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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 Digital Camera

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Review Date
05/31/05
User Level
Novice to Intermediate
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Some Sports
Digicam Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Excellent, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Good 11 x 17 inches, or 8 x 10 with heavy cropping
Availability
March 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$299

 

Introduction

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
Panasonic's been a player in the digicam market for the last few years, and we've just recently been able to get our hands on several of their cameras to test. The five megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 is the first of the company's L-series cameras we've had the opportunity to review. The Panasonic LZ2 is closely related to the LZ1 which was announced simultaneously, and which we plan to review shortly as well. Both share the same lens and a near-identical body, but the LZ2 has a higher resolution imager, slightly smaller ISO range, and adds a microphone for movie audio, or short clips of audio to accompany images. The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 offers a 6x Lumix DC Vario zoom lens, incorporating Panasonic's own "Mega OIS" Optical Image Stabilization technology. This makes the LZ2 the first camera we've reviewed that features a stabilized lens with less than a 7x zoom range. Panasonic is somewhat unique in this area, offering stabilization on camera models that offer as little as 3x optical zoom, where other manufacturers restrict the feature pretty much exclusively to their long-zoom cameras. While stabilization on a 6x zoom camera like the Panasonic LZ2 is perhaps not as much of a necessity as it would be on a long-zoom digicam, it does make a useful difference in the photos you'll find yourself being able to hand-hold. You'll need a tripod much less often, and those times when a tripod just isn't an option, you won't have to resort to boosting the ISO sensitivity (and noise levels) as much as you might have with a non-stabilized camera. Read on for all the details, but if you're in the market for an affordable digital camera with optical image stabilization, the Panasonic LZ2 could be the camera for you.

 

Camera Overview

With the rather minimalist styling that seems to be a hallmark of the company's Lumix series, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 offers a stabilized Lumix DC Vario 6x optical zoom lens - interestingly, not featuring the Leica branding seen on higher-end Panasonic digital cameras. Measuring 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches (101 x 64 x 33 millimeters), the DMC-LZ2 weighs approximately 7.8 ounces (224 grams) with the battery and storage card installed. The DMC-LZ2's all-plastic, matte-silver body helps keep the camera's weight down, but does tend to feel somewhat cheap. This is a difficult thing to explain, since there's only very minimal creak / flex to the body panels, but was definitely a common comment from several people who had occasion to handle the camera during the review process. With the batteries installed, the camera is balanced. Most of the weight is behind the handgrip, making it reasonably comfortable to hold single-handed. While it definitely won't fit into your shirt pocket, the LZ2 should easily fit in coat pockets and larger purses. An accompanying wrist strap adds a sense of security when shooting with the camera, but you may want to pick up a small camera bag to protect the camera when not in use.

Fairly quick on the draw thanks to a smoothly operating retractable lens design, the Panasonic DMC-LZ2 is a convenient point-and-shoot digital camera with a handful of extra exposure features for further flexibility, plus the added bonus of an optically stabilized lens - unusual in a camera with this form factor and price. With the lens retracted, the DMC-LZ2's front panel still has a half-inch protrusion around the lens barrel, plus a smaller protrusion that serves as the hand grip. Other than these, the body panels are mostly smooth and flat. When extended the lens projects a further inch from the camera's front. Equipped with a 5.0-megapixel CCD, the LZ2 captures high quality images, suitable for making sharp prints as large as 11x17 inches, or 8x10 inches with heavy cropping. Smaller image sizes are also available for email transmission or Web applications, and a movie mode captures video clips with sound. Still images offer two JPEG compression levels: Fine and Normal.

The Panasonic LZ2 features a 6x, 6.1-36.6mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 37-222mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, with either f/2.8 or f/5.6 possible at full wide angle, and either f/4.5 or f/9.0 at full telephoto. A maximum 4x digital zoom option increases the DMC-LZ2's zoom capability to 24x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, because it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD's image. Image details are thus likely to be softer when using digital zoom. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 2.0 inches to infinity (5 centimeters to infinity) in Macro mode. The LZ2 employs a five-point autofocus system to determine focus, which uses a broad active area in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance. Through the menu, you can set the focusing system to use only three or one of these five focusing points, or set the LZ2 to a spot AF mode that measures focus from a smaller point at the very center of the image. The Panasonic LZ2 unfortunately lacks any form of AF assist lamp or manual focus mode, so taking photos in low light can be a little problematic. For composing images, the DMC-LZ2 forgoes an optical viewfinder in favor of a fairly large 2.0-inch color LCD monitor, although at 85,000 pixels the resolution is low. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, including exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed, as well as a record-mode histogram display which reports the tonal distribution of a captured image several times a second, useful in determining any over- or under-exposure. The same information (including the histogram) is available in Playback mode as well.

