Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ18 Review
So it’s a consolation that compact Super Zoom models are becoming more and more powerful. For example, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18. The two-digit number in the type designation already feeds the suspicion that it looks bad for a FZ50 successor, because the two-digit numbers were previously reserved for the prosumer models, and for a 9 there would still have been room in the series of the DMC-FZ7 and FZ8.
- Good performance (autofocus, zoom, save time)
- Advanced settings (exposure, user memory, RAW etc.)
- Excellent corrected, zoom strong lens
- Very well tuned image quality
- No zoom in movie recording mode
- Fiddly sun visor
- Poor white balance with artificial light
In 2004, so-called super-zoom digital cameras with 10x zoom were still a hit, but seven months ago Olympus set new standards with the SP-550 UZ and its 18x zoom. Panasonic did not let itself be lumpen and introduced the Lumix FZ18 five weeks ago, and Fujifilm would also like to bring such a zoomprotz on the market. The FZ18 from Panasonic, which this is about, doesn’t only impress with its zoom, but also with other highlights such as a RAW mode and full manual controllability, so it could almost be called a “prosumer” camera.
Here the 18 stands for the 18-fold zoom factor. The camera therefore targets the 18x zoom competitor Olympus SP-550 UZ exactly and plays in exactly the same price, performance and equipment league. Features include a 28mm focal length, an optical image stabilizer in the lens, RAW mode and the ability for the photographer to creatively influence the image result via automatic shutter speed and aperture control as well as manual exposure control. In terms of resolution, however, the FZ18 outperforms both the Olympus competitor model and current compact superzoom models from its own house, such as the Lumix DMC-FZ8 introduced earlier this year. The FZ18 has eight megapixels instead of seven and is thus on a par with the competition from Canon (PowerShot S5 IS with also 8 megapixels on a 1/2.5″ small sensor).
Apart from that, the FZ18 doesn’t just want to do everything equally well, but even better than the competition. The lens alone should outshine the imaging performance of competitor models and deliver outstanding image quality, virtually free of chromatic aberrations and with extremely low geometric distortion. The latter should be practically invisible with -0.16% in wide-angle position and -0.04% in telephoto position (Panasonic comparison measurements with the Olympus SP550 UZ: WW -1.09%, Tele -0.77%). Two ED lenses (one of which is arranged in the image stabilizer element) and three aspherical lenses (again one of which is arranged in the image stabilizer element) provide the prerequisite for this. One of them is even a so-called meniscus lens, a double-sided aspherical lens that is extremely difficult to produce. Possible remaining shortcomings should be eliminated by the calculation skills of the Venus Engine III image processor.
New in all three of Panasonic’s latest models (the two compact cameras are discussed in more detail below) is a concept called “Intelligent Auto Technology”, for which the mode dial has its own notch called “iA”; “Intelligent Auto” stands for the interplay of motion detection, optical image stabilization, face and scene recognition.
The intelligent automatic should make the work easier for the beginner or anyone else, who doesn’t want to deal intensively with the countless possibilities of his camera, and simply deliver the best possible pictures. For example, motion detection controls ISO sensitivity, so that fast moving objects in the image are still sharp even in less good light, while the optical image stabilizer alone prevents blurred images with still subjects and the ISO number is reduced as far as possible in the interest of low image noise. Face Detection, for example, ensures that faces are sharply focused and not accidentally next to them, and that they are reasonably exposed (by adjusting the image brightness and, if necessary, using a little fill-in flash). By the way, up to 15 faces can be recognized simultaneously in one image, each of which is identified by a square frame on the monitor or in the video viewfinder. The scene recognition in turn analyses the entire image and selects a suitable one from around 20 motif programs, e.g. “Night Portrait”, if the face recognition was successful in dim light. Which program has been selected is displayed on the monitor so that the photographer retains some control.
