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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5

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

Review First Posted: 05/09/2005




MSRP $499 US

 

*
5.0-Megapixel CCD delivers 2,560 x 1,920-pixel images
*
12x optical zoom lens covers 36-432mm equivalent range
*
Full range of manual and automatic exposure options, with nine preset shooting modes
*
Styled like a traditional 35mm SLR

 

Introduction - The Panasonic FZ5

Panasonic is a company that started a little slow in the digital camera market, but have really come on strong in the last year or two. The five megapixel Panasonic FZ5 is largely based on the three megapixel FZ3 model we reviewed in 2004, which at the time was one of the best deals on the market for a camera with anti-shake technology in the long-zoom category. Relative to the FZ3, the Panasonic FZ5 increases image resolution, swaps in a larger, higher resolution LCD display, adds a new orientation sensor, and slightly refines the body design. Like its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix FZ5 offers a 12x Leica zoom lens, incorporating Panasonic's own "Mega OIS" Optical Image Stabilization technology. As I've said about other cameras offering image stabilization, it's hard to overstate the benefit of this technology on long-zoom digicams: It makes an incredible difference in the usability of long telephoto focal lengths, and the Panasonic FZ5's 12x lens with Mega OIS is no exception. The long-zoom category is becoming increasingly crowded, but the Panasonic FZ5 has the features and image quality to compete strongly there. Read on for all the details, but if you're in the market for a relatively affordable long-zoom digicam with optical image stabilization, the Panasonic Lumix FZ5 could be the camera for you.

 

Panasonic FZ5 High Points

 

Comparison With Panasonic DMC-FZ3

Many of our readers will be familiar with the previous DMC-FZ3 model which we reviewed last year, so I put together the following comparison of changes between the DMC-FZ3 and the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5:

  DMC-FZ3 DMC-FZ5
List Price
(At introduction)
$399 $499
Megapixels
(Effective)
3.2 5.0
CCD Size 1/3.2" 1/2.5"
Lens actual Focal Lengths 4.6 - 55.2 mm 6 - 72 mm
Lens equiv.
Focal Lengths
35 - 420 mm 36 - 432 mm
Lens max. aperture 2.8 (across range) 2.8 (wide) - 3.3 (tele)
High-Speed AF modes No Yes (Two)
LCD Pixels 114,000 130,000
Orientation Sensor No Yes
Program Shift function Yes No
Stated Flash Range (Auto ISO) 4.6 meters 4.5 Meters
Battery Life - Improved
Weight
(With Batteries)
323 g (11.4 oz) 326 g (11.4 oz)
Included Memory Card 8 MB 16 MB
Other - Reprofiled hand grip. Shutter button / zoom lever repositioned slightly for easier reach. Optical Image Stabilizer now set with button, not through Record menu. Microphone holes now horizontally beside each other. Exposure button now has slight ridge added to differentiate it from other buttons. Underside of pop-up flash is now black plastic. "Lumix" wording removed from below "L" badge on camera front. "Mega O.I.S." now silk-screened in red on side of lens barrel. Panasonic logo and camera model number now silk-screened on top of camera.

 

User's Report

In most of my reviews, this section is called the "Executive Overview," where I present all the camera's features and functions in a concise fashion. Given that all this info is available elsewhere in the review for those who want to dig for it, I'm moving toward using this space to relate more of my personal impressions of each camera. This approach is frankly more time-consuming, but my hope is that it'll be more useful to readers than the prior format. (Due to time constraints, most of my reviews will continue in the previous format, but I felt that the Panasonic FZ5 deserved the benefit of this new treatment. Because I'd reviewed Panasonic's DMC-FZ3 (on which this model is based) fairly recently, many of my comments here will contrast the FZ5 to its older sibling. Here, then, are some of the features and issues that stood out to me as I worked with the FZ5:

Fit, Feel, and Finish
Much like the FZ3, the Panasonic FZ5's all-plastic body felt a little lightweight and cheap in the hand, although my impression of the FZ5 in this respect is a bit more favorable. The lighter weight does mean that the camera would lend itself well to travel, though I'm perhaps a little concerned about the camera's durability if it is knocked or dropped. Thanks to a reprofiled hand-grip and the camera's being so light, it was quite comfortable to hold in one hand. The handgrip is still fairly small though, leaving my rather large hands feeling a little cramped holding it. - The FZ5 was a reasonably comfortable camera to hold, but since comfort is a fairly subjective issue, if you have large hands you may want to try it out at the store before buying.

Lens Quality and Focus Operation
The lens is again the standout on this camera, and I'm happy to report that its optical quality lives up to its Leica heritage. In particular, corner to corner sharpness is noticeably better than average, and chromatic aberration is very low, although barrel distortion is just average at maximum wide angle. (Read my comments in the Test Results section at the end of this review for more details on this.)

The Panasonic Lumix FZ5 still lacks a couple of key "enthusiast" features in the lens department, relative to its more sophisticated siblings. There's no manual focus adjustment option, and while there are filter threads on the included lens hood adapter, there's no provision in the camera's menu system to adapt its focusing for use with external accessory lenses.

Optical Image Stabilization
It's hard to overstate the value of image-stabilization on a long-zoom digicam like the Panasonic FZ5. A 12x zoom is all but unusable in anything other than bright daylight without it. I don't have any way to measure the effectiveness of anti-shake mechanisms, but the FZ5's seems to be a bit better than average in its performance. - For a comparison between Panasonic's and Konica Minolta's anti-shake technology, see the "Optics" page of my original FZ3 review. There, I said that the FZ3's anti-shake performed slightly better than that of the Konica Minolta Z3. The distinction between competing anti-shake systems are pretty fine though - Any of the named cameras is a radical improvement over a similar model without an image stabilization system.