Most exposure control on the Panasonic DMC-LZ2 is automatic, as might be expected for a point and shoot camera. In lieu of fully manual controls, a series of Scene modes aim to give users some control over their images - although the camera does still provide a handful of manual adjustments. Main camera modes are controlled by a mode dial on the camera's top panel. Choices include Normal (similar to Program Auto on most cameras), Economy (similar to Normal mode, but with several adjustments to save battery life), Macro, Simple (which hides most menu functions from beginners), Scene1 and Scene 2 (with choices being Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night Scenery, Night Portrait, Fireworks, Party, and Snow), Movie, and Playback. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 8 seconds, with the one- to 8-second end of the range only available in the Night Scenery scene mode. In Normal mode, the camera controls everything about the exposure except for image size / quality, flash, ISO sensitivity, white balance, AF mode, self-timer, and burst-mode. Camera operation is straightforward, as you typically just point and shoot most of the time. Pressing the Shutter button halfway sets focus and exposure, and the LCD display (plus an audible beep) let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture. Economy mode provides the exact same controls, but sets the LCD brightness, LCD timeout and automatic power off to values that conserve battery life.

The Scene modes tweak exposure variables to accommodate common photographic situations. 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 sets autofocus priority to infinity. Night Scenery mode extends the slowest shutter speed to eight seconds 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 uses a slow shutter speed, up to 1 second, 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.) Fireworks mode preserves the color and pattern of fireworks by using a slow shutter speed up to 1/4 second 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.

The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 uses an Intelligent Multiple metering system, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates both contrast and brightness among all the zones to determine the best overall exposure. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. A White Balance option offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Halogen, and White Set (manual) settings. A White Balance Adjust function lets you bias the white balance from either a preset or the White Set option, with 21 arbitrary steps (10 either side of the default, towards red or blue). The LZ2 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." What's wrong with that? - These options actually affect the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to the Z5's images, rather than color saturation, as you'd expect. Sensitivity equivalents include 80, 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, as well as an Auto setting. The Panasonic LZ2's built-in flash operates in Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Synch with Red-Eye Reduction, and Forced Off modes.

Three burst modes capture a series of consecutive images for as long as the shutter button is held down (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), with the high-speed burst mode capturing three images in a one second period at the highest resolution / quality. The low-speed mode captures three maximum quality images at two frames per second. An unlimited burst mode captures images for as long as there is available battery life and memory available, at approximately two frames per second. For the former two modes, exposure and white balance are locked at the values set for the first photo; in the unlimited mode, the exposure and white balance can vary from shot to shot. The DMC-LZ2's flash cannot be used in the burst modes. The actual frame rate of all three burst modes vary slightly with the resolution setting, and the maximum number of images will also depend on the amount of memory card space and file size. In high-speed continuous mode though, the LZ2 can capture up to three large/fine JPEG images at a rate of just under three frames/second. This is a pretty good clip, but the three-frame limit is a bit low by current standards. A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small red LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into your own shots. Finally, the self-timer can be used in cooperation with the burst modes, in which case three images are captured automatically at the burst mode speed once the initial timer has completed.

The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as there is available battery life and flash card space, depending on the resolution setting. Movies are recorded at 320 x 240 pixels, with a frame rate of either 30 or 15 fps. Like many cameras, the optical zoom, aperture and focus are fixed from the first frame of the movie onwards. Some cameras allow the digital zoom to be changed during movie recording, but the DMC-LZ2 does not. The optical stabilizer can be used during movie recording (in mode 1 only), as can the Color Effects function, however. The camera's Playback mode allows movies to be paused, and cued in forward or reverse direction, but does not allow you to step through the movie frame by frame, or edit it in-camera.