If the automatic mode is wrong, or the photographer does not trust the automatic mode, all scene mode programs can of course also be selected manually. The most important groups – Portrait, Sports, Landscape and Night Scene – can even be reached directly via the mode dial and then again offer a sub-selection such as “Nature”, “Architecture” (for “Landscape”) and in any case “Creative”. In the latter case, the most important parameter for the picture result can be manually influenced, depending on the scene mode, e.g. the aperture for portraits (control of the depth of field) or the exposure time for sports (because you may not want to freeze every movement completely after all).
The equipment list of the FZ18 could be continued almost endlessly, from the double zoom speed (depending on how far you press the zoom lever) to the stored zoom position, which restores the last setting after switching it on again, to the “Custom” position of the mode dial, which can be used to call up any individual presets in a flash, or the white balance, which can be set as desired in the orange/blue and green/magenta axes. This shows that the camera really manages the balancing act between a superzoom camera that is as small and light as possible and a prosumer camera. A tulip-shaped lens hood is standard, but proves to be somewhat impractical for handling (it is best to always leave it mounted and dimension the camera bag accordingly), an attachment lens or filter adapter DMW-LA3 is available as an option. The 1.7-fold DMW-LT55 teleconverter can be mounted on these. So if the standard 18x zoom with 504 mm 35mm focal length is not enough for you, you will get 30.6x zoom and a full 1,071 mm focal length or a 3-megapixel resolution of 48.7x zoom with 1,704 mm telephoto focal length. However, one should no longer rely on the image stabilizer and a steady hand, but use a really good, stable tripod. By the way, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 is available in a somewhat darker silver and black from the end of August 2007 at the recommended non-binding price of almost 480 EUR.
Ergonomics and workmanship
Available in black and silver, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 features a plastic housing that appears to be of lower quality at first glance, making it the lightest camera in its class. Although it doesn’t feel like it the first time you access it, the camera is sufficiently stable, and the well-shaped handle in particular provides a secure grip at all times, even if the little finger reaches into the void due to the low housing height. The well-shaped handle, rear thumb rest and well-arranged buttons mean that the camera can even be operated almost completely and with confidence with one hand – only the mechanical switch for opening the internal flash remains out of reach of the right thumb.
Metal was used rather sparingly in the construction of the camera and is only used on the front lens ring, the shoulder strap eyelets, as a cover plate on the program selector wheel, on the battery compartment hinge and on the tripod thread, which unfortunately is not in the optical axis. An attached tripod plate would prevent opening the flap on the camera base behind which the battery and SD or SDHC memory card are located. The left flap, on the other hand, is always accessible, so that nothing stands in the way of connecting the supplied USB cable to a computer or the power supply via an optional external power supply unit. A TV set can also be connected to the USB socket using the supplied cables, but a signal is only available in playback mode of the camera.
In addition to the shaped handle and flash, the large lens is the camera’s distinctive design element, making it almost look like a small SLR model. This is also supported by the electronic viewfinder and the numerous buttons. The viewfinder protrudes strongly to the rear, making it quite comfortable to go close to the eye. The diopter correction is done with a large wheel to the right of the viewfinder, the adjustment range is quite large with -4 to +4 dpt, so that many people can do without their glasses. If you don’t want this, you can also comfortably view the 188,000 pixel viewfinder with your glasses on. It displays all information that would also appear on the display, but appears somewhat coarse-grained due to the rather large viewfinder image. If one would rather use the rear 2.5″ monitor for the image composition, one has to switch to it at the push of a button. Its 207,000 pixels appear somewhat finer, and the monitor is still usable especially in sunlight. This also benefits from the power LCD function, which optionally also switches on automatically, but this happens too early in some situations, which gives the impression of exposing an image too brightly – so don’t be fooled by it. Panasonic tries to improve the quite small viewing angle by a special mode, which only improves the view from below and otherwise rather impairs the quality of the display – a real LCD with a large viewing angle or even a folding monitor cannot replace this.
