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Panasonic: Three new 12x stabilized zoom digicams (UPDATED)
(Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - 23:18 EDT)

Panasonic USA has today announced three new digital cameras with differing sensors, but similarly styled bodies and 12x zoom MEGA Optical Image Stabilisation lenses.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3, DMC-FZ15 and DMC-FZ20 are billed by the company as "the first digital cameras to combine 12x optical zoom with an optical image stabilizer" - a rather odd claim, since Panasonic's own FZ1, FZ2 and FZ10 all featured 12x optical zoom and image stabilisation. Konica Minolta's four megapixel DiMAGE Z3 (announced two weeks ago) also has an image-stabilized 12x optical zoom lens, but that camera uses a CCD-shift anti-shake system that moves the image sensor rather than elements in the optical path - a different means to the same end.

Stabilized, long-zoom digicams are becoming an increasingly hot category, and Panasonic USA has apparently decided to offer cameras for that segment at all price- and spec-points. (Note that Panasonic Europe doesn't seem to have announced the DMC-FZ15, perhaps feeling there's not enough differentiation between the models).

So - what are the specs? The entry-level DMC-FZ3 features a 3.1 effective megapixel 1/3.2" CCD offering resolutions up to 2016 x 1512 pixels, coupled with a 35 - 420mm equivalent F2.8 lens, 9-point autofocus, 1.5" LCD display with 114,000 pixels plus a 1/3" electronic viewfinder. In terms of exposure capabilities, there's ISO sensitivity from 80 - 400, shutter speeds from 8 - 1/2000 second, apertures from F2.8 - F8, a selection of program, aperture and shutter priority, and manual shooting modes, plus nine scene modes. The camera also offers three color modes (natural, standard and vivid), USB 1.1 connectivity, Secure Digital / MultiMediaCard storage (with a tiny 8MB card bundled with the camera), plus power from a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery.

Almost no details are currently available for the DMC-FZ15, beyond the fact that it uses a 1/2.5", four megapixel image sensor. We'd expect its feature set to lie somewhere in between that of the DMC-FZ3 and DMC-FZ20, however.

The DMC-FZ20 upgrades a number of features aimed at photographers who want a little more control over their images, and who want a more capable camera. The camera offers more AF modes, a Program Shift mode which lets the camera control settings but lets the photographer bias these towards a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture, faster burst modes, and a selection of three-step adjustments (contrast, sharpness, saturation, noise reduction). Hardware changes include a larger 2.0", 130,000 pixel LCD display, external flash hot shoe, support for accessory lenses, and a larger (but still to small to really be useful) 16MB SD card in the package. The FZ20 also uses a larger 1/2.5" CCD image sensor, to help keep noise down - and a different F2.8 12x stabilized lens, since even though the sensor itself is larger, the effective focal length is slightly more telephoto at 36 - 432mm equivalent. The maximum resolution of the DMC-FZ20 is 2560 x 1920 pixels.

The DMC-FZ3 is a much smaller, lighter camera than the DMC-FZ20, at 108 x 68 x 85mm and 326g with battery; the FZ20 is 135 x 87 x 106mm, and 556g with battery.

All three cameras will ship in late summer 2004 in the USA, with pricing set at $399.95 (DMC-FZ3), $499.95 (DMC-FZ15), and $599.95 (DMC-FZ20). We're currently awaiting press images from Panasonic.

UPDATED 2004-07-21 17:04ET: Thanks to reader Geoff Hall for correcting an error in this item. Panasonic's claim in their press release that the newly announced cameras were "the first digital cameras to combine 12x optical zoom with an optical image stabilizer" threw News Editor Mike Tomkins into mis-remembering the Panasonic DMC-FZ1, DMC-FZ2 and DMC-FZ10 as having had 10x stabilized lenses. They actually also featured 12x stabilised lenses, which makes Panasonic's statement all the stranger... Yes, Panasonic did release the first 12x stabilized digicams, but today's announcements aren't those! The item has been amended to correct this error...

