DPInterface Panasonic Lumix FZ50 Review
Brad Soo - November 30th, 2006

The Lumix FZ50 is Panasonic's latest top-of-the-line fixed lens camera. It still has the 12X stabilized lens from the FZ30 but now it adds 10 megapixels of resolution and all these:

  • New processor (Venus Engine III)
  • New TTL hotshoe
  • 3 sets of custom settings stored on mode dial
  • High sensitivity up to ISO 1600 with Intelligent ISO
  • Lower resolution LCD but increased rotating angle
  • Widescreen and 3:2 sizes added (Movie mode only adds the latter)
  • Improved battery life and support for SDHC cards (Above 2 GB)
  • Worse continuous shooting performance (Okay, so this is a step down)

The FZ50 retails for slightly less than $500 at this time of writing. So, go for it or look at an entry-level digital SLR?

Size and Weight

How bulky is the dSLR-like FZ50:

(266.9)  113.4 x 78.0 x 75.5 mm (410 g) - Canon PowerShot S3 IS
(285.7)  126.5 x 94.2 x 65.0 mm (510 g) - Canon Digital Rebel XTi
(347.4)  130.7 x 97.2 x 119.5 mm (570 g) - Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd
(350.0)  128.0 x 93.0 x 129.0 mm (650 g) - Fujifilm FinePix S9100
(189.7)  111.0 x 55.5 x 23.2 mm (160 g) - Kodak EasyShare V610
(247.0)  104.0 x 74.0 x 69.0 mm (300 g) - Kodak EasyShare Z612
(227.5)  112.5 x 74.5 x 40.5 mm (220 g) - Nikon Coolpix S10
(284.0)  126.0 x 94.0 x 64.0 mm (475 g) - Nikon D40
(312.0)  132.0 x 103.0 x 77.0 mm (585 g) - Nikon D80
(299.0)  140.0 x 87.0 x 72.0 mm (550 g) - Olympus E330
(273.5)  129.5 x 91.0 x 53.0 mm (375 g) - Olympus E400
(250.0)  105.5 x 74.5 x 70.0 mm (325 g) - Olympus SP510 UZ
(368.3)  140.8 x 85.5 x 142.0 mm (668 g) - Panasonic Lumix FZ50
(263.7)  112.5 x 72.2 x 79.0 mm (310 g) - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
(210.3)  112.0 x 58.1 x 40.2 mm (264 g) - Panasonic Lumix TZ1
(312.5)  141.5 x 101.0 x 70.0 mm (710 g) - Pentax K10D
(292.0)  129.5 x 92.5 x 70.0 mm (560 g) - Pentax K100D
(301.1)  135.5 x 87.0 x 78.6 mm (871 g) - Samsung Pro815
(299.0)  133.0 x 95.0 x 71.0 mm (545 g) - Sony Alpha 100
(290.2)  113.2 x 83.0 x 94.0 mm (389 g) - Sony Cyber-shot H5

The FZ50 is the largest ultra-zoom camera in the market and its weight is good enough to make it feel stable and solid. The FZ50 even outweighs and is bulkier than most other digital SLRs (without any lens attached).

Open up the Box

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 includes most of the essentials for a big zoom camera:

  • 32 MB Secure Digital Card
  • Rechargeable CGR-S006A lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap and strap
  • Lens hood and adapter
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

Instead of building in memory, Panasonic has included a redundant 32 MB card with the camera. You'd wanna get at least a 1 GB high-speed Secure Digital card when buying the FZ50. Or better yet, a 2 GB card if you're planning to shoot RAW and movies. And make that high-speed please, since the camera's performance improves quite a bit with that.

