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The ultimate camera for travelers...and Realtors?
No other camera zooms farther and wider than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70. Is this the ultimate travel/wildlife/Realtor camera?
Let's take some of the dramatic tension out of this review right now: In the race for the the longest zoom range in a self-contained digital camera, Panasonic is currently the winner. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 (Adorama price: $332.24 as of November 12, 2013) features the world's longest range zooming lens at 3.58-215mm, or 60x. Factor in sensor size and the 35mm equivalent field of view is 20-1200mm. Both the short end, 20mm, and the long end, 1200mm, are the widest and longest focal lengths to be found on any compact digital camera! How do they pull off this trick? By using a 1/2.3-inch sensor measuring 4.54x3.42mm, which is small but not as small as most compact digital cameras' sensors they are able to keep overall lens size smaller while producing surprisingly good image quality.
The lens starts at the wide aperture of f/2.8, although it ends up at f/5.9. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 looks and feels like a beginner DSLR, and is roughly the same size and weight as a starter DSLR with a kit lens—pretty amazing considering the typical kit lens's range is 18-55mm (around 28-80mm equivalent in 35mm terms). If you were to put a 20-1200mm f/2.8 lens on a starter DSLR...well, you couldn't do it, because such a lens doesn't exist among interchangeable-lens cameras, and if it did, it would be huge and weigh a ton (like this Sigma monster, which only covers 200-500mm on a full-frame sensor camera), since the DSLR's larger sensor requires bigger optics.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 Key features
- 20-120mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom widest and longest in class
- f/2.8-5.9 maximum aperture range
- 16MP sensor
- Built-in Mic with Dolby Digital Audio
- 1080p HD Videos in AVCHD and MP4
- Power Optical Image Stabilization
- Macro focus less than 1/2 inch
- Shutter speed 8-1/2000 sec stills, 1/30-1/20,000 video
- 202k dot resolution EVF
- 3-inch 460k dot LCD
- ISO range 100-3200, boost to 6400
- RAW and JPEG
- 15 Filter effects: Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter and Point Color
- Creative Panorama
- 5fps AF
- Intelligent Auto iA mode
First, the good news: This camera delivered good image quality, and the zoom difference was stunning. Vibration Reduction is very effective at the wider focal lengths, and surprisingly helpful when zoomed out although if you want the best possible image quality you should slap this little puppy onto a tripod. It simply isn't possible to hand-hold at 1200mm, even with the FZ70's sophisticated VR, in anything other than bright sunlight.
The other good news is that all the cool high-tech features found on a typical Panasonic compact, such as a plethora of scene modes and creative filters (which can be applied either before or after exposure-the choice is yours) are found here. For amateurs, there's full auto and iA (intelligent auto), while more experienced shooters can take full manual control. While manual exposure control is menu-driven, it is intuitive enough.
The bad news? Actually, it's not that bad. To accomodate such a small, light lens, the sensor is not that big. It is the size of a better-quality compact digital camera and when shooting at ISO 100-400, you can get quite good looking enlargements as big as 11x14. You could even get away with shooting ISO 800, but beyond that you will start seeing digital noise and noise-reduction software artifacts. (Scroll down to see more details about image quality.)
The good news about the bad news: The intended audience for this camera—casual travel photographers as well as more experienced shooters who want a smaller but flexible, self-contained camera—won't care about the bad news.
What does 20-1200mm look like? Check this out!
20mm (35mm equivalent) All photos by Mason Resnick except where indicated.
In The Hands
Given the unprecedented zoom range, I expected a heavier, bulkier camera. The FZ70 is surprisingly light and compact. Controls were logically placed. Since the typical users will probably keep the camera in iA mode, I shot most of my sample images using that setting. However, a quick twirl of the dial gave me access to PASM control, and delving into the menu revealed an extensive set of features including post-capture image editing that will be useful to more experienced users.
My one niggling complaint? Zoom isn't precise and isn't well indicated in the viewfinder and LCD. Instead of getting a 35mm focal length equivalent (28mm, 35mm etc) the display shows multiples of the widest zoom setting, which is 20mm. 2x should therefore be 40mm, 4x is 80mm, etc...sort of. There are unmarked intermediate steps if your fingers are nimble enough. I counted at least 5 or 6 intermediate steps between 2x and 4x, for instance, but I don't have any live in-camera feedback telling me the exact focal length. While the zoom range is optical, the zoom is controlled electronically, so you may have to rock the zoom control back and forth in micro-steps to frame more precisely.