Panasonic remains true to its operating concept, arranges five buttons on the back as a control pad and adds a joystick so that, for example, the user has a choice in the menu as to what he prefers to navigate with. When recording, on the other hand, the buttons perform other functions than the joystick, making many DSLR-like functions directly accessible. This includes exposure compensation, flash setting, and self-timer. Additional buttons on the back and top of the camera can be used to select the continuous advance mode and focus method, and there is even an exposure and focus lock button. On the other hand, what you are looking for in vain are thumb and/or index finger dials, as found on many prosumer and DSLR cameras.
Also with the menus there are no experiments, and thus everything can be found at usual place. The shooting menu offers 20 settings on a total of four pages, including parameters such as color saturation, image sharpness, and image stabilizer mode. The setup menu needs even five pages for its 23 setting points, whereas here rather settings are hidden that don’t have to be changed so often. This includes the menu language as well as the signal tone or the time and date settings. The program selector wheel, which in addition to the classic “PASM” modes also offers playback mode, scene modes, direct printing and access to the user memories, of which there are three, remains to be mentioned. Unfortunately, Panasonic is not able to keep the camera always ready to take pictures because it is possible to activate playback and direct printing using the program selector wheel. So in these modes you press the shutter button in vain, which by the way is enclosed by the zoom ring rocker, typical for Panasonic.
Panasonic now incorporates many clever functions in its cameras that make life easier for the user, i.e. he has to think less and has settings taken from more or less intelligent automatic systems. This includes face recognition, for example, which optimally adjusts the focus and exposure of portraits to ensure that faces and not the tree in the middle of the background are in focus. Another innovative feature is the intelligent ISO function, which detects movements in the image and, if necessary, increases the sensitivity so that these can be frozen with a short shutter speed – the user is responsible for controlling the extent to which this automatic function can work – 400, 800 or 1,600 ISO are available as upper limits. Of course, there is also an “unintelligent” automatic mode that works from ISO 100-400 and knows manual sensitivity levels of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,250 and 1,600 – in scene mode “High Sensitivity” even 3,200 and 6,400 ISO are available in an automatic mode with reduced resolution.
The menus conceal numerous other individualisation options. In addition to the classic image parameters such as hue, saturation, sharpness and contrast, noise reduction can also be adjusted in five steps. In addition to the 4:3 aspect ratio now common in digital compact cameras, the classic 3:2 and the “newfangled” 16:9 are also available in several resolution levels. Even the information displayed on the monitor during the recording is not saved by Panasonic. In addition to numerous settings and recording parameters, a grid and a live histogram can also be displayed here. If you want to switch quickly between various recording parameters, this is possible with the three user memories. Almost all current camera settings are stored here at the touch of a button, which even includes the signal settings such as the trigger noise.
The continuous shooting mode is quite powerful for a compact camera of this resolution class, but it is only available with JPEG, but not with RAW. At a frequency of 2.8 frames per second, the camera stores 4 or 7 frames in a row, depending on compression; in continuous mode, the frequency drops to 2 frames per second, but lasts until the memory capacity is exhausted. The fact that the camera blocks any functions during storage is not tragic, because a JPEG is stored in one second, a RAW in 2.1 seconds. An even higher frame rate – albeit at drastically reduced resolution, but with an audio track – is achieved in film mode. In addition to the 4:3 aspect ratio, a 16:9 aspect ratio with 848 x 480 pixels resolution is also available. The optical image stabilizer remains active during movie recording, but the zoom is blocked, not even a digital zoom is available. A good video compression according to DivX or H.264 is unfortunately also not available, the videos land as quite large Quicktime movies with Motion JPEG compression on the memory card.
The flash, which only achieves a guide number of approx. 8.4, is also rather spartan, but nevertheless sufficiently equipped for most applications. Automatic is only available after manual unfolding, and the user also has the option of forcing the (fill) flash, activating a pre-flash to reduce red-eye, or using it with long-term sync. The pre-flash is rarely necessary, because the flash folds out quite high and is far enough away from the optical axis (thus avoiding red eyes). Flash power correction is also available. The flash exposure is very reliable thanks to pre-flash metering, we couldn’t detect any lens shadowing in the working area, and the illumination is very uniform. In wide-angle macro mode, however, the flash should not be used because the large-volume lens will cause shadowing.