550 shots - Canon PowerShot S3 IS
300 shots - Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd*
340 shots - Fujifilm FinePix S9100*
135 shots - Kodak EasyShare V610
260 shots - Kodak EasyShare Z612
300 shots - Nikon Coolpix S10
N/A - Olympus SP510 UZ
360 shots - Panasonic Lumix FZ50
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FZ7
250 shots - Panasonic Lumix TZ1
450 shots - Samsung Pro815
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H2
340 shots - Sony Cyber-shot H5

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 turns in an above average battery life of 360 shots per charge (CIPA Standard). The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 uses a lithium-ion battery unlike a few other ultra-zoom cameras in its class.

 

Extras

Quite expected for an ultra-zoom camera are quite a bit of accessories:

  • Wide-angle conversion lens (0.7x, 25 - 294 mm)
  • Telephoto conversion lens (1.7x, 60 - 714 mm)
  • Close-up conversion lens
  • Remote release cable
  • External flash
  • Various filters
  • AC adapter

Camera Tour

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 is a fairly solid camera. It has two jog dials and an array of external controls which helps to reduce trips to the menu system. Despite that, it doesn't suffer from button clutter unlike other cameras. The FZ50 handles quite well with a decent sized grip and good arrangement, even better than digital SLRs such as the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (400D). The FZ50 is available in either black or silver.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 has a huge 12X zoom lens equivalent to 35 - 420 mm and  an aperture range of f2.8 - f3.7. The lens is totally internal so it doesn't extend when you power on, zoom or focus.

Directly above the lens is the camera's pop-up flash. It's quite powerful, reaching up to 7.4 m at wide-angle and 5.6 m at telephoto. The AF-assist/self-timer lamp is located to the top right of the lens.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 has a 2 inch LCD with 207,000 pixels. The LCD is sharp and has excellent visibility both indoors and outdoors. While the LCD is on the small side nowadays, nothing beats the ability to make a 180 flip down and then rotate sideways up to 270 degrees.

Above the LCD is an EVF which has a higher resolution of 235,000 pixels. A dioptric correction wheel (not visible here) allows you to focus the screen according to your vision. Next to that is an autofocus/exposure lock button.

Nope, no joy stick here, but the FZ50 has a second jog dial on its top right on the back. Next to the LCD, there's lots of other buttons:

  • EVF/LCD toggle
  • Display (Information shown)
  • Function menu (Autofocus mode, metering method, white balance, ISO, image resolution and quality)
  • Delete photo

The 5-way controller allows you to quickly change:

  • Up - Compensation (Backlight, exposure, flash exposure, white balance), bracketing
  • Down - Review photo
  • Left - Self-timer (On 2 or 10 seconds/off)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash on, slow-sync)
  • Center - Menu/Confirm

White balance compensation allows you to set warmer/cooler white balance in 1 step increments to +/-10. Bracketing takes 3 shots with different exposures.

Over here, the main attraction is the mode dial which has these modes (Going clockwise from P):

  • Programmed auto - The camera chooses both aperture and shutter speed while you control other manual functions; program shift is available
  • Aperture priority - You choose an aperture between f2.8/f3.7 to f11 and a matching shutter speed will be selected
  • Shutter priority - You choose a shutter speed between 8 seconds to 1/2000 sec and a matching aperture will be selected
  • Manual - Full manual control with the same values as above
  • Custom - Stores 3 sets of settings define by the user
  • Movie mode
  • Scene modes
  • Auto mode
  • Playback

One annoying thing is that faster shutter speeds can only be selected with smaller apertures. The other buttons are for optical image stabilization and drive mode respectively. A shutter button is located at the tip of the grip.

The FZ50 has a popup flash which is manually raised via the switch beside.

Here there's the microphone and the previously mentioned diopter knob next to the EVF.

There's a switch for focus modes: autofocus, macro and manual focus. The FOCUS button activates AF to assist you in manual focus or allows you to select AF point in any of the autofocus modes. Also, there's a manual zoom ring and fly-by-wire focus ring, which both operate as smoothly as they can get.

Over on the other side, there's a SD/SDHC slot. Before this, the FZ30 supported only SD cards which are limited to 2 GB.

At the bottom is a battery compartment and a centralized metal tripod mount.