The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 uses SD/MMC memory cards for image storage. No memory card is supplied with the camera - instead, 14MB of built-in memory is always available on top of any card inserted in the camera. While alone this would be far too small to be of any real use, it is nice to have it available for a handful of shots should you forget to bring a card with you on a short trip. I highly recommend picking up a high capacity card, so you don't miss any shots. These days, 128 - 256MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.

Entire SD/MMC cards can be write-protected by using the physical switch on the side of the card, but if you don't want to remove the card to do so, the DMC-LZ2's Play menu also allows you to write-protect individual image files - protecting them from accidental erasure, unless the card is formatted. Images can also be copied between the built-in memory and SD card, in either direction - allowing you to offload images from the built-in memory without using a USB cable if you have a card reader in your computer, and also allowing the internal memory to be used to keep your favorite images close to hand.

The camera utilizes two standard AA cells for power - either Alkaline or Oxyride disposables, or NiMH rechargeables. A pair of Oxyride disposable cells accompanies the camera. As always I recommend picking up at least two sets of high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a set freshly charged at all times. Read my NiMH battery shootout page to see which batteries currently on the market are the best, and see my review of the Maha C-204W NiMH battery charger, my current favorite. The optional AC adapter kit may also prove a useful purchase for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, or if you do a lot of shooting with the camera on a tripod. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and corrections. A software CD accompanies the camera, containing PhotoImpression and PhotoBase by Arcsoft for both Mac and Windows platforms, which provide photo manipulation and organization functions respectively. Also included for Windows users is the SD Viewer program, for creating slide shows, as well as USB Driver software and copies of Apple Quicktime and Adobe's Acrobat Reader. Finally, an A/V cable connects the LZ2 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The LZ2 is Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) and PictBridge compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 2.0-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • 6x, 6.1-36.6mm lens, equivalent to a 37-222mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum 4x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, with Long Shutter mode for longer exposures.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 8 seconds.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.5, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • 14MB of built-in memory
  • SD memory card slot for expanded storage
  • Power supplied by two AA Oxyride, Alkaline or NiMH batteries, or optional AC adapter kit.
  • Software CD included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound. (320 x 240 pixels, at up to 30 frames/second.)
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Audio Dub option for recording captions.
  • Intelligent Multiple exposure metering.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes, including a Custom setting.
  • White Balance Adjust function allows fine-tuning of preset or custom white balance
  • Color Effects including Cool, Warm, Black and White, and Sepia
  • Adjustable image sharpening
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
  • A/V cable for connection to a television set.

 

Recommendation

Panasonic's Lumix series of digital cameras have proven to be very popular option with consumers, thanks to a combination of competitive prices, good resolution and feature-set, and the fact that almost every current model offers optical image stabilization (a feature other manufacturers seem to reserve only for their long-zoom digicams). The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 (and its sibling the -LZ1) were announced simultaneously at the 2005 Photo Marketing Association tradeshow, and mark the entry level for the Lumix line. Both cameras share the same lens and body design, with the only differences being in the choice of image sensor (four megapixel for the LZ1, and five megapixel for the LZ2), plus the addition of a microphone to the higher-spec LZ2 model that is the subject of this review. Although exposure control is mainly automatic, the availability of exposure times as long as 8 seconds and adjustable ISO increases the camera's exposure versatility a great deal. The uncomplicated user interface helps novices and more advanced amateurs alike feel at home, and a generous selection of scene modes gives some sense of control over the final image. The really big news with the LZ2 though, is its 6x optically-stabilized zoom lens, and its price point: If you're looking for a long-zoom digital camera with optical image stabilization (a very worthwhile feature), there just isn't anything on the market that can touch the LZ2 at anywhere near its price. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 makes a good "all around" camera for anyone with the long, stabilized zoom an impressive bonus, and would be a credible second camera for enthusiasts for those times when they don't want to lug along their full-size all-the-bells-and-whistles digital SLR.

 

Design

With the minimalist styling that's been a hallmark of the company's Lumix lineup, the Panasonic DMC-LZ2 looks clean and functional, with a 6x Lumix DC Vario optical zoom lens that dominates the front panel. Measuring 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches (101 x 64 x 33 millimeters), the DMC-LZ2 weighs approximately 7.8 ounces (222 grams) with the battery and storage card installed. The DMC-LZ2's all-plastic, matte-silver body helps keep the camera's weight down, but does tend to give the initial reaction that it feels somewhat cheap. There's very little creak or flex to any of the body panels, but this was the first impression 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 wrist strap offers a sense of security when carrying the camera - but I'd also recommend picking up at least a small camera bag to protect the lens.