The FZ18 is lavishly equipped for playback, so that hardly any wishes should remain unfulfilled. This starts with the automatic image rotation for portrait images, which the camera recognizes as soon as it takes a picture thanks to the orientation sensor. Slideshow, categorization, delete and protect, title assignment and dubbing round off the functions. Editing such as cropping and resizing or changing the aspect ratio are also possible. The copy function, on the other hand, is rather unusable, since the internal memory required for this, with 27 MBytes, only holds a few images.
The 18x zoom lens of the Panasonic FZ18 with the Leica label is a true marvel of lens construction. The focal length range extends from 28 mm wide-angle to 504 mm supertele (corresponding to 35mm), whereby the real focal length is only 4.6 to 82.8 mm – the small CCD sensor provides the enormous apparent extension factor and focal length range. The luminous intensity is also impressive with F2.8 in the wide-angle range and F4.2 in the telephoto range. With the impressively long focal length, you hardly have to worry about camera shake, and thanks to the optical image stabilizer, you can do without a tripod in sufficient light. However, you should use mode 1, which already stabilizes the viewfinder image. This is less effective than mode 2, which is only active during shooting and thus has an optimal starting position, but otherwise an image composition at about 500 mm focal length from the hand is hardly possible. It’s unbelievable that Panasonic also offers an optional 1.7x telephoto converter that extends the focal length to 856.8 mm for small images. However, in order to connect this tele-converter and other optional accessories to the camera, one has to buy a tube adapter that enriches the camera with a real 55mm filter thread. The standard delivery includes a sun visor with a special adapter, but the handling is very fiddly and the alignment of the sun visor is complex, as it does not lock into the correct position with a bayonet – it is also not possible to turn the visor over for transport purposes.
Despite the large lens, the switch-on time of 1.6 seconds is relatively short, and driving through the entire focal length range is also quite fast with 2.6 seconds. The focal length is adjusted by means of a ring rocker, with which the practically stepless zoom can be controlled very precisely – a compliment to the designers! The speed of the autofocus is also fine. Although our laboratory “only” determined a speed of 0.5 seconds for the autofocus, in practice it is – depending on the situation – considerably faster in high-speed mode and comes close to the 0.2 second limit. Especially in the tele range, the autofocus sometimes takes a little more time – this is simply due to the problem of precisely focusing the clearly wobbly viewfinder image. If it gets too dark for the contrast autofocus, the built-in orange auxiliary light helps a little – but if you don’t like the obtrusive light beam, you can also put it to sleep via the menu. In addition to the already mentioned face recognition, the autofocus also has a measuring field setting that comprises five measuring fields, optionally there is also a spot setting and a 3-field setting. In principle, the AF system even has eleven AF points, but only a limited number of them are active – after all, the AF points can be shifted in any mode.
The macro capabilities of the FZ18 are also impressive. In the wide-angle position of the lens, you can practically focus right up to the front lens, which, however, leads to problems with illumination. With a focal length of 500 mm, on the other hand, you have to keep a distance of 1 meter from the subject, and the magnification is not as strong, but still good. With the optional close-up lens, the magnification at the tele end can be doubled again. If the autofocus is too bitchy, the subject too difficult or simply too dark, the manual focus can be used, which covers the entire focus range without switching to macro. Since the monitor and EVF resolution is too low for a sharpness assessment, a magnifying glass automatically switches on during manual focus adjustment. In addition, there is an extremely useful bar graph that visualizes the sharpness range, whereas the absolute distance setting is displayed as a concrete number.
8 megapixels on a 1/2.5″ small sensor and an 18x zoom lens are bad prerequisites for good image quality. In contrast, Panasonic uses its own Venus Engine III processor, which has an extremely high computing power and can thus iron out one or two image errors. For example, the color noise and the brightness noise are filtered separately, which leads to a more effective noise reduction.
