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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 22/06/2007
Rating: Highly Recommended

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Introduction: Announced on the 31st of January 2007, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is one of the latest Panasonic digital cameras and features a 7.2 megapixel sensor, a 2.5" screen, and a Leica 12x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation. The 12x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 36 – 432 mm on a 35mm camera. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is available from around £185 this makes it excellent value for money for an ultra zoom 7 megapixel digital camera. The camera has a 16:9 wide-screen and VGA 640x480 30fps video mode with sound. The camera is compact for an ultra zoom and has a plastic body available in Silver and Black. The Lumix FZ8 measures: 112.5 x 72.2 x 79.0 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 310g excluding batteries and media.

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-FZ8 7.2-megapixel Lumix camera, featuring a powerful 12x optical zoom, LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens and the ever popular and indispensable Optical Image Stabiliser (O.I.S). With a joystick control for manual adjustment of focusing and exposure setting, the DMC-FZ8 offers high end specification and portability."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Ricoh Caplio 500SE)


Front - Camera off, with lens cap on.


Front view - flash, focus assist lamp, lens, on the side is the strap loop.


Back - flash open button, EVF (with diopter correction), speaker, 2.5" screen, EVF/LCD button, on/off, joypad, display/LCD mode button, status LED, 4-way controller, Menu / Set button, mode / delete button.


Side view: microphone, AF illuminator, AV/DC, USB connection, strap loop.


Top: Flash, Focus (AF, AF Macro, Manual), Mega Optical Image Stabilisation mode button, mode dial, zoom control, shutter release.


Bottom: metal tripod mount, battery and memory compartment. 7.2v 710mAh Lithium Ion battery.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3.


Size comparison, compared to the Ricoh Caplio 500SE.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.2 Megapixels CCD Sensor
  • Leica 12x optical zoom (36mm - 432mm equivalent)
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer
  • Available in silver or black
  • 2.5" LCD, 207,000 pixels
  • EVF 0.44 inches Colour (188K Pixels)
  • 25 shooting modes
  • ISO Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1250 (High Sensitivity Mode : 3200)
  • Program AE : 1-1/2000 sec
  • Video at VGA, 30fps with sound, 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 848 x 480 pixels 30 fps, 10 fps
  • 5cm macro mode
  • Supports SDHC memory cards

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Neck Strap
  • Battery Pack
  • Battery Charger
  • USB Cable
  • AV Cable
  • Software CD Rom
  • Printed manual

Average box contents. There is a small amount of internal memory provided with the camera - 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 380 shots according to CIPA standards, I managed around 230+ 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.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe top dial selects the camera mode. This allows the choice of the following modes: Print, Video, Manual, Shutter, Aperture, Program, Intelligent ISO, Playback, Simple mode, and Scene mode.

Photo mode/menus:

Photo mode (rollover:quick photo menu) Focus Area, White Balance Adjust (hover)

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a high resolution of 207,000 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.

Photo menu Scene mode

Menu options: White balance (including custom), WB Adjust, Sensitivity, Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, and 4:3), Picture size, Quality, Audio recording, Metering mode, AF mode, Continuous AF, AF Assist lamp, 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) Portrait, Soft skin, Self-portrait, Scenery, Sports, Panning, Night portrait, Night scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Starry Sky (15, 30, or 60 second exposure), Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aeriel Photo (for shots through airplane windows). Pressing the display button will display information about the scene mode chosen.

Playback (Review) mode:

Playback mode Playback Thumb View

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 Setup menu

Playback menu: Slide show, Favourite, Rotate disp, Rotate, Date 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, 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:

Size
Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Aspect Ratio
Fine
Normal
7mp
4:3
7
14
5mp
10
21
3mp
16
33
2mp
27
53
1mp
41
78
VGA
133
216
6mp
3:2
8
16
2.5mp
19
37
5.5mp
16:9
9
19
2mp
25
48

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 7mp 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 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb or 1gb 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-FZ8:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £2, 1gb (1000mb): £6, 2gb (2000mb): £8, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £23 (with USB reader)
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera's switch on time is quick and takes around 2.5 - 3.0 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 1.1 seconds (with review off), with flash on this slows down to around 1.3 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. Continuous shooting is very quick at roughly 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 even a "simple 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.

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 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, although the camera can be held more firmly using two hands. The buttons are a good size despite the small size of the camera. 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-FZ8 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO100)

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. 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 - ISO1250), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250) with a higher ISO mode of ISO3200 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 Canon Powershot A550 and 8 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F40fd.

Panasonic Lumix FZ8 (7.2mp) Canon Powershot A550 (7.1mp) Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Canon Powershot A550 in the middle, Panasonic Lumix FZ8 on the left, Fujifilm FinePix F40fd on the right. The Canon was chosen as a comparison as it has a similar number of megapixels to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8, and the Fujifilm was chosen due to the camera's low noise. Any tonal difference is due to automatic white balance or metering differences.

