Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 review
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review - Performance
In use the FZ38’s lens moves most smoothly when zooming, unlike some lesser compacts – the only minor drawback here is a lack of speed, which can slow you down when zooming from wide angle to telephoto, though no more than is common in a usual superzoom compact. Where speed does creep back in is with the FZ38’s improved autofocus – compared to the previous FZ28 model it’s noticeably faster. There are also a multitude of AF options from face detection, AF tracking, spot, single area and an 11-point system which provides a variety of advanced options for any scene at hand. The AF tracking isn’t at its best with fast moving subjects however, and will often drift to a new-found area when it all gets a bit too much for the system to know exactly where to focus.
The inclusion of AVCHD Lite – which records 720p at 30fps – brings the FZ38 in line with Panasonic’s ‘HD Everything’ ethos, and includes a one-touch button on the back to quickly jump into recording. There is some lag from pressing the button to jump into movie recording which, whilst minimal, ought to be more immediate. The movie mode itself, encoded in H.264, is high quality as we’ve come to expect from Panasonic. A new addition to the FZ38 is the stereo microphone atop the camera – much like the one found on the Lumix GH1. It’s great to see Panasonic placing further attention to often overlooked sound recording in movies, though a microphone jack for external microphones does lack on this occasion.
As per the FZ28, the FZ38 features an electronic viewfinder (EVF). As technology advances these types of viewfinders have improved gradually too – and the viewfinder found here is up there with the best currently at market. For some this may not be good enough however, as the experience is nothing like that of an optical viewfinder. Given it’s the only way a camera of this type can have an accurate viewfinder, it’s a solid solution though. The only slight niggle is that when using the EVF your pictures wont preview on the rear LCD screen – after taking a picture it seems to be an automatic reaction to remove the camera from the eye and look down to the screen, only to realise the preview is showing in the EVF itself.
Elsewhere the FZ38 has very little to moan about: advanced manual exposure and focus features are sensibly controlled and intuitive. The q-menu trigger is a great, useable control feature on the rear and all the button placements are spot on. Overall, given the wealth of experience from previous models, the FZ38 subtly improves on what was already good rather than trying to reinvent the wheel - by all means a good thing.
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review - Image Quality
Overall the FZ38 provides decent images – and that can be hard to come by given the dynamics of a 27-486mm lens. Light fall-off at the wide angle is well controlled, whilst pictures even at full zoom provide relatively sharp results. The latter has the POWER O.I.S. (optical image stabilisation) to thank, which whilst an improvement over MEGA O.I.S isn’t necessarily a difference the average consumer will notice. Rather than compare one to the other however, it’s worth focusing on the success of the image stabilisation as it stands – it’s an essential in a camera such as this, and strikes a prominent tick in the stabilisation box.
It’s with higher ISO sensitivities that the Lumix FZ38 flounders a little however. Whilst ISO 100-400 provide smooth images, rather destructive noise jumps in from ISO 800 and above – causing distortion to subject edges that is overly-pronounced. The inclusion of an ISO sensitivity up to 6400 at a 3MP size maximum seems an ill-feted venture too – firstly as it’s only accessible from inside the scene modes as an auto ISO, secondly due to the small size and lastly that the quality essentially lacks. As a result, using high ISO sensitivity can cause some issues in low light, though the POWER O.I.S certainly goes some way to finding a happy medium. Were there to be an FZ48 in the future, it has to be said that the high ISO sensitivity is the single-most area that requires improvement. A shame too as, on the whole, the lens is of sterling quality – whilst there can be some chromatic abberation to subject edges, it’s kept to a minimum. Overall the quality is good, so long as you’re working in the low-mid ISO sensitivity settings.
Panasonic Lumix FZ38 review - Value For Money
In a world where prices continue to rise, the Panasonic Lumix FZ38 is actually positioned at a very fair price point – providing not only excellent all-round quality, but being affordable too. With an RRP of £320, a quick browse of the Web and it can easily be found for £270. Whilst that’s not micro-bucks, considering the amount of technology that’s wrapped up in the FZ38, it’s a very fair price. Put it into context, where near-by top-end offerings from Canon such as the SX1 come in around the £550 mark, or Sony’s HX1 at around the £480 mark, and – whilst not quite as advanced as those models – is a whole lot more affordable. Although the FZ38 is among the best superzooms available, it’s ideal as a first time purchase – whereas those already using the current FZ18 or FZ28 may need a little more convincing to ‘upgrade’ to this next level.