The excellent calculation of the Leica lens can already be seen in the resolution values. The resolution is very good in all focal lengths in the center of the picture, even excellent in the long focal length. An edge drop is indeed visible in all focal lengths, whereby it is least in the middle focal length, but the resolution decreases critically in the corners at no focal length. Also the efficiency is good, whereby also here the middle focal length shows the best values. However, the processing of fine image details is very aggressive in line with the good values and the camera’s target orientation for fast shoot-to-print photography without image processing on the computer. This leads to a quite clear artefact formation especially with good resolution values. However, Panasonic shares this great weakness with almost all cameras that have a similarly high resolution. Nevertheless, the overall sharpness is low, increasing to the critical brightness ranges of skin and sky tones, where a slight white clipping becomes visible.
The lens can also inspire with edge darkening and distortion. The edge darkening is practically hardly visible, also the distortion is surprisingly small and only slightly visible in the short focal length, here lines running parallel to the picture edge are bent in the middle towards the picture edge, which corresponds to a barrel-shaped distortion. Panasonic has a good grip on noise, which is critical for the small, high-resolution image sensor. Thus, higher sensitivities can also be used, whereby one should not expect miracles. However, noise plays a rather subordinate role with correspondingly high resolution prints or with reduction for the Internet. The separate treatment of brightness and colour noise is particularly evident from ISO 400 onwards, from where the colour noise is significantly reduced. Even at high sensitivities, the input dynamics remain good, allowing the Panasonic to cope well with high-contrast shooting situations. At ISO 100, this includes 8.4 f-stops and drops to ISO 800 by less than one f-stop. Also the utilization of the brightness levels in the output JPEG file is very good and the tonal value curve is slightly inverse-S-shaped, which benefits the display with soft lights and shadows, but harder mid tones. The JPEG compression in the high quality level is so low that no artefacts occur. If, on the other hand, you switch to standard compression, which allows more than twice as many recordings on a memory card, slight compression artifacts become visible.
A big weakness of many cameras is the white balance in artificial light, unfortunately the Lumix FZ18 is no exception. The automatic white balance works well at all color temperatures except incandescent light, the latter is reproduced with a strong orange cast. The artificial light problems are normally countered by the manufacturers with numerous white balance presettings, not so Panasonic. There is only one preset for artificial light, and it works neither with fluorescent light nor with incandescent light satisfactorily. This leaves only the handle for manual white balance with incandescent light. After all, there are two memory locations here, one of which can be reserved for incandescent light to compensate for the missing presetting. Otherwise, the color rendering of the Panasonic is pleasingly neutral, and there are hardly any unattractive color casts. Those who want to take care of the colors and the rest of the image processing themselves can fall back on the RAW format – so one is relatively independent of the camera-internal image processing and therefore more dependent on the quality of the RAW converter.
The Panasonic exposure meter works reliably in most cases, but has a slight tendency to overexpose. This can be countered, for example, with exposure correction. For particularly critical situations, the exposure metering method can be changed from multi-field to center-weighted or spot, and Panasonic has even thought of an exposure bracketing function with three images at a distance of up to 1 EV.
The Panasonic DMC-FZ18’s range of functions manages the balancing act between beginners who are looking for a camera with powerful zoom and reliable automatic and advanced users who like to intervene in the recording parameters. This can also be seen in the amazingly good image quality, which is not least due to the excellent lens and the Venus Engine III. In JPEG mode, the clear focus on fast photography is welcome, while RAW format is available for image editors. This means that this target group will find the camera just as fun, even if some “prosumer” functions are missing.
- Good performance (autofocus, zoom, save time)
- Advanced settings (exposure, user memory, RAW etc.)