The front of the Panasonic LZ2 is dominated by the telescoping 6x Lumix DC Vario zoom lens, and to its right (as seen from the camera's rear) the smooth metal-effect handgrip. At the very top of the camera's front panel, just to the right of the lens, is the red LED light emitter that serves as the self-timer countdown indicator. At the very top left-hand corner of the front panel is the built-in flash strobe. The handgrip really doesn't serve much of a purpose, as it is too close to the camera's edge to really give much useful grip. Instead, I found it easier to let my fingertips rest against the edge of the lens collar, and gently squeeze the camera between thumb and fingers so as not to let it slip. A two-handed hold was even more comfortable, and probably my most common shooting style with the camera.

The right side of the Panasonic DMC-LZ2 (as viewed from the back) features only the SD / MMC card slot, and an eyelet for the wrist strap. The card slot is concealed behind a hinged plastic door that swings closed and then pushes inward just slightly to lock it in place. The metal-effect handgrip from the front of the camera follows around to this side of the camera as well.

The opposite side of the camera is featureless except for a hinged, rubber door that covers the connector compartment. This compartment houses the Audio / Video port which doubles as the Digital Out port, and also contains the DC In connector terminal. The compartment door pulls out with a fingernail, and attaches to the camera body with a thin rubber cord that is part of the door molding..

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2's top panel features a Mode dial near the center, along with the Shutter button, Zoom lever, Optical Image Stabilizer button, and Power switch. The Zoom lever surrounds the Shutter button, which has a good "feel" for the difference between a half and full press. A single hole just to the left of the Mode dial is the camera's microphone.

The majority of the exposure controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the 2.0" LCD monitor. Near the top right corner, just to the right of the LCD display, is the Display button. Directly below this is a group of four buttons that acts as a Four-way Arrow Pad. Lining the bottom of the camera's right, below the Arrow Pad, are the Menu and Burst / Delete buttons. A textured thumb grip at the very top right corner of the camera's rear reinforces the modest handgrip on the camera's right side.

The Panasonic DMC-LZ2's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the battery compartment at the right of the camera, and a threaded plastic tripod mount near the left rear corner. The tripod mount is positioned off-center from the lens, and is too close to the corner of the camera to provide a stable platform. The tripod mount should be far enough from the battery compartment to allow for quick battery changes (something I'm probably more sensitive to than most users, given the amount of on-tripod shooting I do).

 

Camera Operation

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2'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-LZ2 does provide a fair amount of control without resorting to the LCD menu system. When needed, the menu system itself is straightforward, and the Setup menu is always available regardless of camera mode.

Record Mode Display: In any record mode, the LCD display shows either the image area with information, image with information and live histogram, alignment grid, and image with no information modes. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available displays. When the information display is active, it reports battery life, resolution and image quality settings, the number of available images, Record mode, orientation, and a handful of exposure settings (including the predicted aperture and shutter speed).

Playback Mode Display: Playback mode also offers three display modes, including the image only, the image with information, and the image with expanded information and a histogram. You can also display as many as nine thumbnail images at a time on-screen with the index display mode, or zoom in by up to 16x on captured images to check fine details, focus, or framing.

External Controls


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: 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 and slightly behind the Shutter button, this notched dial on the camera's top panel is used to select the camera's shooting modes as follows:

