Serious photographers are a very demanding breed, but camera manufacturers absolutely adore them. A perfect example of this corporate affection is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8; an imaging tool that caters specifically (with a couple of important cautions) to photography enthusiasts. The compact FZ8 replaces Panasonic’s very popular FZ7 and provides a full complement of advanced features including: 7.2 megapixel resolution, a 12x Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom with MEGA O.I.S. (image stabilization), substantial resolution improvements in both the 2.5-inch LCD and EVF, RAW format capability, and full manual controls.
(view large image)
In all Auto modes the FZ8 is a remarkably dependable picture taker – exposure, AF, auto WB, and auto ISO are all dead-on accurate. The FZ8's image quality is consistently very good to excellent outdoors at the ISO 100 setting, but image noise is noticeably above average at higher sensitivities. Compromise has always been the soul of photography - shooters who insist on near noiseless images have the option to shoot in RAW mode. Pictures are acceptably sharp with slightly hard contrast, accurate color, and good shadow detail, but there is some detail smearing (due to over-aggressive noise reduction) in low contrast shots and a slight tendency to clip highlights. Very minor chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is visible in high contrast color transition areas at the wide end of the excellent Leica zoom, but is essentially non-existent at the telephoto end of the big optic’s range.
FZ8 sample image (view medium image) (view large image)
I used the FZ8 heavily for a month, under a variety of conditions (I even shot some product photos for a friend) and the camera never let me down, but some potential purchasers may be put off by Panasonic’s failure to include a hot shoe. There’s a lot of competition in the megazoom class right now – the Olympus SP-550 UZ features an 18X zoom, image stabilization, a hot shoe, and supports RAW format, but it is substantially more expensive than the FZ8. The Canon S5 IS features a a 12X zoom and a hot shoe, but lacks RAW capability. The Sony H9 provides a 12X zoom, but lacks both a hot shoe and RAW capability. The Fuji S6500fd has an 10.7X zoom and RAW capability, but it lacks both a hot shoe and image stabilization. Overall, the FZ8 may be the best choice for those looking to move up to a megazoom digicam. We’ll have an in-depth review of the FZ8 up in a few days.