speedy indeed. Shutter response is very good with a full-autofocus lag time of 0.51 - 0.56 second. Its shot to shot cycle times are exceptionally good, at 1.23 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, regardless of how many shots you take in rapid succession. (That is, there's no arbitrary buffer limit.) Continuous mode speed is also good, ranging from 2.14 frames/second in "unlimited" mode (run lengths limited only by card capacity) to 3.0 frames/second in high-speed continuous mode for up to four large/fine images in rapid succession. Very impressive overall!

    • Battery Life: Very good battery life. With a worst-case run time just shy of two and a half hours in capture mode with the rear-panel LCD selected, the Panasonic FZ5's battery life is very good. Despite this good battery life, I still recommend that heavy shooters planning long-term outings purchase a spare right along with the camera.

    • Print Quality: Slightly soft at 13x19 inches, sharp at 11x14 and below. High-ISO shots noisy at 8x10 inches, but just fine at 5x7 and below. 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 iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) The FZ5's print performance was about what I've come to expect from a good-quality 5-megapixel camera. At 13x19 inches, its prints were slightly soft-looking, but more than good enough for display on a wall, where they won't be scrutinized at close range. Prints at 11x14 and below were plenty sharp for any usage. Shots at ISO 400 were noisy-looking at 8x10 inches, but many users would doubtless find them suitable for display on a wall or table. At 5x7 inches and under though, the high-ISO noise really wasn't an issue. Color on printed output was also very nice and natural-looking, a good job overall.

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Long 12x optical zoom lens
  • Good corner sharpness at wide angle (but only average at telephoto)
  • Optical image stabilization really helps make use of the long zoom
  • Fast shutter response
  • Excellent shot to shot speeds
  • Excellent macro capability (although with soft corners at the closest distances)
  • Very good color
  • Good low-light exposure and focusing ability (but see note at right about LCD/EVF darkness, and about exposure time limit in basic modes)
  • Plenty of manual control
  • Both record and playback histograms
  • Support for add-on filters and lenses
  • Very good battery life
  • AF-assist lamp for focusing in dim lighting
  • At maximum telephoto, corner sharpness decreases from very good to average
  • LCD/EVF doesn't "gain up" under low light conditions, hard to aim the camera at the lowest light levels it can shoot at
  • Exposures longer than 1/4 second require use of more advanced exposure modes, not available in Program mode
  • Movie mode isn't as powerful as many competing cameras

 

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The five-megapixel Panasonic FZ5 is a very strong follow-on to last year's highly popular FZ3 model. Like the FZ3 before it, the new Lumix DMC-FZ5 offers excellent value in a long-zoom camera with optical image stabilization such an impressive feature set. Aside from the boosted resolution in this year's model, the new Panasonic FZ5 offers significant improvements in shutter lag, minor boosts in cycle time, and a larger rear-panel LCD, a welcome addition. To my mind, the dramatic improvements in shutter lag in its "high speed autofocus" modes is the biggest news, as it makes the FZ5 a truly excellent camera for shooting sports and other fast-breaking action (like active toddlers or older kids at play). Bottom line, the Panasonic Lumix FZ5 is a very capable camera that offers a lot of capability in an affordable 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 Panasonic FZ5 is an approachable camera for both novices and more experienced users alike. Its rich feature set, good image quality, and overall responsiveness made it a shoo-in for a "Dave's Pick" award in the long-zoom category.


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