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Panasonic have this
to say about the camera:
"The perfect choice
for any photographer with varied photographic needs and high ambitions
- Panasonic is pleased to introduce the new DMC-FZ18 8.1-megapixel Lumix
camera, featuring a powerful 18x optical zoom (equivalent to 28-504mm
on a 35mm film camera), newly developed 28mm wide-angle LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT
lens and Panasonic's new and unique Intelligent Auto Mode. Panasonic's
award winning FZ series of Lumix cameras has been highly praised across
the world, for concomitant realisation of both high performance and ease
of use, and the FZ18 is no exception."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Nikon D40x)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.
Specifications / Features:
Average box contents. There is a small amount of internal memory provided with the camera (27mb) - you should invest in a much larger memory card. Some kind of case would be very useful.
Battery usage: Battery life is above average for an ultra zoom digital camera, rated at 400 shots according to CIPA standards, I managed around 265+ shots before the battery went flat. This is average (not brilliant, but not too bad either) for an ultra zoom but not as good as the excellent 580 shot battery life of the the Fujifilm FinePix F30.
Operation and Options: The
top dial selects the camera mode. This allows the choice of the following
modes: Print, Video, Scene, Night portrait, Sports, Scenery (normal,
nature, architecture, creative), Portrait, Intelligent Auto, Playback,
Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual.
Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a high resolution of 230,000 pixels, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is a live histogram available and the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder, however, the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) is clear, bright and easy to use, with a good resolution. Roll your mouse over the screens above to view more. Pressing (and holding) the joypad will bring up a quick options menu. You can also set the focus area, as shown above, and set the white balance using the joypad.
Menu options: White balance (including custom), WB Adjust, Intelligent ISO, Sensitivity, Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, and 4:3), Picture size, Quality, Audio recording, Metering mode, AF mode, Stabilizer, Continuous AF, AF Assist lamp, AF/AE Lock, Digital zoom (on/off), Colour effect (Off, Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture adjust (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise Reduction), Flip anim, Conversion (lens), Clock set.
Scene modes: (shown on the left, above) Food, Party, Candle, Sunset, High sensitivity (size limited to 3mp max), Baby 1, 2, Pet, Panning, Starry sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo. Pressing the display button will display information about the scene mode chosen. Mode dial scene modes: Portrait mode : Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative, Scenery mode : Normal, Nature, Architecture, Creative, Sports mode : Normal, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative, Night Portrait : Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Illuminations, Creative
Playback (Review) mode:
Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is quick up to 16x. You can view 9, or 25 thumbnails, or you can have a calendar view by zooming out.
Playback menu: Slide show, Category, Rotate disp, Rotate, Favourite, Title edit, Text stamp, DPOF Print, Protect, Audio dub, resize, trimming, Aspect conversion, copy (allows you to copy from internal memory to memory card and vice versa), format.
Setup menu: (shown on the right, above) Clock set, World time, Custom set mem, Monitor, Guide Line, Travel date, Play on LCD, Auto review, Power save, Zoom review, MF assist, Beep, AF Beep, Shutter, Volume, no. reset, reset, Video out, TV aspect, M/ft, Scene menu, Dial display, Language.
Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number will fit in the memory provided:
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. You can fit a very limited number of 8mp Fine images on the built in memory, and you will definitely need to buy a larger memory card.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 512mb memory card, and preferably a 1gb or 2gb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18:
Find the latest
prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £4,
1gb (1000mb): £2,
2gb (2000mb): £10,
4gb (4000mb SDHC): £18
(with USB reader)
Speed: The camera's switch on time is quick and takes around 2.5 seconds to switch on and take a photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.5 seconds - shutter response is quick at around 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time is around 1.4 seconds (with review off), with flash on this slows down to around 1.5 seconds between shots. Playback mode is very quick, and its easy to zoom in on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is quick but you can also get an overview of 9 or 25 shots at a time if you zoom out further. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Unlimited continuous shooting is very quick at 2fps - flash is not available whilst in continuous shooting mode - and there is a high speed continuous shooting mode that will shoot at 3fps for upto 5 shots.
