Continuing their tradition of producing high-end ultra-zoom cameras with full manual feature sets, Panasonic has brought to market their latest product, the Lumix DMC-FZ18. Sporting a massive 18x optical zoom and full manual shooting modes along with a host of Panasonic's new, beginner-friendly modes, it certainly is an impressive unit, however with a cost close to that of an entry-level SLR, for many users we question the value of such a purchase.
- Huge zoom, sharp pictures, good noise performance, intelligent auto mode is great for beginners
- Over-sharpening issues, barrel distortion
Panasonic's FZ18 is a solid ultra-zoom camera. While the price tag is high, many users would be better served spending that money on an SLR, whereas those after a huge zoom lens and a mass of features along with several beginner-friendly shooting modes may find what they're looking for here.
Price$ 879.00 (AUD)
The most noteworthy thing about this model is its gigantic lens. Offering 18x optical zoom it is now tied with SP-550UZ for having the largest lens on a non-SLR digital camera and so those who regularly like to get up close and personal can have a lot of fun with this model. That said, 18x is a lot larger than many people need, and a tripod is basically a requirement to properly use anything above 8x, even with optical image stabilisation (which is present on the FZ18).
Other funky features include Panasonic's Intelligent ISO setting (which adjusts sensitivity to help reduce blur as the name would imply), face detect and their brand new Intelligent Auto setting, which is basically a jazzed up version of the regular automatic mode found on cameras. It does everything from pick a scene mode to activating face detection if people are in the picture and is a brilliant addition for novices.
In general, the images produced by the FZ18 were impressive. It sports an 8.1-megapixel sensor, which captures some extremely sharp snaps. We ran some pictures through our Imatest testing software and were pleased with the outcome. It awarded the camera a score of 1803 for sharpness, which is an excellent result. Our test shots showed great clarity and even areas of dense detail such as foliage came out nicely. We did, however, also spot a little over-sharpening, which gives pictures a somewhat unrealistic look. This wasn't too prevalent but could pose an issue if you intend to make sizeable enlargements.
Chromatic aberration wasn't a problem, with an Imatest score of 0.18 per cent in this area. There was some very minor fringing in high contrast areas but nothing problematic. That said, there was some noticeable barrel distortion which caused a fair amount of distortion towards the edges of the frame.
Colour response was fairly good. They were vivid and bright, and the auto white balance operated well. Noise was also not an issue, with Imatest giving the FZ18 a score of 0.54 per cent at ISO 100, which is an excellent performance. As we ramped up the sensitivity, noise climbed but was under control and no detail was lost due to the noise reduction algorithm. Anything up to ISO 400 is more than usable.
The FZ18 was also fairly speedy in our testing. It exhibited 0.09 seconds of shutter lag, 1.5 seconds between shots and 1.9 seconds of power up time, all of which are good results. The burst mode operates at three frames per second in unlimited mode, but can be sped up to four frames per second for just four shots.
Aside from the aforementioned features, everything you'd expect is here. White balance can be set manually or using a variety of presets. ISO sensitivities extend to 1600, shutter speeds from 1/4000th of a second to 60 seconds are on offer and aperture extends from f/2.8 to f/8.0.
Aesthetically, the FZ18 is fairly standard for a Panasonic ultra-zoom with a gigantic lens barrel and a jutting right-hand grip. It is built almost entirely from plastic and therefore isn't particularly sturdy.
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