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Panasonic DMC-FZ5Panasonic Digital Camera a Good Prosumer Choice

By Jim Bray

If you’ve been looking for a digital camera that offers more than “Instamatic-type” point and shoot performance, you may want to check out their Lumix DMC-FZ5.

Heck, it’s a good choice even if you want point and shoot convenience, but higher quality and more flexibility than the garden variety digital camera.

This 5 megapixel camera walks the fine line between consumer and professional – the so-called “prosumer” market niche. It may not be up to the standards of the big binary beasties used by newspaper, magazine or portrait photographers, but for someone like me who needs shots I can use for a combination of online and print publication, it gives just about everything one could need.

Naturally, it’s also more expensive than the typical “point and shoot” digital camera, but you get what you pay for. In this case, you pay $429US, which is a decent hunk of change. Fortunately, there’s a lot packed into the FZ5, enough that in my never humble opinion means that this camera provides good value for its intended audience.

First up is a 12x optical zoom coupled to a nice LEICA Vario-elmarit lens, which helps to up the quality ante from the more entry level cameras. The downside is that the lens is larger and, especially when the camera is turned on, sticks out quite far in front. But such is the nature of the beast: if you want an “Instamatic-style” camera you aren’t going to get the advantages of a lens such as this.

Panasonic says the Leica DC Vario-elmarit lens “packs the same zoom power as a big, clunky 400mm-classs film camera lens.” Not having the two side by side to compare, I can’t comment on that – but regardless, the lens does a nice job. Other relevant stats include its aperture range of f2.8 to 3.3 and focal length of 6 to 72 mm (which Panasonic says is like a 35mm film camera’s 36 to 432 mm). The company says this gives you the freedom to craft shots from telephoto to wide angle and macro, which is the sort of stuff the prosumer is undoubtedly looking for.

Bottom line for me was that I took some really nice photos with the Panasonic, including some car photos of some vehicles I was reviewing at the time. I thought the zoom was more than adequate for my purposes and, while it’s always nice to have the capability to zoom in close enough to count the pores on someone’s nose, it’s rare that I would really, really need such. So in the everyday world, at least so far as my needs are concerned, the 12x zoom is just fine.

You also get 4x digital zoom capability and if you combine it with the 12x optical zoom you can get an effective 48x zoom. Beware of such extreme zooming unless you remember to take a tripod with you (extreme zooming can lead to jittery shots since most people can’t hold still enough), but it’s there if you want it.

On the other hand, Panasonic includes MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer to help get around that lack of a tripod issue. It helps steady your shots by using a gyrosensor to detect your hand movements and make the camera compensate. It works pretty well, but nothing’s perfect.

If you’re trying to shoot a quick series of shots, for example action shots during a sports event, this Panasonic lets you take shoot consecutive shots at three frames per second, and you can keep it up until the memory card (or the built in memory) is full. The memory will undoubtedly fill up at the precise instant your perfect shot would happen, but that’s more a case of Murphy’s Law than a design flaw.

Naturally, there is a wide variety of shooting modes, and you can set the camera to take care of things for you automatically (including auto-focus, of course) if you don’t feel like experimenting. I did most of my shooting on automatic to see how it performs and though I did end up with some out of focus shots, for the most part they came out very well. And if you want to sally forth into the world of manual settings, there are enough here to choke a horse.

The 1.8 inch LCD monitor works well, with the usual lag found in such beasts, though as with all such LCD screens it washes out under bright sunlight. I have issues with using LCD screens as a viewfinder outdoors: I have to remove my sunglasses and put on my reading glasses, which slows things down and makes me squint. For that reason (and tradition), I tend to prefer the other, more traditional viewfinder when shooting, using the LCD generally as a failsafe to ensure the shot is laid out properly and for monitoring the shots after the fact.

The Lumix is nicely thought out, with controls logically grouped and falling well to hand and it’s pretty easy to get up to speed without even opening the manual if you have any sort of a photographic background. Labeling, as usual, is very tiny and I have problems with that – but I have this problem with every digital camera I try. It seems to get worse every year, too, so maybe it’s just my middle aged eyes…

The Lumix (which is NOT pronounced “lummox”) is slim and feels very comfortable in the hand.

And of course you can record sound and some video, which I suppose is nice. I can see why one would want to add a commentary to the pictures being shot, but if you want to record video, you should get a camcorder and do it right.

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It’s tough to find anything to fault seriously with this camera. I do think the memory card, at 16 meg, is pretty chintzy – especially if you’re going on a road trip where you expect to take lots of shots. After all, 16 meg allows for only a few five megapixel shots! You also can’t use a conversion lens to increase the camera’s flexibility, though I doubt that’ll be a problem for most people.

Here’s a quick list of some highlights of the Lumix DMC-FZ5, as per Panasonic’s web site:

• MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer
• 5 Megapixel CCD
• Leica DC VARIO-ELMARIT 12x Optical Zoom,
36-432 mm equivalent
• 1.8" LCD Monitor
• Spot / 1 / 3 / 9-Point Auto Focus Metering
• TIFF / JPEG Image Quality
• Pop-up Flash
• Continuous Burst Shooting Mode (with 20MB/sec SD Card)
• Manual Control (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual Mode)
• Motion Image Recording at 30 fps with Audio
• ArcSoft® software package included
Standard Features
• AF Assist Lamp
• Continuous AF
• Light Metering & Flash
• White Balance Adjustment
• Real-Time Histogram
• Composition Guide Lines
• Auto Bracketing
• Color Effect Mode
• Flip Animation
• ISO Sensitivity Settings
• DMC-FZ5K (black)
• DMC-FZ5S (silver)

• Also includes:
• Battery Charger • Battery Pack • SD Memory Card (16 MB) • Lens Cap • Lens Hood • Lens Hood Adapter
• AV Cable • USB Connection Cable • Strap • CD-ROM with Software

Bottom line? For people who want a good digital camera that offers more features, performance and flexibility than the more entry level ones, this Panasonic is well worth consideration.

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