  • Normal Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with all variables except for image size / quality, optical / digital zoom, flash mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance, AF mode, self-timer, and burst mode set automatically.
  • Economy Mode: Provides the exact same controls as Normal mode, but sets the LCD brightness, LCD timeout and automatic power off to values that conserve battery life.
  • Macro Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, and allows you to take close-up pictures of your subject. Whereas regularly the camera will only focus as close as 50cm (regardless of zoom setting), in Macro mode the camera can focus as close as 5cm at the wide position (the camera can actually still focus to infinity in Macro mode, although it may take longer to hunt for focus since the overall zoom range is wider).
  • Simple Mode: This would be the "green" or "Auto" mode on other cameras, Panasonic calls it the "Simple" mode. In this mode, most user options are removed, allowing control only over image resolution (with options of "Enlarge," "4x6," or "E-Mail), Battery Type (Alkaline / NiMH or Oxyride), Beep (off/low/high), and Clock Set. Continuous-mode options are reduced to a single choice, and instead of exposure compensation adjustments, the up arrow on the four-way controller simply toggles a Backlight option. Flash options are reduced to just Off, On, and Auto with Red-Eye Reduction. The self-timer function offers only a 10-second option, and the image Stabilizer is permanently set to Mode 1.
  • Scene Modes: Both the SCN1 and SCN2 positions on the Mode dial set the camera for image capture, and access all of the nine preset scene modes. The reason for the duplication on the Mode dial is that through the setup menu, you can opt for the last used scene mode to be automatically selected when entering the Scene mode - allowing you to leave the SCN1 and SCN2 options set to different Scene modes you frequently use. Alternatively, you can set the camera to automatically present you with a menu listing all available modes when either scene mode is entered. Scene mode choices are Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night Scenery, Night Portrait, Fireworks, Party, and Snow.
  • Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at 320 x 240 pixels. The actual amount of recording time is limited only by the capacity of the SD card in the camera (and of course the remaining battery life). A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, including exposure compensation, white balance, frame rate, AF mode, digital zoom, optical stabilization, and color effect. However, once recording starts, the aperture, optical and digital zoom, and focus are locked for the duration of recording.
  • Playback Mode: This mode allows you to scroll through captured images and movies, write-protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices, as well as play movies.


Optical Image Stabilizer Button
: Directly to the right of 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. 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 just before the shutter was released, and hence may not have as much latitude to correct the shake during the actual exposure).


Power Switch: Directly behind the Optical Image Stabilizer 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.)


Display Button: On the rear of the camera, directly to the right of the LCD display, this button controls the image and information displays in Record and Playback modes. In Record mode, pressing the button cycles between the four display modes, which include the image with information, image with information and live histogram, 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.


Four-Way Arrow Pad: Located directly below the Display button, this group of four buttons accesses a variety of camera settings. Menu options are navigated and camera settings adjusted using the buttons as arrow keys. In addition, in most record modes the up arrow accesses the Exposure Compensation, Auto Exposure Bracketing, 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 Simple mode, the Up arrow instead activates a backlight compensation feature.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys navigate through captured images and movie files. The down arrow key starts or stops movie playback. While a movie is playing, the left and right arrow keys cue through the movie, while the up arrow key pauses the movie. When an image has been digitally enlarged, the four arrow keys pan around within the image.


Menu Button: Next to the bottom 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 further press of the Menu button cancels the menu display.


Burst Mode / Delete Button: Directly to the right of the Menu button. In most record modes, this button accesses the three Burst modes (High, Low, or Infinity), or returns to the single-shot mode. In Playback and Review modes this button pulls up the delete menu.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or movies, with a range of options available through the settings menu. The Exposure Mode dial sets the exposure control mode. The LCD menu - accessed by pressing the Menu button in any record mode - provides the following exposure options (some options are not available in all modes):

  • Record Menu: Available in all record modes, but depending on camera setup, it may take a second press of the Menu button to access the menu from the Scene modes. The Record menu offers the following selections:
    • White Balance: Sets the white balance to Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Halogen, Manual, or White Set modes. (White Set isn't a separate white balance mode, it's just the option for manually setting the white point that's selected by the Manual option.)
    • Motion Rate: (Movie mode only.) Sets the frame rate to 30 or 10 frames per second for movie files.
    • Sensitivity: Adjusts the camera's sensitivity setting. Choices are Auto, 80, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
    • Picture Size: Sets image resolution to 2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels, plus an "HDTV" setting (1,920 x 1,080 pixels).
    • Quality: Sets the image compression to Fine or Standard.
    • Audio Recording: When enabled, causes the camera to record five seconds of audio with each still photo. (Audio recording isn't available when shooting in one of the camera's continuous modes.)
    • AF Mode: Sets the AF area mode to Five-Area, Three-Area, One-Area, or Spot.
    • Slow Shutter: Selects the slowest shutter speed the camera can use, giving you some measure of control over exposure in poor lighting conditions. Choices are 1/8th, 1/4, 1/2, or 1 second, although this is only a baseline - the camera may still choose a faster shutter speed if its exposure metering determines that there is enough light to do so.
    • Digital Zoom: Enables or disables the digital zoom option.
    • Color Effect: Selects a color effect, with options of Cool, Warm, Black and White, or Sepia.
    • Picture Adjust: Offers three settings - Natural, Standard or Vivid. The natural setting gives a softer image, while the Vivid setting offers increased sharpness, as compared to the default Standard setting.