Shutter Response and Shooting Speed
Focusing speed on the Panasonic FZ5 is somewhat improved as compared to the older FZ3 model (particularly when the lens is towards the telephoto end of its range, with two new "high-speed" AF modes. The new modes work by prioritizing the focusing system rather than the LCD / viewfinder display, which meant that the display could freeze momentarily during focusing. Honestly, this seems like a good trade-off though, and in the high-speed AF modes, focusing speed felt quite good, and tested even better, with typical full-autofocus shutter lag numbers in the range of 0.32 - 0.35 second, among the very fastest consumer cameras on the market. It's too bad that a high-speed AF equivalent isn't available for the camera's nine-area focusing mode, which honestly still feels rather sluggish. (Although perhaps only by comparison to the high-speed AF modes, as the 9-area AF option gave shutter lag times in the 0.51 - 0.56 second range.) If you can "prefocus" the camera by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself, shutter lag is reduced to 0.135 second (a quick shutter response, albeit not quite as blazingly so as that of the FZ3).

Another difference relative to the FZ3 came in the cycle time department. While the FZ3 could only snap shots every 1.56 seconds until the card was full (at least, with a 32x Lexar SD card), the Panasonic FZ5 managed to capture at the faster rate of a shot every 1.23 seconds, despite the fact that the FZ5 is handling much more image data. In high-speed continuous mode, it can fire off up to four large/fine shots at a rate of 3.0 frames/second, a good rate of speed for a consumer digicam. (Continuous mode is where its reduced image data lets the FZ3 hold an edge, capturing up to 7 images at 3.66 frames/second.) Thanks to its good continuous mode speed, and most particularly to its faster than average autofocus speed, the FZ5 should prove reasonably well suited for shooting sports or other fast-paced action, so long as you don't need to use one of the non-"high speed" AF modes.

Viewfinder - Eyeglass Friendly
With 20/180 vision, this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. A lot of digicams require you to get your eyeball very close to the viewfinder in order to see the full frame, and many more offer no dioptric adjustment to accommodate those of us with failing vision. The Panasonic FZ5 does well on both counts, with a moderately high eyepoint (I could just about see the entire frame without touching my eyeglass lenses to the eyepiece), and one of the widest dioptric adjustment ranges I've yet seen in a digicam. The newly enlarged rear-panel LCD, with slightly higher resolution than on the FZ3, seems to have a fairly large range of viewing angles. Sunlight unfortunately hasn't really been much of an option here for the time I've had the camera, but based on the closest we've had to sunlight, it seems like the display is a little better than average visibility-wise.

Control and Menu Ergonomics
Another mixed bag here, I'm afraid. On the one hand, as was the case with the FZ3, I love the Panasonic FZ5's menu system. I actually didn't find it anything special when I first looked at it, but once I started operating the camera, I found myself just flying through the menu system. I don't know what makes it so fast, perhaps just the subtle timing of how the menus respond to the buttons on the multi-controller, but whatever the cause, I ended up liking the FZ5's menu system better than those of most digicams I test. Likewise, the new button for the Optical Image Stabilization saved me having to delve into the menu to enable or disable the feature, and was greatly appreciated.

On the other hand, I really disliked the action of the Exposure button on the camera's external controls. You use this button to switch the multi-controller from its normal functions to controlling the shutter speed and/or aperture settings, and I found it just terribly awkward to have to press the Exposure button before being able to use the multi-controller to change the exposure variables. What would work a lot better would be a multi-controller with a central button, of the sort used by many digicams these days, letting the central button take the place of the current Exposure button. Likewise, I was very disappointed to see that the Program Shift function has been removed. This was a nice feature that let users bias the camera towards a fast shutter speed / wide aperture, or a slow shutter speed / small aperture, without really needing to understand what the values meant and set them directly in the Shutter / Aperture priority modes. Why it was removed is beyond me.

Bottom Line
Thanks to the significantly improved shutter lag times (with the provisos mentioned above), I found myself a lot happier with the Panasonic FZ5 than I'd been with the FZ3. (And the FZ3 was quite a nice camera in its own right.) The larger LCD was a welcome change, and the added resolution will allow for larger prints or more cropping of images - definitely a bonus compared to the FZ3's rather limited resolution. The new orientation sensor may also make your life easier, if your workflow recognizes the corresponding EXIF tag. All in all, the Panasonic FZ5 was a camera I grew to find myself really rather liking, albeit still with a couple of small quirks. (Read on for all the fascinating details.)

 

Design

With the confident looks of a traditional 35mm SLR, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 offers both style and substance, with an impressive Leica 12x optical zoom lens that lends a professional air. Measuring 4.3 x 2.7 x 3.3 inches (108 x 68 x 85 millimeters), the Panasonic Lumix FZ5 weighs approximately 11.4 ounces (324 grams) with the battery and storage card installed. The DMC-FZ5's all-plastic, matte-black body helps keep the camera's weight down, somewhat compensating for the heft of the rather large lens, but does tend to give the initial reaction that it feels somewhat "cheap". This is rather a difficult thing to explain, since there's no real creak or flex to any of the body panels, but was definitely a common thread from several people who had occasion to handle the camera during the review process. While it definitely won't fit into your shirt pocket, an accompanying neck strap makes it easy to tote, but I'd also recommend picking up at least a small camera bag to protect that Leica lens.