Panasonic Lumix FZ8 (7.2mp) Canon Powershot A550 (7.1mp) Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp)
   
ISO80 - N/A ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - N/A
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
 
ISO1250 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - N/A ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
 
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels ISO3200 - N/A ISO2000 - Actual Pixels

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 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, for example the Canon has more detail at these settings. Neither the Canon nor the Panasonic 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 FZ8 could be a good choice, and results upto ISO400 are acceptable. The camera also has an "Intelligent ISO" mode - this boosts the ISO setting based on the amount of movement in frame - and attempts to avoid image blur by setting a suitable shutter speed. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 was 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. Here are some test photos taken with Image Stabilisation on and off - these photos were taken without flash indoors with ISO set to 200.

Image Stabilisation On (1/13, ISO200) Image Stabilisation Off (1/13, ISO200)
Image Stabilisation On (Actual Pixels) Image Stabilisation Off (Actual Pixels)

Actual pixels crop taken from the right eye of the picture. As you can see - image stabilisation is effective for low-light / high zoom, slow shutter speed photography helping acheive blur free photos in situations where you normally wouldn't be able to get a sharp image without the aid of a tripod.

Outside:

Liverpool shops Africa Oye, Sefton Park

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. There was some purple fringing and chromatic aberrations noticable in the 'Africa Oye, Sefton Park' photo above, however it was rare to see this in photos.

Zoom: This camera has a 12x 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 12x optical zoom you will, hopefully, never need to use digital zoom).

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 12x Optical 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 some noise in operation. There are around 60+ 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 was noticable in photos with high levels of contrast (I would say I noticed it in roughly 2 photos out of around 450 photos).

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode lets you take photos with the camera roughly 5cm away from the subject - this means macro photos can be 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.

Conclusion

Image Quality:  The camera has very good image quality - the camera has good detail and very good colour (accurate, and well saturated) and there was no noticable corner softness in the images. Images have good saturation and contrast, with fairly low noise at the lower ISO settings. The higher ISO settings of ISO400 and above are probably best avoided as detail is lacking from images. Indoors photos were good with little or no red-eye, although noise was noticeable in some shots. Purple fringing was noticed in very few shots, and wasn't a problem in the majority of shots. The camera was good at focusing indoors thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice any vignetting, barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratio, and compression options, including RAW support. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be very good. The camera gives you very good control over image quality with custom white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpness and other colour options (such as Vivid etc), even control over how much noise reduction is applied to the images. The video mode is very good with a high resolution 16:9 wide-screen aspect, and a high frame rate. The macro mode is good, with good detail. (8.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact for an ultra zoom and has a stylish body available in silver or black. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen. The camera feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold with a good size rubber grip. The camera is very easy to use, thanks to the mode dial and easy to use menus. There is a good layout of buttons and controls, and numerous simple modes or scene modes to make it easier to use. The camera speed is very good, with a very good switch on time, rapid focusing time, quick shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, and excellent continuous shooting modes. The camera offers slightly more than most digital cameras, by providing a 12x Leica lens, built in optical image stabilisation, a wide range of image options such as contrast, sharpness, saturation, noise reduction, and a number of custom white balance modes. The electronic viewfinder is good, and the screen is better than most offering a "bright" mode and a "high angle" mode. Battery life is good for an ultra zoom. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is available from around £185, this makes it one of the cheapest ultra zoom cameras with optical image stabilisation and a 12x optical zoom lens, and therefore excellent value for money. There are a number of other ultra zoom digital cameras available, such as the Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom, Canon Powershot S5 IS, Sony Cybershot DSC-H7, H9, Fujifilm FinePix S6500fd, Kodak Easyshare ZD710 , and Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 to name a few. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is an excellent ultra zoom digital camera - 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 12x 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. As well as offering all this, the Panasonic is one of the cheapest ultra zoom digital cameras to feature optical image stabilisation, making this an excellent choice!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Rating: Highly Recommended (9/10)
Only £215 at Amazon - Check for more price below!

What I like:

  • High quality Leica 12x optical zoom lens
  • Good image quality - excellent colour
  • Good video mode - 16:9, VGA, 30fps, Sound
  • Stylish, well designed, and easy to use
  • MEGA Optical Image Stabilisation helps get more blur free photos in low light etc
  • Very good 2.5" screen, clear and easy to use, with brightness, and high-angle mode
  • ISO setting and Aperture / Shutter setting shown in photo and playback
  • Custom White Balance
  • Solid body with good build quality
  • Very fast high speed continuous shooting mode (3fps)
  • Quick camera - Fast shot to shot time etc
  • Good macro mode
  • Very little red-eye in photos

What I don't like:

  • High ISO images are blurred and lack detail. (due to noise being removed)
  • Some noise noticable even in ISO100 photos.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Sample Photo Gallery.

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