Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
High resolution and extended zoom range plus a wide variety of user-operated controls in an SLR-sized camera body.As the ninth model in Panasonic’s ‘FZ’ series of 12x zoom cameras, the DMC-FZ50 is a sizeable step-up from its predecessor, with higher sensor resolution. It also sports a new Venus Engine III image processor chip. The higher-resolution sensor has extended the ‘extra optical zoom’ function to 21.4x at 3.2-megapixel resolution, compared with 19.1x for FZ30, while the new processor has improved overall performance. But otherwise, little has changed. . . [more]
As the ninth model in Panasonic’s ‘FZ’ series of 12x zoom cameras, the DMC-FZ50 is a sizeable step up from its predecessor, with higher sensor resolution. It also sports a new Venus Engine III image processor chip. The higher-resolution sensor has extended the ‘extra optical zoom’ function to 21.4x at 3.2-megapixel resolution, compared with 19.1x for FZ30, while the new processor has improved overall performance. But otherwise, little has changed.
The FZ50’s body is marginally larger but also slightly lighter than its predecessor and carries the same Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens and ‘Mega OIS’ image stabiliser. However, it’s bigger than some of the latest DSLRs and not quite as comfortable to use. Like many manufacturers, Panasonic is complementing optical image stabilisation with ISO adjustment to minimise blurring due to camera shake and subject motion. Selectable via sensitivity menu, the new ‘Intelligent iISO’ control detects subject movement and automatically sets sensitivity and shutter speed to match the subject. For stationary subjects, a low ISO setting is selected, while the ISO setting is boosted for moving subjects.
As in earlier models, the Mega OIS can be switched off, although it is so useful for tele shots, close-ups, night portraits and candids that most users of the FZ50 will elect to keep it on – at least in Mode 2 (active for the exposure only) most of the time. This mode appears to have minimal impact on power drain. Like its predecessor, the FZ50 provides full manual control of zooming and focusing via rings on the lens, and the lens barrel also has a focus mode switch for selecting manual or auto focus or macro AF. One-Shot AF is available in manual mode with a single press of the button.
Aperture and shutter speed adjustments are handled by two dials located under the index finger and the thumb, allowing photographers to adjust exposure compensation directly. A new Function Button provides direct access to image format, recording image size, light metering, AF area, white balance and ISO sensitivity settings. Frequently-used groups of settings can be memorised and applied via a new Custom Setting mode.
Additional facilities are provided for fine-tuning white balance settings. As well as the Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Flash, and White Set modes provided on the FZ30, the FZ50 allows photographers to adjust image colour along two axes: amber to blue and green to magenta. This control is available in all shooting modes except full auto. Photographers can also superimpose one of two composition guide lines on the LCD or EVF – a rule of thirds grid or grid plus diagonals – to aid shot composition.
The redesigned monitor interface makes it easier to select certain camera settings.
The 2.0-inch LCD monitor has been given a brightness boost and the Venus Engine III claims faster start-up and shutter response times – which was supported by our tests. Battery life has also been extended from 280 to 360 shots (based on the CIPA standard).
Panasonic has also added a new Wide Aspect VGA Motion Picture Mode, which records movie clips at 840 x 480 pixel resolution and 30 frames/second in addition to the standard VGA mode. Designed for display on wide screen TV sets, these WVGA movies are captured with a pixel mixed readout method performed by the CCD and contain plenty of detail. You can also zoom when recording video clips. The FZ50 also provides Travel Date, Calendar Display and World Time functions.
The FZ50 supports JPEG and Raw file capture and comes with SilkyPix Developer Studio 2.0SE software for opening and editing the latter. This application is relatively easy to use and allows files to be saved in TIFF (8-bit or 16-bit) or JPEG format. However, it’s not nearly as intuitive or quite as functional as Adobe Camera Raw.
On test the FZ50 delivered excellent pictures with a slightly wider than average dynamic range in JPEG images at the highest resolution setting – and marginally better Raw files. Focusing was mostly fast and accurate, even in dim lighting, although the camera had problems with distant subjects in full darkness. High-resolution JPEGs were essentially artefact-free and colours were reproduced with above average accuracy, although saturation was slightly elevated. Imatest showed resolution to be good – but slightly below expectations for a 10-megapixel sensor. Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible and no coloured fringing was observed in outdoor shots. Close-up performance was very good.
White balance performance was also good, although the auto setting didn’t quite remove the orange cast of incandescent lighting. However the pre-sets and manual white balance measurement functions delivered excellent results. Flash performance was also very good right down to ISO 100, although we noticed a warmish cast at high ISO settings. Image noise was obvious at ISO 800 and above and images appeared soft due to noise-reduction processing. Video performance was slightly better than the FX07. The wide-aspect VGA clips looked great at 30 fps but the mono audio was a bit disappointing. However, the ability to zoom while shooting and the image stabilisation were real benefits when recording video clips.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.7 seconds, which reduced to 0.2 seconds with pre-focusing. Burst capture is limited by large file sizes, with the Standard mode allowing up to five shots to be recorded at two or one frames/second and in Fine mode only three shots at half-second intervals. It took just over a second to display a captured image and five seconds to process each Raw file. Shot-to-shot times with flash averaged 1.7 seconds.
Image sensor: 7.18 x 5.32 mm CCD with 10.4 million photosites (10.1 megapixels effective)
Lens: Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 7.4-88.8mm f2.8-3.7 zoom (35-420mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 12x optical, 2x or 4x digital
Image formats: Stills ““ JPEG (Exif 2.2), RAW; Movies ““ QuickTime Motion JPEG (848×480 or VGA/QVGA at 30/10 fps)
Image Sizes: 3648 x 2736, 3264 x 2448, 2560 x 1920 in 4:3 aspect ratio; 3584 x 2016, 3072 x 1728, 1920 x 1080 in 16:9 aspect ratio; 3600 x 2400, 3248 x 2160, 2560 x 1712 in 3:2 aspect ratio
Shutter speed range: 8-1/2000 second (to 60 sec. in manual mode)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
Focus system/range: 1-, 3- or 9-point AF; range 50 cm to infinity, macro 5-30 cm (tele 200 cm to infinity)
Exposure metering/control: Intelligent multiple/centre/spot metering; P, A, S and M settings plus 19 Scene modes in 2 banks plus High Sensitivity mode
White balance: Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, flash, white set ½
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto and slow sync (with & without red-eye reduction), forced on/off; -2 to +2 EV flash output adjustment; range 0.3-7.0 m
ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 (ISO 3200 in High Sensitivity mode)
Sequence shooting: 2 fps for 5 high-resolution images; 1 fps unlimited
Storage Media: SD and SDHC memory cards
Viewfinder: 0.44-inch colour EVF (235,000 pixels), 100% field of view
LCD monitor: Free-angle 2.0-inch polycrystalline TFT (235,000 pixels)
Power supply: 7.2 V lithium-ion rechargeable battery (360 shots by CIPA Standard)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 140.75 x 85.5 x 142 mm
Weight: 668 grams (without battery and card)
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