The front of the camera includes a telescoping 12x Leica zoom lens, optical viewfinder window, and a bright orange LED light emitter that serves double duty as the autofocus assist and the self-timer countdown indicator. There are also two small holes next to the light emitter that serve as a grille for the built-in microphone. The built-in, pop-up flash is just above the large lens, and is mechanically released by a button on the rear panel. A modest-sized handgrip on the right side is covered by a redesigned rubbery, textured wrap that clings to fingers. With my rather large hands, the handgrip felt a little small, but my middle finger tended to wrap around the provided indent on the grip and then run vertically down the inside edge of the grip, providing a fairly secure hold.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) features only an eyelet for one end of the neck strap. The rubber textured wrap from the front of the camera follows around to this side of the camera, and extends much farther back than it did on the FZ3.

The opposite side of the camera features the other neck strap eyelet, as well as the diopter adjustment dial on the side of the optical viewfinder. Also on this side of the camera, beneath a hinged, plastic door, is the connector compartment, which houses the Video/Digital Out and DC In connector terminals. The compartment door opens from the rear panel, and features a pressure hinge that snaps it securely in place when opened or closed.

The Panasonic FZ5's top panel features a Mode dial on the right, along with the Shutter button, Zoom lever, Optical Image Stabilizer button, and Burst Mode button. The Shutter button and Zoom lever have been moved closer to the front of the camera, and are much easier to reach. Also on the top panel is the pop-up flash (mechanically released by a button on the rear panel).

The majority of the exposure controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor. Lining the top of the panel are the EVF / LCD, Display, Exposure, and Power controls, with the Flash Open button just above them. The Menu and Focus/Delete buttons line up with the top and bottom right corners of the LCD monitor respectively, with a Four-Way Multicontroller at center. True to its name, the Multicontroller accesses a variety of camera settings and features four arrows for navigating through camera menus and reviewing images. A small speaker rests in the lower right corner of the rear panel, and a textured thumb grip reinforces the modest handgrip on the camera's right side. The only really significant changes from the FZ3 on this panel are the larger LCD display, and a small ridge on the Exposure button that helps differentiate it from the other buttons without your having to remove your eye from the electronic viewfinder.

The DMC-FZ5's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the combined SD/MMC and battery compartment, and a threaded metal tripod mount on its right. The metal tripod mount is positioned off-center from the lens, and is too close to the compartment for quick battery and memory card changes (something I'm probably more sensitive to than most users, given the amount of on-tripod shooting I do).

 

Viewfinder

The DMC-FZ5 features both an eye-level electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and a 1.8-inch LCD monitor on the back panel for image composition. The EVF is essentially a miniaturized version of the larger LCD monitor, complete with all of the image and information displays. A button on the rear panel switches the view between the two monitors. A dioptric adjustment tucked on the left side of the eyepiece adapts the viewfinder optics to your vision, with a diopter range from -4 to +4 (an unusually wide range). The eyepiece has a high "eyepoint," making it well-suited to eyeglass wearers. I could just about see the full frame without touching my eyeglass lenses to the viewfinder eyepiece. Even better, the FZ5's dioptric adjustment more than accommodated my uncorrected 20/180 vision, something few cameras can do.


The 1.8-inch, low-temperature, polycrystalline, TFT, color LCD monitor has a 130,000-pixel display that's bright and clear. (LCD brightness can be adjusted in seven steps via the Setup menu.) The Display button controls the image and information displays, accessing five display modes in Record mode, and three modes in Review mode. The main display shows the image area, center AF brackets, camera modes and settings, battery level, image resolution and quality, and the remaining image capacity of the memory card. Pressing the Display button enables the same display but with the addition of a small histogram. A third press enables the "Out of Frame" display, which puts the image area into the top left corner, and displays the camera stats in the right and bottom borders (useful if you're having trouble framing with the information overlay, but still need to refer to it). The remaining two displays are a framing guideline (which divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically) - useful both for ensuring a level horizon, and placing objects in the relevant areas of your photograph to follow the "rule of thirds" - and the image by itself (with just the central AF brackets). You can also cancel the LCD monitor display (though the EVF remains active unless switched to the LCD monitor).


In Review mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually by scrolling left or right with the arrow buttons on the Multicontroller. Pressing the Zoom lever toward the wide position brings up a thumbnail index display of nine images at a time, which you can also scroll through with the arrow buttons. The telephoto side of the Zoom lever doubles as a Digital Enlargement button (marked by a magnifying glass), which allows you to enlarge an image up to 16x its normal size on the screen. This degree of enlargement is very handy, as it's sufficient to check focus accuracy and depth of field, something that's difficult to do on cameras with lower playback magnification. The arrow keys permit you to move around the enlarged image and check fine details and framing.

By default, the LCD screen displays basic information about the captured images, including the file name, date and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, what number it is in the sequence of images stored on the memory card, and the battery level. Depressing the Display button once brings up a more detailed information such as the shooting mode, aperture, f/stop, exposure compensation, and metering mode. In addition, the screen shows a small histogram to indicate the distribution of tonal values. If activated through the Setup menu, the Highlight Display will blink any blown-out highlights in the image from white to black and back again, letting you see exactly where detail has been lost. (Note that the blinking highlight display is only available in Review mode, accessed via the four-way controller, not in normal Playback mode.) A third display mode shows only the image, without any information.