Toy Camera Mode is just one of many creative options available in the FZ70.
The FZ70 offers lots of options, whether you are interested in full or partial manual exposure control, want to take advantage of the 15 effects filters, customize the camera (there are three C custom settings), edit the images in post-processing, or shoot video or panoramas. You can easily get to the most common features via a control dial atop the camera, or delve deep into the menus for even more options.
Closeup: Pretty close! Shot at a moderate telephoto setting, I was able to get fairly close but not into macro territory.
In the Field
In its wide-angle settings, the FZ70 focuses lightning-fast, with virtually no lag time. The longer the focal length, the longer it takes to acquire focus, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Zooming the lens all the way from wide to full tele is a fun experience. Pick something out of the far distance and zoom in on it until it fills the frame—it will impress anybody you're with!
I was also impressed with the effectiveness of this camera's optical image stabilization. Even at 1200mm indoors under fairly bright fluorescent light, Adorama's Affiliate Program coordinator Jacob Waldner was able to photograph a tight head-shot of a co-worker where the camera shake was well under control. That said, for optimal results, I recommend shooting at the camera's native ISO of 100, which will require a tripod (turn Stabilization off) in all but the brightest daylight conditions when shooting at the longer focal lengths for optimal image quality.
Handheld indoor exposure looks quite good shot at 1200mm equivalent; photo by Jacob Waldner.
The eye-level EVF is fairly comfortable for eyeglass wearers and while the image quality at about 200k dots is fair, it is more than sufficient for framing up your shots. The LCD monitor resolution is good but not superb, but these sacrifices helped to bring the cost of the camera down and don't affect recorded image quality.
I had a blast playing with the extreme compression resulting from shooting at long telephoto settings. This was at approximately 500mm; at full extension, you can almost fill the frame with the moon!
At ISO 100-200, image quality is excellent and should give you fine 11x14 enlargements even if your standards are fairly high. Even ISO 400 is quite good. By ISO 800 noise artifacts are more apparent, and ISO 1600 and 3200 images are fine for small (4x6-inch) prints or screen resolution but not much else as noise artifacts as well as evidence of noise suppression are quite evident.
Image quality test photos:
Full frame image
ISO 100 detail at 100 percent: Nice and sharp
ISO 200 detail at 100 percent: Still sharp
ISO 400 detail at 100 percent: A bit of noise, but most won't be bothered by it.
ISO 800 detail at 100 percent: Somewhat noisier, and a slight color shift—but still pretty good.
ISO 1600 detail at 100 percent: Bad news. (ISO 3200 image quality was virtually identical)
Flare: Flare is moderate, and a lenshood would have been helpful in some situations where there's direct frontal sunlight. I found myself repositioning the camera at times to avoid flare, which only got worse at the longer focal lengths, and on some occasions used my hand to shield the lens from direct sun. Shooting in sunlight, avoid straight-on sun in most circumstances.
Distortion: There is virtually no barrel or pincussion distortion, even at 20mm. It is evident that there is distortion compensation software at work under the hood, and it is very effective. This is great for anyone who wants to shoot interiors without straight lines appearing to be bent.
Video image quality was excellent, although there was some pixel roll as you pan the camera
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Panasonic DMC-FZ70 is an impressive compact digital camera. I think it's great for travelers and—surprise—for Realtors and architects who need to show tight interiors, thanks to the super-wide, distortion-fre 20mm shortest zoom and the f/2.8 wide aperture, which lets you shoot without flash indoors and get fine image quality. It's also a great camera for wildlife enthusiasts who need to keep their distance so they don't spook their subjects although I strongly recommend a tripod or monopod for this application.
If you're attending a concert or sporting event, you actually have a fighting chance of getting pretty good close-up shots of the action with this camera, even if you're sitting in the nosebleed section of the stadium. While this won't replace a big sensor DSLR with a monster lens for pro work, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 a great choice for amateurs and snapshooters who want a flexible, light camera with a looooong zoom range.