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…
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.
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.
Although 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.
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.
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.
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.