 

Optics

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The Panasonic Lumix FZ5 boasts a high quality 12x, 6-72mm telescoping Leica zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-432mm lens on a 35mm camera). A removable, plastic lens cap protects the lens surface, and a small eyelet hole in its edge lets you tether it to the camera body to prevent it from being lost. Lens caps are always a nuisance to keep track of, so tethering it to the camera is a good idea. When the camera is powered on, the lens telescopes out from the camera body into its operating position, projecting an additional three-quarters of an inch from the camera body. It retracts again when the camera is shut off. Panasonic includes a lens hood with the DMC-FZ5, and a hood adapter for attaching auxiliary lenses. Focus is always under automatic control by the camera (that is, there's no manual focus mode), with a range of 0.98 feet (30 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. Macro mode lets you focus as close as two inches (5 centimeters) in wide-angle mode and 3.94 feet (120 centimeters) in telephoto mode. The lens aperture adjusts automatically or manually, and the maximum aperture varies with lens zoom, with a range of f/2.8 at the wide position to f/3.3 at the telephoto position. The minimum aperture is f/8.0, regardless of lens zoom position. (This is a departure from the FZ3, which had a constant-aperture f/2.8 lens.)

The Panasonic DMC-FZ5 offers nine active autofocus (AF) areas, but you can also limit the active area to three or one AF points through the Record menu. In nine-area mode, the nine AF points are arrayed in a 3x3 pattern in the center of the frame. The camera automatically sets the focus based on the part of the subject closest to one or more of the AF areas, and highlights each area that it's using in the display with a white box. Thus, you can photograph off-center subjects without having to lock the focus and then reposition the camera. In three-area mode, the three AF points stretch across the center of the frame, and the camera again bases focus on the portion of the subject closest to any of the points. One-area mode bases focus on a large area in the center of the frame. There's also a Spot AF mode, which employs a smaller central focus area. A Continuous AF mode is available through the Record menu, which continuously adjusts the focus for moving subjects, but only works with the single area AF modes. New to the FZ5 is high-speed focusing, available only for the 3-area or single-area AF modes. This prioritizes focusing speed over viewfinder refresh, resulting in a brief pause in the viewfinder or LCD image - but definitely improving autofocus lag significantly. (It's worth noting that the FZ5's autofocus speed is much improved over that of the FZ3, even when the 9-area AF mode is in use.)

If dim subject lighting requires it, a bright orange LED autofocus assist light on the front of the camera automatically illuminates whenever autofocus is active. (The AF-assist light can be turned off via a menu option.) The AF assist beam is rated as effective to about 4.92 feet (1.5 meters). Even without the AF assist light in play, the Panasonic FZ5 focuses better in low light than most cameras, as it can achieve focus down to a light level of roughly 1/6 foot-candle, about one-sixth the brightness of a typical city street scene at night. With the AF assist beam enabled, it can focus in total darkness, so long as your subject is within the range of the beam.

Because of the DMC-FZ5's long lens, Panasonic included Image Stabilization technology to reduce blurring from camera movement, which is more noticeable at the full telephoto setting. You can turn Image Stabilization off courtesy of a button on the camera's top panel, or set it to Mode 1 or 2. In Mode 1, stabilization operates continuously, while Mode 2 keeps it in standby, activating it only when the shutter is released. (Based on Panasonic's recommendations and my own testing of the earlier FZ3 model, I suggest using the Mode 2 stabilization most of the time, as it makes the best use of the relatively limited excursion of the Mega OIS floating optical elements.) I don't have any way of quantitatively evaluating the effectiveness of anti-shake technology, but that in the FZ5 seems to work reasonably well. As I've said before, I feel that optical stabilization is an almost essential feature in a long-zoom digicam like the FZ5, and its system works well enough to make the long lens far more usable than it would be otherwise. An in-depth look at the image stabilization of the previous DMC-FZ3 model compared to that of the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 can be found in our DMC-FZ3 review; the feature should be very similar to that in the FZ5.

The DMC-FZ5's 4x Digital Zoom can be enabled through the Record menu, and is activated whenever you zoom past the maximum optical telephoto range with the Zoom lever. I always warn readers that digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, and compromises the image quality by reducing resolution and enlarging noise patterns.

True to its Leica heritage, the lens on the FZ5 appears to be of high quality, offering better corner to corner sharpness at most focal lengths than I'm accustomed to seeing in digicam lenses, particularly those with long zoom ratios. (Its images get a little soft in the corners at the telephoto end of its range, but to a lesser extent than I've seen with many long-zoom lenses.) Barrel distortion is about average at maximum wide angle (at 0.8%), and pincushion distortion at telephoto focal lengths is low (0.2%). Chromatic aberration is also quite low at wide angle lens settings, rising to an average level at telephoto.

Exposure

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 offers excellent exposure control, with Program AE (P), Shutter Speed Priority AE (S), Aperture Priority AE (A), Manual (M) exposure modes, and a handful of special settings for specific shooting situations. The Program AE mode controls shutter speed and aperture settings, but also provides access to other exposure controls including Exposure Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation, Spot Metering, ISO adjustment, AE lock, Auto Exposure Bracketing, White Balance, Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation, among others. Halfway pressing the Shutter button displays the selected aperture and shutter speed settings. Unfortunately, the Program Shift function of the FZ3 has been removed, as noted elsewhere in this review.

Shutter Priority mode puts you in control of the shutter speed setting (from 1/2,000 to eight seconds), while the camera chooses a corresponding lens aperture. As with the Program AE mode, you maintain control over all other exposure options. Aperture Priority works along similar lines, except that you control the aperture (f/2.8 to f/8.0) and the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Both the shutter speed and aperture values are displayed on the LCD monitor. If the camera can't find an aperture or shutter speed to produce the correct exposure with the shutter speed or aperture you've selected, the LCD indicators will turn red, letting you know that you need to change the setting you selected.