  • Scene Menu: If designated through the Setup menu, this menu automatically appears whenever the camera is switched to the SCN1 or SCN2 scene modes. If turned off, pressing the Menu button when in either 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.
    • Portrait: Utilizes a larger aperture to decrease the depth of field, and emphasizes flesh tones, resulting in a sharply focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background.
    • Sports: Employs a faster shutter speed to "freeze" fast-moving action.
    • Scenery: This mode fixes focus at infinity, and is best for capturing wide vistas and landscapes.
    • Night Scenery: In this mode, the camera slows the shutter speed to as long as 8 seconds, capturing more ambient light and preserving color in darker exposures. (The flash is disabled.)
    • Night Portrait: As with the mode above, the camera uses a slower shutter speed for better color in night shots. However, the flash is set to Slow-Sync with Red-Eye Reduction mode.
    • Fireworks: Here, the camera uses a slower shutter speed and enhances color slightly to capture the full pattern and color of fireworks.
    • Party: 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. Biases white balance for indoor lighting.
    • Snow: This mode adjusts the white balance and exposure to counter the bright snowy areas of the scene, preventing the camera being fooled into underexposing the shot.
  • Play Menu: This menu is only available in the Review mode. It lets you erase, protect, and rotate captured images or movies; or set up images for printing on a DPOF compatible device. The Play menu offers the following selections:
    • Rotate Display: Selects whether images that were tagged as rotated by the camera's orientation sensor, or using the next menu option, should be shown rotated on the LCD display.
    • Rotate: Rotates captured images 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
    • Protect: Write protects the currently displayed image, protecting it from accidental deletion, except by card formatting. There's also an option for protecting multiple images at once, or to cancels protection of images.
    • DPOF Print: Marks individual or multiple images for printing on a DPOF compatible printer, or cancels marking of images.
    • Slide Show: Automatically plays all images or only DPOF selected files in a slide show format. You can designate the display interval for images from one to five seconds, and audio can be enabled or disabled.
    • Audio Dub.: Lets record a brief audio clip (max. 10 seconds) to attach to the currently reviewed image.
    • Resize: Lets you resize an image to a smaller resolution and save a separate copy.
    • Trimming: Sort of like a cropping function, this option lets you "trim" an image and save it as a separate file. To trim the image, you use the Playback zoom and pan functions to select the area of the image that you want to retain on the display, and then press the shutter button to save the cropped image.
    • Copy: Allows you to copy images from the built-in memory to an SD / MMC card, or vice versa.
    • Format: Formats the SD/MMC card or internal memory, erasing all files (including those that were protected using the Protect menu option).
  • 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:
    • Battery Type: Selects whether Alkaline / NiMH or Oxyride batteries are in use. This affects the display of battery life remaining, ensuring that it is accurate for the type of batteries you're using. If you forget to set this, the only ill effect is that the camera may not show remaining battery life correctly.
    • Monitor: Adjusts the brightness level of the LCD monitor in seven steps.
    • Auto Review: Disables the automatic image review, or sets the review time to one or three seconds. A Zoom option displays the captured image for one second, then zooms it 4x for one second. The Zoom option does not zoom images shot in burst mode, with auto-bracketing, or with audio clips recorded.
    • Power Save: Lets you enable or disable the camera's auto power off feature, and change the time before the LCD display "sleeps" to 1, 2, 5, or 10 minutes.
    • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sound on or off, with low and high volume settings.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
    • No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new SD/MMC card (Yes setting), or continues file numbering from card to card (No setting). (Continuous file numbering is very handy to avoid accidentally overwriting images you've previously copied to your computer's hard drive.)
    • Reset: Resets all record-menu settings to their factory defaults.
    • USB Mode: Sets the USB mode to PC or PictBridge (PTP).
    • Video Out: Sets the video output timing to NTSC or PAL. (NTSC for the US and Japan, PAL for most of Europe.)