Ease of use: Using the camera is fairly straightforward, simply switch it on and start taking photos, and the camera's controls and menus are logically layed out so that using the more advanced features is relatively straight-forward. Switching between the modes is easy thanks to the mode dial on the top of the camera and once you find all the options the camera becomes easy to use, and it is very easy to use the more basic functions of the camera - there's a new "intelligent auto" mode and numerous scene modes. The controls are easy to access, as they are either on the buttons on the back (for example exposure compensation, self-timer, and flash etc) or they are in the menu, alternatively the Joypad button (when held in) gives you even quicker access to the most commonly used options. A custom mode lets you setup the camera as you want and then easily access your settings again.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The camera feels solid, with a robust plastic body. The stylish design and colour choices look good (although personally I prefer the black version). The handgrip is good with a good size front grip and thumb grip on the back - the area has a decent amount of rubber helping you keep hold of the camera. The zoom control is very easy to use. The shutter release button feels very good. The camera labels are clear (although the joypad could be labelled better). The buttons and controls are all positioned so that the camera can be operated with one hand (apart from the pop up flash), although the camera can be held more firmly using two hands. The buttons are a good size. I found the mode switch easy to use with my thumb.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is very little (if any) red-eye in the photo, and no redeye in the group photos. The colour is quite richly saturated and detail is good. The flash seemed to cope well with group photos, successfully lighting even large rooms. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light thanks to the focus assist lamp.
ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 100 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250, 1600) with a higher ISO mode available in the "High Sensitivity" scene mode.
Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel Panasonic Lumix FZ8 and 8 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F40fd.
ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Panasonic Lumix FZ18 in the middle, Panasonic Lumix FZ8 on the left, Fujifilm FinePix F40fd on the right. Any tonal difference is due to automatic white balance or metering differences.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 has low noise at ISO100, and relatively low noise at ISO200 and ISO400 - however - this is at the expense of detail. Using ISO400 and above produces images that have noticably less detail than the competition. The Panasonic does not perform as well as the Fujifilm, which manages to produce low noise images right up to ISO800 with very good detail. For best results it's worth trying to use the lowest ISO settings, however, if you don't mind a lack of detail and prefer "smooth" images with as little noise as possible then the FZ18 could be a good choice, and results upto ISO400 are acceptable. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 and FZ18 were tested with default Noise reduction settings, this setting can be altered if you aren't happy with the balance between noise reduction and detail.
Image Stabilisation: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8, like every other Panasonic digital camera, features real optical image stabilisation called "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation", this moves a lens element to counter-act the movement of the camera, this feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography.
Outside: The camera has very good colour - accurate and richly saturated with good contrast and good detail, with very little (if any) corner softness. Some noise was noticable even in ISO100 photos when viewed at full size. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts. Exposure seemed very good.
Zoom: This camera has a wide angle 18x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the optical zoom is capable of (and with a 18x optical zoom you will, hopefully, never need to use digital zoom).
Exposure: The photos of the clock tower seem to be very well exposed, with good detail in the dark areas, and good detail in the clouds, and there is very little if any purple fringing in these photos.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise in operation. There are around 64+ steps between wide and telephoto zoom, this gives you very good control over how you frame your subject.
Other Image Quality
issues: Purple fringing and chromatic aberrations were very low and
difficult to detect in most photos, and shouldn't cause any problems in
the majority of photos, however it may be noticable in photos with high
levels of contrast.
The macro mode lets you take photos with the camera roughly 1cm away from the subject - this means macro photos can be very good - with good detail and colour.
Video mode: The camera features a very good video mode - it records 16:9 wide-screen 848 x 480 videos at 30fps, as well as VGA videos at 30fps with sound as MOV files. Compared to other digital cameras the Panasonic can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4. The video mode doesn't let you use the optical zoom whilst recording. Optical image stabilisation is available when recording, which should help movies appear smooth and shake free.
Summary: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 is an impressive ultra zoom digital camera - and probably the best of the latest ultra zoom cameras thanks to the Leica wide angle 18x optical zoom lens - I didn't notice any vignetting or distortion and image quality is very good with great colour and detail although noise and lack of detail at the higher ISO settings causes some concern. The camera offers an excellent Leica wide angle 18x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation, helping you get sharp, crisp, blur free images even in low light. The camera is very solidly built and feels comfortable to use thanks to a decent hand grip and good button layout. The camera has a clear and easy to see screen, and excels in ease of use, providing quick and easy access to all it's features. The camera responds quickly with a quick focusing time, fast shutter response, and extremely quick 3fps continuous shooting mode. The lens range is impressive offering all you need in a camera and more, making this camera Highly Recommended! However, if you don't need the range, then the FZ8 is excellent value for money, available from £180.
What I like:
What I don't like:
Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Sample Photo Gallery.