Important note: In common with many other consumer-level digital cameras, the Panasonic FZ5's maximum shutter speed depends on the shutter speed selected. At apertures larger than f/4.0, the maximum shutter speed is 1/1000. From f/4.0 - f/5/0, the maximum is 1/1300, from f/5.6 to f/7.1 it's 1/1600, the highest speed of 1/2000 only being available at f/8.0.

Full Manual exposure mode lets you control both shutter speed and lens aperture independently. Pressing the Exposure button switches the four-way rocker control arrow keys from their normal functions to control aperture (the up/down arrows) and shutter speed (the left/right arrows). A nice touch is that half-pressing the shutter button calls up an exposure-meter display on the LCD screen, showing the currently selected exposure level, across a range of +/- 2 EV. The exposure-meter display disappears after a few seconds of inactivity, or you can use the Display button to select a display mode without the on-screen information overlay.

A number of preset "scene" exposure modes are also available for shooting under special conditions, and include Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night Scenery, Night Portrait, Panning, Fireworks, Party, and Snow modes. These modes preset a variety of camera options, helping novice photographers capture good-looking pictures in challenging situations without requiring a full knowledge of the camera. The Scene modes are accessed through the "SCN" option on the Mode Dial. Through the Setup menu, you can set the camera to automatically display the Scene menu when entering this mode, or set it so that the previously selected scene mode is enabled whenever switching to Scene mode.

Portrait mode enhances flesh tones and uses a large aperture setting to reduce depth of field, resulting in blurred backgrounds and strong focal emphasis on the primary subject. Sports mode instead utilizes fast shutter speeds and wider apertures, in effect "freezing" fast-paced action. Scenery mode is for capturing wide landscapes, and locks focus at infinity.

Night Scenery mode uses a slow shutter speed to capture the color and detail of evening settings without using the flash. Because of the slow exposure, a tripod is recommended. Night Portrait mode works in the same manner, but utilizes the flash to illuminate the primary subject in the foreground. By using a slow shutter speed and the flash together, the overall scene is more evenly exposed. (The flash mode is fixed at Slow-Sync with Red-Eye Reduction. Portrait subjects should be warned to stay still after the flash, until the shutter is closed.)

Panning mode is useful for following a moving subject, such as a person on a bicycle or in a slow-moving vehicle, so that the subject stays in focus while the background becomes a blur. When shooting in Panning mode, hold down the Shutter button while moving the camera to follow the subject. (Just make sure that the subject is moving at a speed you can easily follow without blurring.) Fireworks mode preserves the color and pattern of fireworks by using a slow shutter speed to capture the full effect (a tripod is recommended). Party mode is best for taking pictures under dim indoor lighting with a flash. You can select between Forced Red-Eye Reduction and Slow-Sync Red-Eye Reduction modes, and a tripod is recommended. Finally, Snow mode captures good exposures in bright, snowy conditions, and adjusts the white balance and exposure to ensure the bright snow doesn't trick the camera into underexposure or color casts.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted from –2 to +2 exposure values (EV), in one-third-step increments. The camera's metering system offers three operating modes, which include Multiple, Center-Weighted, and Spot, selectable through the Record menu. Multiple metering measures brightness throughout the entire frame, and determines the best overall exposure. Center-weighted averaging is based on an averaged light reading of the overall scene, but places more emphasis on the center of the viewfinder or LCD monitor. Spot metering reads only a specific point in the viewfinder. You can lock the exposure (and focus) by halfway pressing and holding the Shutter button, and then reframing the subject.

The DMC-FZ5 offers six White Balance modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Flash, and White Set (manual). The White Set mode allows you to manually set the white balance by holding a white card in front of the camera to set the value in the setup mode. You can fine-tune the camera's white balance by adding more red or blue to the color balance in all of the modes except Auto, Simple, and Scene, using the WB Adjust feature (accessed by pressing the up arrow of the Multicontroller until WB Adjust appears on the LCD monitor).

ISO film speed equivalents on the DMC-FZ5 are set in the Record menu, with choices of Auto, 80, 100, 200, and 400. The higher the ISO setting, the more you can extend the camera's exposure range in low-light situations. Just keep in mind that higher ISO values have progressively lower quality levels, with increased image noise. On that note, the DMC-FZ5 does feature long-exposure Noise Reduction, which uses dark frame subtraction to reduce the amount of image noise in longer exposures. What this means is that after the initial exposure, the camera takes a second exposure with the shutter closed, and compares the two images to subtract the noise pixels from the main image.

The DMC-FZ5 also offers a Color Effect setting with Cool, Warm, Black and White, and Sepia color options. A Picture Adjustment menu option features an additional adjustment tool, with options somewhat deceptively labeled as "Natural," "Standard," and "Vivid." On the FZ5, these options are a little confusing, in that they affect the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to the Z5's images, as well as the color saturation. - I'd much prefer to see a separate menu option for controlling in-camera sharpening independently.

Auto Exposure Bracketing
The Auto Exposure Bracketing mode is accessed by pressing the up arrow of the Multicontroller until "Auto Bracket" appears on the LCD monitor. It automatically captures a series of three images, each at a different exposure setting. You can manually set the exposure variation between shots in one-third-step increments, up to as much as +/- 1 EV. The camera makes all three exposures in rapid succession with just one press of the Shutter button. Unfortunately, just as in the FZ3, this function cannot be used with flash photography. If the flash fires, only one image will be recorded. (The likely reason for this is that the onboard flash recharges too slowly to be usable in a multiple-exposure application like this.)