    • Scene Menu: Options are Off or Auto. If Off, the camera automatically reverts the previously used Scene selection when the Mode dial is turned to SCN1 or SCN2. If set to Auto, the Scene menu automatically appears when the mode dial is rotated to one of the SCN positions.
    • Language: Changes the menu language to one of seven languages. (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese Traditional, or Japanese.)

 

In the Box

Packaged with the Lumix DMC-LZ2 are the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Audio / Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Two AA Oxyride disposable batteries.
  • Software CD-ROM.
  • Operating manuals and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories

 

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...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlit"
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the LZ2.

 

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-LZ2's "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Lumix DMC-LZ2 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Lumix DMC-LZ2 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!

  • Color: Generally good color, though a tendency toward a warm cast. The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 often produced a slight warm cast in my testing, most notably with the Auto white balance, but it did fairly well with natural daylight. Indoors, it struggled quite a bit with the household incandescent lighting of my "Indoor Portrait" test, but the manual white balance handled this difficult light source very well. (Few consumers learn how to use their cameras' Manual white balance options, but it's well worth the small investment of time to do so.) Like most consumer digital cameras, the Panasonic LZ2 tends to oversaturate bright colors (primarily bright reds, greens, and blues), but does manage to hold skin tones in check, making for natural-looking people shots. Overall, consumers should like the Panasonic LZ2's bright color, while more experienced users may find it a little bright.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but high contrast. The DMC-LZ2 handled my test lighting well, though the camera's high contrast led to lost highlight detail under the deliberately harsh lighting of my "Sunlit" Portrait test and outdoor house shot. Shadow detail was generally quite good though. Indoors, the camera required average positive exposure compensation, though the Indoor Portrait test really needed slightly longer exposure times than the maximum 1/8 second provided in programmed exposure mode. Flash exposures required a bit less than average amount of positive exposure compensation. Overall, pretty good results.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Good resolution, 1,350 lines of "strong detail." The DMC-LZ2 performed about average on the "laboratory" resolution test chart with its five-megapixel CCD. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 900, maybe 1,000, lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,400 lines horizontally, 1,350 vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,800 lines.

  • Image Noise: Moderate image noise even at ISO 80, but very tolerable levels up to ISO 200. High, obtrusive image noise at ISO 400 though. The Panasonic DMC-LZ2's image showed a fair bit of noise even at ISO 80 and 100, although most users won't notice this unless they look at the blue channel in isolation. Surprisingly, it didn't increase all that much at ISO 200, although some roughness in areas of higher contrast was evident. At ISO 400, there was a lot of blotchy yellow/blue color noise, and a rough, almost "painterly" appearance in areas of high contrast and around the edges of objects. ISO 400 shots printed at 8x10 inches looked almost like impressionist paintings. At 5x7, ISO 400 results were still rough, but might be acceptable to some users. At 4x6, ISO 400 shots showed some color noise, but would probably be fine for most uses. ISO 200 photos looked pretty good, even at 8x10.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with good detail. Flash has trouble though. The DMC-LZ2 captured a small macro area, measuring 2.07 x 1.55 inches (53 x 39 millimeters). Resolution was high, and details well defined. The camera's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the frame while creating a dark shadow in the lower right corner though, so plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots.