Original Source Press Release:

Three new 12X zoom models with optical image stabilizer lead off Panasonic's Lumix digital camera line

First Company to Utilize Leica Lenses in Digital Still Cameras Is Also First To Combine 12x Zoom with an Optical Image Stabilizer

Secaucus, NJ (July 21, 2004) - Panasonic introduces the first digital cameras to combine 12x optical zoom with an optical image stabilizer. Integrating unrivalled optical and digital technologies with ergonomic design, Panasonic's three new 12x zoom Lumix™ models achieve a level of performance never before seen in digital cameras. New models DMC-FZ3 (3-Megapixel), DMC-FZ15 (4-Megapixel) and DMC-FZ20 (5-Megapixel) feature a versatile, high-performance Leica DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens with powerful 12x zoom (equivalent to a 35 - 420mm zoom lens on a conventional 35mm film camera) and F2.8 brightness throughout the entire zoom range. With their extraordinary telephoto features and precision image stabilizers, these cameras are engineered to capture every detail of distant or quick-moving subjects with superb brightness and clarity.

Panasonic's MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer automatically detects and optically compensates for hand movement by shifting internal lens elements, enabling the user to capture crisp, clear, distortion-free ultra-telephoto or macro shots of distant or moving subjects, even in low lighting conditions.

"Photographers, especially those who shoot sports, wildlife or live performances, know that it's difficult to get sharp images if they are using a long lens on a handheld camera. The zoom accentuates every little movement of the hand," commented Monica Helmer, Marketing Manager for Panasonic. "We've incorporated the technology we developed for our camcorders to create Panasonic's MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer, a true optical image stabilizer that uses the full capacity of the camera's CCD to compensate for hand jitter."

These cameras also feature an extra-low dispersion (ED) lens to minimize color aberration (color bleeding) ¾ a common problem in high-magnification / large aperture lenses. ED lenses are typically exchangeable lenses designed for single-lens reflex cameras and high-end, professional cameras.

Panasonic has also improved its innovative Venus Engine LSI, the "brain" of the camera that converts the optical data into digital information. The new Venus 2 Engine LSI handles all image processing functions simultaneously - from displaying the image on the LCD to writing data to the memory card - as soon as the CCD captures the image signal. This simultaneous, parallel processing results in a quick start-up, increased shutter speed and reduced lag time. The improved LSI also allows faster consecutive shooting than its predecessor. If desired, the camera will keep shooting until the memory card is full.

A conventional LSI generates a luminance signal from the green component of the incoming light. Panasonic's Venus 2 Engine LSI generates the signal from the red and blue components, as well as the green. This rich information in the luminance signal helps to boost the diagonal, horizontal and vertical resolution, resulting in superb images. The system also uses a low-pass filter to accurately handle the borders between colors and a noise-reduction circuit to help boost image sharpness and clarity.

All three cameras also include a host of sophisticated features such as MEGA BURSTâ consecutive shooting mode, real-time histogram, auto bracketing, color viewfinder and much more.

Panasonic Lumix 12x Zoom Models

3-Megapixel,1/3.2" CCD
Late summer 2004$399.95
4-Megapixel,1/2.5" CCD
Late summer 2004$499.95
5-Megapixel,1/2.5" CCD
Late summer 2004$599.95

About Panasonic

Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company, a division of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, markets a broad line of digital and other consumer electronics products. Based in Secaucus, N.J., Matsushita Electric Corporation of America is the principal North American subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (NYSE: MC) and the hub of Panasonic's U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations. Additional information on Matsushita Electric Corporation of America and Panasonic is available at www.panasonic.com. Additional company information for journalists is available at www.panasonic.com/pressroom or through the company's toll-free fax-back system at 888-734-7490.

Leica is a registered trademark of Leica Microsystems IR GmbH.

The Leica DC lenses are manufactured using measurement instruments and a quality assurance system that have been certified by Leica Camera AG based on the company's quality standards.

* Manufacturer's suggested retail price. All prices are in U.S. dollars.

All specifications are subject to change without notice.


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