A superzoom update to the successful Lumix FZ30
A year after the launch of Panasonic’s FZ30 Superzoom, the manufacturer is back with a revamped and reloaded version of the camera that, prior to the L1, was the flagship of the Japanese giant’s Lumix line-up. The FZ50 breaks little new ground aesthetically, but a look under the bonnet confirms more than a mild tinker.
The FZ50 inherits basic specifications from the FZ30 including manual focus and zoom rings, but offers a handful of noteworthy advancements. A 1/1.8-inch 10.1-megapixel CCD has been added, a marked improvement on the 8MP offered by its predecessor. Panasonic’s homegrown Venus Engine III lies at the heart of the camera, ensuring a new higher sensitivity range up to a maximum ISO1600 at full resolution.
An f/2.8 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 12x optical zoom lens is on hand; while focusing is available in switchable auto, manual and macro modes, offering 1-point, 1-point high speed, 3-point high speed, 9-point and Spot automatic options. Eight white balance settings include Shade, Halogen and Flash. Exposure options are also reassuringly exhaustive.
The FZ50 carries the MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilisation) system, which is available in two modes. This functionality has been advanced further by an Intelligent ISO Control (IIC) function within the Venus Engine III. This feature detects subject movement and adjusts the ISO setting and shutter speed to suit subject speed.
A few key changes to the design of the FZ50 subtly distinguishes it from its predecessor. As with the FZ30, the lens is an overpowering beast, which adds (understandable) bulk and weight to the camera. In the hand, the FZ50 thus presents a similar stature to a current consumer digital SLR.
Despite its sizeable bulk, the FZ50 offers a reassuringly solid body that feels resistant to wear and tear. Its control layout is good, avoiding clutter to feature a simple mode dial, D-pad and a smattering of single function buttons. A new Function button has been added to improve useability. This serves as a shortcut to frequently used settings such as image size, light metering, AF area, white balance, and ISO sensitivity. The 2-inch LCD flips out to 180°, making it easier to view when shooting from high or low angles. A hotshoe is another notable addition, making the camera compatible with external TTL flash units.
The FZ50 is not as immediately intuitive as some rival cameras, but additions such as the Function button and the degree to which customisation is possible certainly smooth the way.
Start up and write times are extremely respectable, and this speedy characteristic spills over into shot-to-shot timings that come in at a little under two seconds. Continuous shooting is so-so, at around 3fps – slower than this camera’s predecessor but not a serious disappointment.
The autofocus is quick and fairly responsive, only needing extra encouragement at the very extremes of the camera’s focal length. Once the AF has locked, shutter release is certainly rapid, combining with the comfortable shot-to-shot speed to provide what is generally a prompt and responsive shooting experience.
The presence of manual zoom and focus rings further bring a reassuring sense of control to shooting, offering about as much precision as one can hope for in this class of camera.
As with the FZ30, noise is the main bugbear. Although improved thanks to Panasonic’s Venus III engine, noise still afflicts images at higher ISOs. This is almost inevitable given a sensor of this size, and though effective, noise reduction smoothes images just that little too much. Still, the FZ50 is capable of impressive images, thanks to a lens that generally displays edge-to-edge crispness. Colour and white balance is good, and while high-contrast scenes and low light can present minor exposure problems, the FZ50 is an above-average performer.
Value For Money
You certainly get a lot of functionality for your money, and among its superzoom contemporaries the FZ50 comes off well. The inevitable problem with a model such as this is that the price point inevitably offers equal scope for investing in an entry-level SLR that has the added benefits of a larger sensor.
Despite negative comparisons to a digital SLR, the FZ50 still manages to offer high-value advantages over rival models, chiefly in its high resolution, image-stabilisation system and lens quality. Panasonic has a history of producing fine superzooms, and the FZ50 continues this tradition.