  • Night Shots: Limited low-light capabilities, though a good color balance. Fairly high noise in normal exposure mode, low noise in Night Scenery mode. Adequate exposure and autofocus performance for typical city night scenes. The DMC-LZ2 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) light level, only at ISOs 200 and 400. At ISOs 80 and 100, images were only bright to one foot-candle (11 lux), though even here, the target was slightly dim. Noise was moderately high in most shots, and increased to a much higher level at ISOs 200 and 400. In Night Scenery mode, the camera can shoot down to 1/4 foot-candle but with less image noise because it sets the sensitivity to ISO 80. This mode limits the focusing range to 16.4 feet (5 meters) and out though. The camera's autofocus system works down to about 1/4 foot-candle. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the DMC-LZ2 should do OK at after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings, as long as they're reasonably well lit.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: An accurate LCD monitor. The Panasonic DMC-LZ2's LCD monitor was almost exactly 100 percent accurate at both wide angle and telephoto lens settings.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle, low pincushion at telephoto. High chromatic aberration, and fairly strong blurring in the corners. Geometric distortion was a bit higher than average on the Panasonic LZ2, as I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion at the wide angle end. The telephoto end did quite a bit better, as I found only 0.1 percent pincushion distortion (about three pixels) there. Chromatic aberration was moderate to high at wide angle, moderate to low at telephoto. (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.) Additionally, the DMC-LZ2 had a tendency to produce very soft corners, especially toward the telephoto end of the zoom range.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle TimesFairly fast startup/shutdown, average shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times. The word that best seems to describe the Panasonic DMC-LZ2's speed is "average." It's faster than average when starting up and shutting down, but full-autofocus shutter lag is solidly average at 0.75-0.86 second, and shot to shot cycle times are on the slow side of average, at a little over 2 seconds per shot. Where the LZ2 does really fly though, is when you "prefocus" it by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself. In this mode, the shutter delay when you finally do snap the shot is an amazing 0.013 second. (A good choice for sports, but only if you can prefocus on the subject in this fashion.)

  • Battery Life: Very good battery life. With a worst-case run time of almost two hours and 20 minutes with 1600 mAh NiMH cells (or just over 3 hours with cells having a true capacity of 2100 mAh), the LZ2's battery life is much better than average. I do recommend that you pick up a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good-quality charger to use with the camera though. Read my battery shootout page to see which cells are best, and read my review of the Maha C-204W charger, to learn why it's my current favorite.

  • Print Quality: Slightly soft for 5-megapixel camera, but acceptable prints at 11x14 inches, sharp at 8x10. High ISO shots rough at 8x10 inches, OK at 5x7, good at 4x6. 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 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2's prints looked a tad softer than average among the five-megapixel cameras that I've tested when printed at 11x14 inches, but most users will likely find them entirely acceptable, and at 8x10, they looked crisp and sharp. ISO 400 shots were problematic when printed at any size over 4x6 inches, but many users would probably find them acceptable at 5x7. By contrast, ISO 200 images looked quite good, would be acceptable for many uses even when printed at 8x10 inches.

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Nice long (6x) zoom lens
  • Optical stabilization helps greatly for hand holding the camera in dim lighting
  • Despite oversaturation of bright colors, skin tones look good
  • Very good battery life
  • Accurate LCD viewfinder
  • Fairly fast startup/shutdown
  • Very fast shutter response when "prefocused" first. (Normal shutter lag is about average though.)
  • Good macro focusing capability
  • Optional histogram displays in both record and playback modes.
  • High contrast, has trouble with harsh lighting
  • Bright colors are rather oversaturated
  • Images a little soft for a five-megapixel camera
  • High image noise at ISO 400
  • High barrel distortion at wide angle, soft corners in images at telephoto
  • Flash has trouble on the closest macro shots (use external lighting)
  • So-so low light exposure & autofocus capability (but OK for typical city street scenes at night)
  • Limited in-camera storage, plan on buying a large SD memory card
  • So-so movie mode

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 is a pretty unique digital camera, there really isn't anything else like it on the market from any of the other manufacturers. It packs a 6x zoom lens into a surprisingly compact body, and throws in Panasonic's excellent MegaOIS Optical Image Stabilization technology for good measure. Image stabilization is becoming more of a factor in the market these days, and with good reason, as it really makes long-ratio zoom lenses a lot more useful than they would be otherwise. Along with the long, stabilized zoom lens, the Panasonic LZ2 also offers 5-megapixel resolution, very bright color without oversaturating skin tones, good macro focusing, and excellent battery life. The downsides are that its images get soft in the corners at the telephoto end of its range, shots captured at ISO 400 are noisy, and its low light shooting and focusing capability is a little limited (but still OK for typical city night scenes). None of these are by any means fatal flaws though: The Panasonic DMC-LZ2 is a fine little camera, and clearly one of the best bargains on the market for a long-zoom, optically stabilized digital camera. It just missed being named a "Dave's Pick," but it deserves your very serious consideration if you're looking for a long-zoom camera on a budget. - You really can't match its combination of 5 megapixels, 6x zoom and optical image stabilization for anywhere near its price, and its compact body design is an added plus.

 

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