- Excellent corrected, zoom strong lens
- Very well tuned image quality
- No zoom in movie recording mode
- Fiddly sun visor
- Poor white balance with artificial light
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Datasheet
|Sensor||CCD sensor 1/2.5″ 5.8 x 4.3 mm (crop factor 6.0
)7.4 megapixels (physical), 7.2 megapixels (effective)
|Pixel pitch||1.9 µm|
|Picture formats||JPG, RAW|
|Color depth||24 bits (8 bits per color channel)|
|Metadata||Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard|
|Focal length||36 to 432 mm (35mm equivalent
)12x ZoomDigital zoom
|Focus range||30 cm to infinity (wide-angle
)200 cm to infinity (telephoto)
|Macro sector||5 cm (wide-angle
)100 cm (telephoto)
|Apertures||F2.8 to F8 (wide-angle
)F3.3 to F8 (telephoto)
|Autofocus Functions||Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light|
|Filter threads||52 mm|
Viewfinder and Monitor
|Monitor||2.5″ TFT LCD monitor with 207,000 pixels|
|Video viewfinder||Video viewfinder available|
|Exposure metering||Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement, spot measurement|
|Exposure times||1/2,000 to 8 s (automatic
)1/2,000 to 60 s (manual)
|Exposure control||Program automatic, Aperture automatic, Time automatic, Manual|
|Bracketing function||Bracket function with maximum 3 shots, step size from 1/3 to 1 EV|
|Exposure compensation||-2.0 to +2.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV|
|Sensitivity to light||ISO 100 to ISO 1.250 (manual)|
|Scene modes||Baby, various motif programs, fireworks, skin, high sensitivity, candlelight, landscape, aerial photography, night landscape, night portrait, party, portrait, sunset, food, sports/action, starry sky, beach/snow, and animals.|
|White balance||Auto, Cloudy, Sun, Fine tuning, Shadow, Flash, Fluorescent lamp, Manual|
|Continuous shooting||maximum 7 (standard mode) or 5 (fine mode) consecutive images at a frame rate of either 3 or 2 frames per second in full resolution, unlimited continuous shooting also possible|
|Self-timer||Self-timer at intervals of 2 s, special features: or 10 s (optional)|
|Shooting functions||Live histogram|
|Flash||built-in flash (hinged)|
|Flash range||0.3 to 6.0 m for wide angle1
.0 to 5.4 m for telephoto
|Flash functions||Auto, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Red-eye Reduction|
|Image stabilizer||optical image stabilizer|
Multi Media Card
|Internal memory||yes (27 MByte)|
|Power supply||Power supply connection|
|Power supply||1 x PIXO CGR-S006 (lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 710 mAh
)380 images according to CIPA standard
|Playback Functions||Image rotation, playback histogram, image index, slide show function, zoom out|
|Picture parameters||Contrast, Saturation, Noise Reduction|
|Grid can be faded in during recording||yes|
|Special functions||Orientation sensor|
|Ports||Data interfaces: USB video output
: yes (HDMI output Micro (type D)
|Supported direct printing methods||PictBridge|
|Features and Miscellaneous||Venus Engine III Signal Processor Switchable
Optical Image Stabilizer (O.I.S.)) either permanent or during shutter release11/3/1-point autofocus
with switchable high-speed mode and focus group selection
Single-frame focusing or focus tracking3-step
adjustment of color saturation (natural/standard/strong)
3-step adjustment of camera-internal focus (low/normal/high)
mage Contrast Level Adjustment (Low/Normal/High)
Image Alignment Adjustable
00 exposure times of
Liquid crystal realignment on LC colour display Intelligent
movement strength (photographer/ subject)
Size and weight
|Weight||357 g (operational)|
|Dimensions W x H x D||112 x 72 x 79 mm|
|included accessories||PIXO CGR-S006 Special battery chargerUSB connection cableAudio/Video cableLens coverBacklight hood
with adapterCarrying strapPicture editing software
ArcSoft PhotoImpressionPanorama software
|optional accessory||Panasonic DMW-LC55E ConverterPIXO
CGR-S006 Special Battery Power SupplyRemovable Memory CardCamera Bag