Burst Shooting
The DMC-FZ5 has three Burst shooting modes, which are accessed by pressing the Burst button on the top panel. Low Speed mode captures a maximum of 4 consecutive frames at a bit over two frames per second, while High Speed mode captures a maximum of 4 images at 3.0 frames per second, as long as you hold down the shutter release. (Burst length will depend on the subject you're shooting, and how well the resulting images compress. In my testing, using a standard noise pattern for worst-case compressibility, I found a maximum burst length of four frames.) There's also an Infinity mode, which limits the number of images only by memory card capacity, and shoots at just over two frames per second. (Interestingly, I found that the frame rate in "Infinity" mode was actually almost exactly the same as "Low Speed" mode, leading me to wonder why one would ever care to use Low Speed mode, although there may be differences between the two with a slow memory card.) The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, including the amount of memory remaining on the flash card and the size/quality of the images being acquired. It's important to note that the shooting speeds mentioned here are based on measurements made with a Lexar 32x SD card: Slower memory cards may introduce limitations on maximum run length, particularly in the "Infinity" mode.

Movie Mode
The DMC-FZ5 also offers a Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera to the miniature film frame symbol. The Motion JPEG files are recorded at 320 x 240 pixels, at either 30 or 10 frames per second. Recording times are limited by frame rate and memory card capacity. Recording stops and starts with a full press of the shutter button, and the amount of available recording time appears in the upper right corner of the LCD monitor. While the lens can be zoomed before and after movie recording, it cannot be activated during the recording process itself, and the camera's exposure is also set and fixed at the beginning of the recording interval. Unlike many cameras which take advantage of the vastly lower resolution of the movie as compared to the imager, and replace the optical zoom with a digital zoom that crops the center from the image to effectively "zoom" the movie, the FZ5 also disables digital zoom in movie mode. Movies are recorded with sound. As with its "INF" continuous shooting mode, the FZ5's Movie mode appears capable of recording movies continuously to the limit of card capacity, provided you use a fast enough memory card.

Flip Animation Mode
This mode, enabled through the Record menu, lets you connect a string of images together to make a 20-second movie that resembles a flip animation. You can record as many as 100 consecutive images to create the animation. To capture the series, select "Image Capture" under the Flip Animation menu option, then snap away. During capture, you're told how many images you've captured, and how many remain. You can also switch to review mode to browse and delete images you've captured. Once you've captured all of the files you need, select "Create Motion Image" and select the frame rate (either five or ten frames per second) to string the images together into a motion file. Once the animation has been created, you can opt to delete the still images to save memory space. (This can be a fun mode. Sony had a Flip Animation option on their cameras a couple of years back, but that feature was limited to a much shorter sequence of images.)

Self-Timer Mode
The Self-Timer is set by pressing the left arrow key on the Multicontroller, and offers a choice between a two- or 10-second countdown. When set to Self-Timer, the camera displays the standard self-timer icon (a clock counting down) in the LCD display, and depressing the Shutter button activates the countdown, during which a lamp on the camera's front panel blinks. The two-second option is very handy when you're shooting long exposures with the camera on a tripod, and want to avoid jiggling the camera and blurring the shot when you press the Shutter button with your finger. The two-second countdown is enough time for any vibrations to die down before the shutter opens, but not so long as to seriously slow your shooting. - I also find myself using a short self-timer for shots in low light or macro situations, where I just prop the camera on a convenient rock, fence post, or water glass (at a restaurant, for example) to avoid hand-held jiggles. Very convenient, when you don't happen to have a tripod along.

 

Flash

The Panasonic Lumix FZ5's built-in, pop-up flash operates in one of six modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction (Auto), Forced, Red-Eye Reduction (Forced), Slow-Sync (with Red-Eye Reduction), and Flash Off. The Auto mode tells the camera to determine when flash is necessary, based on existing exposure conditions. Forced means that the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of lighting conditions, and Flash Off completely disables the flash. The three Red-Eye Reduction modes fire a small pre-flash one second before the full flash, to reduce the redeye effect in portraits. Slow-Sync mode combines the flash with a slower shutter speed, letting more of the ambient light fall on the camera's sensor, brightening background objects.

The flash exposure can be adjusted from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments by pressing the up arrow of the Multicontroller until the Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment appears. Panasonic rates the DMC-FZ5's flash as effective from 0.98 to 14.8 feet (30 centimeters to 4.5 meters) depending on the zoom setting and ISO. In my own tests, light from the camera's flash started to fall off at about 10 feet at ISO 80, with the lens towards the telephoto end of its range. This is about average among the consumer-level digital cameras I test, but a bit of a step down from the performance of the FZ3 in this area. Given the extent of its other "enthusiast" features, I was a little surprised to not see a sync connector on the FZ5, for use with an external flash unit. - For that capability, you'll have to go to the higher-end (and higher resolution) FZ20 model, which sports a hot shoe.

 

Shutter Lag and Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time or delay before the shutter actually fires. This corresponds to the time required for the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported on (and even more rarely reported accurately), and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure both shutter delay and shot to shot cycle times for all cameras I test, using a test system I designed and built for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second.) Here are the numbers I collected for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5:

Panasonic DMC-FZ5 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
3.4
LCD turns on and lens extends forward. A little on the slow side.
Shutdown
4.0 - 7.5
First time is time to retract lens, second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time. A little slow for lens retraction, very fast for buffer clearing.
Play to Record, first shot
0.3
Time until first shot is captured. Very fast.
Record to play
1.8 / 1.1
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card. Pretty fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.51 / 0.56
First time is at full wide-angle, second is full telephoto. Very fast, particularly for a long-zoom digital camera.

