Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 review

Review Date : Fri, 4 Sep 2009

Author :

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 product image front face on
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 product image front face on Panasonic Lumix FZ38 product image rear back Panasonic Lumix FZ38 product image top

The Panasonic Lumix FZ38 – or FZ35K as it’s known in the US – is the newest model in the FZ line. Updating the previous FZ28 model, does the FZ38 offer enough additions to make you part with your cash? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix FZ38 (FZ35K) review…

Pros: Fully manual controls, POWER O.I.S, 720p movie (AVCHD Lite), lens quality and 18x 27-486mm optical zoom range, among the best current superzoom compacts on the market
Cons: High ISO and low light performance, relatively minor upgrades from previous FZ28 model

The Panasonic Lumix FZ38 – or FZ35K as it’s known stateside – is the most up to date superzoom compact from Panasonic, with an 18x optical zoom (27-486mm equiv.) and POWER O.I.S – an upgrade from the previous FZ28’s MEGA O.I.S image stabilisation. But what else does the FZ38 have to offer to tempt you to part with your hard earned cash? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review…

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review - Features

The Panasonic FZ38, with its 18x optical zoom, offers from the fairly wide-angle of 27mm through to 486mm telephoto range. At such an extended zoom, it’s a tough call to keep images sharp when shooting handheld – enter the newest version of Panasonic’s image stabilisation, POWER O.I.S., to help you avoid image blur – an upgrade said to be twice as good as the previous MEGA O.I.S.

The FZ38’s 12.1 megapixel sensor is another improvement over the FZ28, though the changes are relatively minimal thereafter. The lens is very much the same, albeit with improved, faster focusing, as is the 201,600-pixel electronic viewfinder, whilst the body itself is highly similar bar a few button rejigs and inclusion of AVCHD Lite movie recording (using H.264 encoding – widely regarded as the current best available in stills cameras) with stereo microphone. Whereas both the UK and US enjoyed the previous FZ28 model, our American counterparts haven’t gone the whole hog and jumped the namesake to its next ‘full’ conclusion – the FZ38 as it’s known in the UK instead adopts the FZ35K title, perhaps prompting that it’s more of a subtle update than major upgrade.

PanasonicFZ38-bigben.jpg

 

However, scrawl down the FZ38’s specs on paper and it offers a top of the line camera at a sensible price point. There’s a plethora of options, with intelligent Auto (iA) to capture the action without the need to fiddle with options for the more entry-level user, complimented by an array of more advanced manual options: PSAM means full control, there’s even an AF/AE lock and quick-access AF/macro/manual focus button. If you’re not in the market for a DSLR, but want to achieve a huge range of shots from close-up macro, through to distant telephoto, then the FZ38 more than ticks all the boxes – it can even shoot RAW + JPEG files simultaneously.

 

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review - Design

The FZ38 has a conventional design – a large lens to the front, with the 2.7in LCD to the left on the rear. On top of the camera is the thumbwheel, zoom trigger with shutter and a two quick-access buttons for AF/macro/MF and focus. The main set of controls can be found on the rear to the right, with the usual d-pad configuration, though with some additional quick-access buttons: the new one-touch movie button jumps straight into recording, whilst the q-menu saves the bother of digging through extensive menus to find the key controls. As the q-menu is trigger-like in design it can be used like a miniscule joystick to thumb in any direction through menus.

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 product image front face onAlthough many of the functions are advanced like a DSLR, the lack of the mirror box means an absence of optical viewfinder. Instead Panasonic has included an electronic viewfinder with an impressive 201.6K pixels to maintain detail to the eye. Whilst electronic viewfinders may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the FZ38’s EVF is up there with the best on the market. The screen itself is a 230K-dot offering, which is becoming an ever more common standard in compacts.

In the hand the Panasonic FZ38 feels good, and there’s enough of a grip to the right side to maintain stability, with the rubberised finish offering even more grip-support. The lens glides super-smoothly between focal lengths without your hands getting in the way and everything feels well made. In general, it’s top marks all round. A slight qualm is that when using the electronic viewfinder the images cannot be quick previewed on the LCD screen, instead only appearing in the EVF itself.

More info:

Panasonic Lumix FZ38 - Performance, Image Quality & Value for Money
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 - Specifications / specs
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 - Verdict

Verdict

The Panasonic Lumix FZ38 is a top-performing superzoom compact at an affordable price point. In fact, for the money, you’d be stretched to find any better. The lens is great, as are the controls, and the overall feature set – including a wide-ranging 27-486mm zoom – successfully caters for the beginner right through to more advanced photographer. AVCHD Lite 720p movie recording, advanced manual controls, POWER O.I.S image stabilisation, exposure and focus lock, even manual focusing all feature, as do ‘pick up and go’ easy-to-use functions such as intelligent Auto (iA) and scene modes. All in all, the FZ38 doesn’t pose many bad points at all, though as a ‘step up’ from the previous FZ28 model the advances are subtle rather than groundbreaking. The biggest moan would have to be high ISO sensitivity, which causes fairly destructive image noise – not ideal for handheld shooting in low light, though image stabilisation does go some way to provide a half-mast counter to this. For first time buyers looking for a superzoom-type compact the FZ38 propositions an excellent buy. Thoroughly recommended.


Compact Camera Reviews

Price as reviewed

£320.00

Scores

Scores
Design 18/20
Image Quality 17/20
Performance 18/20
Value 18/20
Features 19/20
Overall Score 90%