Shooting

 

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50's display is very complete with a live histogram and full exposure info. There's even a battery level indicator.

There's a whole bunch of image resolution options ranging from full 10 megapixels to 2 megapixels along with two compression levels and 3 aspect ratio settings. A RAW image mode is also available for the highest resolution.

On the FZ50, there's a whole lot of other settings as well:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, flash, 2 custom settings)
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, iISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Metering method (Multi, center-weighted, spot)
  • Autofocus (9 points, 3-points high-speed, 1 point high-speed, 1 point, spot)
  • AF setting (Single, continuous)
  • Photo effects (Off, cool, warm, monochrome, sepia)
  • Contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction (Low, normal, high)

There's also white balance fine tuning which allows you to shift color about the orange/blue and red/green directions. This is the first time I've seen this advanced option on a non-digital SLR camera.

While we're at that, the new Intelligent ISO setting detects any movement in the frame and sets ISO accordingly. The range involved is from 100 to 800, based on my testing. An ISO 3200 option is available as a scene mode, though the quality from there is very crummy.

The FZ50 has two image stabilization modes. Mode 1 turns it on all the time while mode 2 only activates stabilization when the photo is being taken, which is more effective. When the camera is steady, you can turn off OIS to prevent the opposite results. Panning stabilization is only available in the "panning" scene mode.

 

Both shots were taken using 1/2 second exposures. The left shot was taken with IS off and the other with IS on. The difference is quite clear, even in downsized photos - what more when viewing the full-size or printing. The FZ50 has a 5 cm macro mode.

In addition to its full manual controls, the Lumix FZ50 has lots of scene modes which include portrait, soft skin, scenery, sports, night portrait, night scenery, panning, food, party, candlelight, fireworks, starry sky, beach, baby modes, snow and high sensitivity (ISO 3200)

Recording

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 has a fairly good movie mode. It takes VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. A widescreen 848 x 480 option is also available at the same frame rate. A 10 FPS option is available if you want longer movies but it's just too choppy in my opinion.

Auto exposure and the optical image stabilizer can be used while recording. You can freely zoom and focus using the rings around the lens barrel.

The Panasonic FZ50's movies were good in both video and audio quality.

Performance

With no lens to extend, the Panasonic FZ50 powers on close to instantly with its 0.5 second startup. And it usually takes about 1/8 to 1/3 second to focus at wide-angle and times from 1/4 to 1/2 a second at telephoto using high-speed autofocus. The normal autofocus modes on the FZ50 take about twice as long. The only catch here is the LCD will freeze for a fraction of a second using high-speed AF. Low-light focusing was very good with the camera able to lock focus in most situations.

Shutter lag is a little obvious at telephoto in low-light conditions but is otherwise not noticeable. Shot-to-shot speed was a snappy 1 shot every 1.3 seconds (JPEG), longer if the flash is used. Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery took just 2 seconds (Distance from camera to subject was 1.5 m). The camera's lens zooms silently at any speed you wish, thanks to the manual zoom ring on the lens barrel.

In continuous shooting, the FZ50 can shoot indefinitely at 1.8 FPS till the memory card is full - provided you have a high-speed card. High-speed and low-speed modes take up to 3 shots at the best settings at 2.2 and 1.2 FPS respectively. This is slower than on the FZ30 due to the higher resolution (10 vs 8 megapixels).

The FZ50 powers down instantly, regardless of the mode you're in. Overall performance was very good, above average considering the amount of data the camera has to process.

Image Quality

Now for image quality tests for the FZ50:


ISO 100 (f8.0, 1/640 sec)


ISO 200 (f8.0, 1/800 sec)


ISO 400 (f11, 1/1000 sec)


ISO 800 (f11, 1/1600 sec)


ISO 1600 (f11, 1/2000 sec)

At ISO 100, things start out clean and ISO 200, noise is a little evident. Noise doesn't go up at ISO 400, instead it goes down but the image starts getting smeary and loses details thanks to the in-camera noise reduction. You get even more of a watercolor painting shot at ISO 800 and the soft and smudgy ISO 1600 option is only if you really, really need it (And even then, you may wanna think twice). Chromatic aberration (color fringing) is very low as the FZ50's processor removes it.