Shutter lag, continuous autofocus

0.587
As usual, continuous AF conveys no speed benefit for static subjects. (We don't have any good way of testing performance with moving subjects, so there may be some advantage there.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.135
Time to capture, after half-pressing shutter button. Pretty fast.
Cycle Time, TIFF/max/min JPEG resolution

3.84 / 1.23 / 1.17

First number is for TIFF files, second number is for large/fine files, third number is time for "TV" mode (640x480) images. Times are averages. No detectable buffer limit, every shot is captured this quickly, regardless of how many are taken in series. Very fast for all file formats. (Tested with a Lexar 32x SD card, slower cards may impose limits.)
Cycle Time, continuous Unlimited mode, max/min resolution 0.47
(2.14 fps)
Cycle time is the same regardless of resolution. Times are averages. No buffer limit, shoots this fast continuously until the memory card is filled. Zippy! (Tested with a Lexar 32x SD card, slower cards may impose limits.)
Cycle Time, continuous Low mode, max/min resolution 0.47
(2.14 fps)
Cycle time is the same regardless of resolution. Times are averages. Shoots a burst of 4 images this fast in large/fine mode, 7 images in TV mode. Clears the buffer in about 1 second in either mode, and is ready for another burst. (Hard to understand why you'd use this mode, there doesn't seem to be any advantage relative to the "Unlimited" mode above.
Cycle Time, continuous High mode, max/min resolution 0.33
(3.0 fps)
Cycle time is the same regardless of resolution. Times are averages. Shoots a burst of 4 images this fast in large/fine mode, 7 images in TV mode. Clears the buffer in about 1.5 seconds for large/fine mode, 1 second in TV mode, and is ready for another burst. Very fast, although limit of only 4 images in large/fine JPEG mode is a little low, given how fast everything else about this camera is.


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!

 

Operation and User Interface

The Lumix DMC-FZ5's user interface is straightforward and should present a relatively short learning curve if you read through the included manual. (Although there are a lot of features here, so I'd imagine that novice users could easily spend a couple of hours learning them all. Experienced digicam users should be able to come up to speed on the major functions in under an hour though.) I generally prefer to see external access to as many exposure controls as possible, and the DMC-FZ5 does provide a fair amount of control without resorting to the LCD menu system. The camera's Multicontroller controls a wide variety of functions independently of the LCD menu, though the menu itself is quite straightforward. As noted earlier, I also found the FZ5's menu system unusually fast to navigate.


Shutter Button
: Located on the right side of the camera's top panel and surrounded by the Zoom lever, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and when fully depressed, it trips the shutter release. In Self-Timer mode, fully depressing the Shutter button triggers a two- or 10-second countdown before the shutter is released.

Zoom Lever (see image above): Surrounding the Shutter button, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom in any Record mode.

In Review mode, pushing the lever toward the "W" end activates a nine-image index display mode. Pushing the lever to the "T" end digitally enlarges a captured image as much as 16x. When playback zoom is active, pushing the lever back toward the "W" zooms back out.


Mode Dial
: To the left of the Shutter button, this notched dial is used to select the camera's shooting modes as follows:


Optical Image Stabilizer Button
: Directly behind the Shutter button / Zoom lever combo on the top panel, this button accesses the camera's image stabilizer function, which attempts to reduce image blurring caused by camera shake. The stabilizer can be disabled altogether, or can be set to Modes 1 or 2. In Mode 1 the stabilizer functions continuously whenever the shutter button is half-pressed. Mode 2 operates the stabilizer only during the actual image capture, which conserves power and potentially provides a slightly better chance of capturing a blur-free image (when in Mode 1, the stabilizer may already have used much of its available range to correct shake that occurred before the shutter was released, and hence may not have as much latitude to correct the shake during the actual exposure).


Burst Mode Button
: Directly behind the Optical Image Stabilizer button, this button accesses the three Burst modes (High, Low, or Infinity), or returns to the single-shot mode.


Flash Release Button
: Located on the rear panel, just below the pop-up flash compartment, this spring-loaded button mechanically releases the pop-up flash from its closed position.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: Hidden away on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial corrects the viewfinder optics for eyeglass wearers, with a range from +4 to -4. (An unusually wide range.)


EVF/LCD Button
: The first button in a series lining the top of the rear panel, this button switches the viewfinder display between the EVF and LCD monitors.


Display Button
: To the right of the EVF/LCD button, this button controls the image and information displays in Record and Playback modes. In Record mode, pressing the button cycles between the five display modes, which include the image with information, image with information and live histogram, "Out of Frame" display, alignment grid, and image with no information modes.

In Playback mode, pressing the button cycles between the image with information, expanded information and histogram, and no information displays.


Exposure Button
: On the right side of the Display button, this button lets you shift the exposure in Program AE mode. In Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, pressing this button lets you adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed by pressing the button and then using the arrow keys to adjust the selected variable. (As noted in my User Notes above, I felt that this setup was a little awkward to use.) The Program Shift function that let you bias Program-mode exposures towards a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture (as found in the DMC-FZ3 camera) has been removed, which is rather a shame.


Power Switch
: To the right of the Exposure button, this sliding switch turns the camera on or off. Powering the camera on with the Mode dial set to a record mode triggers the lens to extend. (Likewise, turning the camera off causes the lens to retract.)


Menu Button
: Next to the upper right corner of the LCD monitor is the Menu button, which calls up the settings menus on the LCD display in all camera modes. A second press of the Menu button cancels the menu display.


Four-Way Multicontroller
: Located directly to the right of the LCD, the Multicontroller is a four way rocker disk that accesses a variety of camera settings. The arrow keys navigate through menu options and adjust camera settings. In most record modes, the up arrow accesses the Exposure Compensation, Auto Exposure Bracketing, Flash Exposure Compensation, and White Balance Adjustment tools. The right arrow cycles through the available flash modes, while the left arrow cycles through the Self-Timer modes. The down arrow activates a quick review of the most recently captured image.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys navigate through captured images and movie files. When an image has been digitally enlarged, the four arrow keys pan around within the image.


Delete Button
: Adjacent to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the delete menu in Playback and Review modes. When the AF trigger option is set through the Record menu, this button is used to trigger the camera's autofocus system, rather than the more usual half-press of the shutter button doing so.

 

Camera Modes & Menus

Record Menu: The following options are available by pressing the Menu button in any record mode, though some menu options aren't available in all modes:


Scene Menu: If designated through the Setup menu, this menu automatically appears whenever the camera is switched to the Scene mode. If turned off, pressing the Menu button when in Scene mode calls up this page. For each Scene mode option, you can press the left arrow button to receive a brief description of the mode. (No screenshots here, these screens just have a little icon and text name for each mode.)

Play Menu: This menu is only available in the Review mode. It lets you scroll through captured images; erase, protect, and rotate them; or set them up in a slide show or for printing on a DPOF compatible device. The Play menu offers the following selections:


Setup Menu: The Setup menu provides universal camera control options that remain the same in both Shooting and Review modes. This menu is accessed by depressing the Menu button once and scrolling to the right with the Multicontroller. Following are the available settings:


 

Image Storage and Interface

The Panasonic Lumix FZ5 uses SD/MMC memory cards for image storage. A 16MB SD memory card is supplied with the camera - far too small to be of any real use, so you'll want to immediately purchase a larger capacity card to accommodate the large five-megapixel maximum resolution. Entire SD/MMC cards cannot be write-protected except by using the physical switch on the side of the card, however the DMC-FZ5's Play menu allows you to write-protect individual image files, protecting them from accidental erasure, unless the card is formatted.

Still images can be saved at one of six resolutions (2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels or "HDTV," 1,920 x 1,080 pixels), while movie images are recorded at 320 x 240 pixels. Still images also have two JPEG compression levels available: Fine and Normal, plus an uncompressed TIFF setting that records the RGB image with no compression at all.

A full complement of interface software comes with the DMC-FZ5, as does a USB cable for speedy connection to a PC or Macintosh computer.

Following are the approximate resolution / quality and compression ratios for the furnished 16 MB card. (Compression numbers are based on my own computations. - You can see how pointless the 16 MB card is, able to hold only six images at the camera's best JPEG size and quality setting.):

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16 MB Memory Card
Fine Normal
TIFF
2560 x 1920
Images
(Avg size)
6
2.5 MB
12
1.3 MB
0
16.5 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 12:1 -
2048 x 1536
Images
(Avg size)
9
1.6 MB
19
835 KB
1
10.5 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 11:1 -
1600 x 1200 Images
(Avg size)
16
998 KB
30
524 KB
2
6.3 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 11:1 -
1280 x 960 Images
(Avg size)
24
655 KB
44
360 KB
3
4.1 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 10:1 -
640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
75
213 KB
122
131 KB
14
1.1 MB
Approx.
Compression
4:1 7:1 -

The Panasonic DMC-FZ5 connects to a host computer via a USB interface. Downloading files to my Sony desktop running Windows XP (Pentium IV, 2.4 GHz), I clocked it at 804 KBytes/second, a very good rate of speed, if not quite matching the fastest models on the market. (Cameras with slow USB interfaces run as low as 300 KB/s, cameras with fast v1.1 interfaces run as high as 600 KB/s. Cameras with USB v2.0 interfaces run as fast as several megabytes/second.)

 

Video Out

The Panasonic FZ5 has a video-out port that supports both PAL and NTSC timing formats. The video output can be used for reviewing previously recorded images or running slide shows from the camera. It also carries the viewfinder display, so you could use a video monitor as a remote viewfinder if you wanted.


Power

The Panasonic Lumix FZ5 is powered by an internal Panasonic CGA-S002A rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. The camera ships with one battery pack and a charger. An AC Adapter Kit is sold separately, with a power adapter, DC coupler, and power cord.

Because the DMC-FZ5 relies on its LCD display for viewing and selecting some of its settings, it can be somewhat of a drain on the power supply. Fortunately, the camera has an automatic shutdown mode to help conserve battery power, and you can save power by relying on the electronic optical viewfinder whenever possible.

Here are the power consumption numbers I measured for the FZ5, along with the projected run times for various camera operating modes:

Operating Mode
Power
(@8.4 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(7.2V 680 mAh cell)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
242 mA
145
Capture Mode, no LCD
220 mA
159
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
271 mA
129
Half-pressed w/o LCD
240 mA
146
Memory Write (transient)
354 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
510 mA
n/a
Image Playback
133 mA
262

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.

 

Included Software

The Panasonic FZ5 comes with a very nice complement of software on the included CD. Compatible with Windows and Macintosh operating systems, ArcSoft PhotoImpression, Panorama Maker, and PhotoBase applications provide a well-rounded offering of image organization and editing tools. The CD also features USB drivers for both Macintosh and Windows computers.

 

"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.

 

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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