Barrel distortion is noticeable but thankfully pincushion distortion and blurry edges are non-existant. Colors accuracy was fairly good but as said, the FZ50 tends to smear clor at higher ISO speeds. There was a little red-eye in the FZ50's people photos.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 may handle like a digital SLR but the image quality is not there. The FZ50 performs really well in all areas except noise. In-camera processing tends to "blend" noise into mush and smear, causing detail loss. If you plan on shooting at higher ISOs or print large photos, then use RAW (although post-processing is more troublesome).

Photo gallery

Check out the Panasonic Lumix FZ50 photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Panasonic Lumix FZ50 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as do all this: Protect image, print marking, sound memo, slideshow, rotate, resize and crop. You can also magnify still photos by 16x and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. There's also thumbnail and calendar playback. The former shows thumbnails in sets of 9 or 25 photos.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ50 shows a lot of info while playing back, including a histogram and exposure information.

 

Conclusion

The Panasonic FZ50 is a high-end camera with a large stabilized zoom lens. It handles and feels like a digital SLR. To complement that experience, there's a powerful flash with a hotshoe, full manual controls and shooting modes, accessories, good battery life and RAW mode.

Performance was very good (though not as fast as real digital SLRs) with the camera able to handle and process those large 10 megapixel RAW and JPEG files quickly, an unlimited continuous shooting mode and above average movie shooting.

The only non-SLR things about the Lumix FZ50 are those shutter speed limitations, whereby faster settings are available only at smaller apertures, and image quality. While the new Venus Engine III processor tries to keep up, performance (such as continuous shooting) doesn't increase with lower image resolution selected and the in-camera processing reduces noise into smeary output which make detail inspection useless at ISO 400 and above.

And another thing is the FZ50 is fairly expensive for a fixed lens camera. For the price you pay for it, you could get an entry-level digital SLR: Canon Digital Rebel XT, Nikon D50 or Pentax K100D (though a lens to match the FZ50 would cost a whole lot more).

I'd recommend the Panasonic FZ50 to all but those who shoot at higher ISOs (presumably for low-light or spots). For that, you'd need to shoot in RAW and post-process (and the FZ50's burst mode is for JPEG only) or get a digital SLR. A final note: If you like the FZ50's lens, then let me tell you that SLR lenses to equal the coverage and speed would cost a whole lot more.

Camera rating upon 10 (more about this): [Category: Prosumer]

  • 9.0 - Body/Exterior
  • 7.0 - Bundle, batteries and memory
  • 8.0 - Lens
  • 9.0 - Feature set
  • 9.0 - Controls and operation
  • 8.5 - Performance
  • 7.5 - Image quality
  • 8.3 - Overall rating

What's hot:

  • SLR-like feel with optimal amount of external controls
  • Nice 12x zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • Good battery life
  • Rotating LCD with good visibility
  • Powerful flash; there's a hotshoe too
  • Full manual controls with an array of accessories and scene modes
  • Unlimited continuous shooting
  • Fast performance
  • Great movie mode with zoom and focus
  • Useable image quality (using RAW, see below as well)

What's not:

  • Expensive (versus entry-level digital SLRs)
  • Faster shutter speeds available only at smaller apertures
  • Performance reduced thanks to higher resolution; no improvements using lower settings
  • Smeary details at ISO 400 and above; ISO 3200 unusable
  • Noise reduction makes "watercolor paintings"; RAW post-processing needed

Recommended Accessories

  • 1 GB high-speed Secure Digital card

Content ©2005 - 2006 Digital Photography Interface. All rights reserved.
All trademarks and images are property of their respective owners.
No part of this website may be copied, posted or used anywhere
without the written permission of the website owner.

.