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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Gordon Laing, June 2007
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 Verdict
 

The Panasonic Lumix FZ8 is one of the best value super-zoom cameras around right now, boasting a range of features comparable to models costing comfortably more. On the plus side you get a good quality 12x optical zoom with stabilisation, composition using either a great-looking 2.5in screen or decent electronic viewfinder, quick and easy control over all settings, and even RAW recording facilities, all in small, light and affordable form factor.

Panasonic FZ8 - front view Panasonic FZ8 - rear view
 


There are of course downsides. The FZ8’s optical range while huge, doesn’t zoom as wide as some other models, and the screen, while very sharp and bright, is fixed in position. The biggest problem facing the FZ8 though is one we’re sadly all too familiar with: noise and noise reduction.

 
Panasonic FZ8 with lens hood
 

Panasonic claims to have improved both with its latest Venus III processor, but there’s still some serious issues when you look closely at images. Viewed at 100%, the FZ8 exhibits smearing of fine detail even at its lowest sensitivities – and with the with noise reduction turned down. It’s certainly not the camera for someone who likes to examine images on-screen at 100%, but to be fair, this is becoming par for the course for non-DSLRs and we’ve actually seen worse examples. And in the FZ8’s favour, its support for RAW gives you some degree of flexibility at the post-processing stage. So before wrapping up, how does the FZ8 compare against its biggest super-zoom rivals?




Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

 
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
 
 
 

For pretty much the same money as the FZ8, you could alternatively buy Panasonic’s own Lumix DMC-TZ3. As you may expect from its styling, the TZ3 doesn’t have anywhere the same manual control as the FZ8, but it does have several key advantages. First the lens, while ‘only’ offering a 10x range, starts at an equivalent of 28mm. This gives it proper wide angle capabilities and what you lose at the long end is more than made up for when zoomed-out. The TZ3’s sensor also allows it to maintain the full 28mm coverage even when set to wider 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios.

The TZ3’s screen is also much bigger at 3in (although there’s no electronic viewfinder) and the metallic body feels more substantial. Ultimately if you can live without manual exposure control, an electronic viewfinder or a grip to hold onto, then the TZ3 is arguably a better choice. See our Panasonic TZ3 review for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50

 
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50
 
 

The Lumix FZ50 is Panasonic’s flagship super-zoom and costing around 50% more than the FZ8, it offers a number of higher-end features. Most notably the 12x stabilised lens doesn’t physically extend and the zoom control is a tactile manual ring like a DSLR. The screen may be a little smaller, but it flips out and twists to any angle. The build quality is also superior, and it’s the only camera on this page to feature a proper flash hotshoe. Finally, with 10 Megapixels, it’s the highest resolution model here.

These are all worthy features, but in practice the resolution doesn’t make a massive difference and if you can live without the hotshoe, flip-out screen and manual zoom ring, then the FZ8 represents better value. If however these particular features are important to you then the FZ50 is hard to beat. See our Panasonic FZ50 review for more details.

Compared to Olympus SP-550UZ

 
 
 
Compared to Olympus SP-550UZ
 
 
 

The Olympus SP-550UZ also costs around 50% more than the FZ8, but offers a different proposition to the FZ50. It doesn’t have the FZ50’s flash hotshoe, flip-out screen or manual zoom ring, but it does have the biggest optical zoom range of all the cameras here: a whopping 18x range, which starts at a useful wide-angle equivalent of 28mm but still manages to zoom-in slightly closer than its rivals. This makes it optically much more flexible than either the FZ8 or FZ50, and we also felt the SP-550UZ’s build quality was more solid than the FZ8.

On the downside images from the SP-550UZ can be soft particularly when zoomed-in and there’s visible coloured fringing, again especially at the maximum focal length. The massive zoom range in a compact but solid body remains a compelling option though. See our Olympus SP-550UZ review for more details.

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9

 
 
Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
 
 
 

Like the Panasonic FZ50 and Olympus SP-550UZ, the Sony H9 costs around 50% more than the FZ8, and again offers a unique selection of features. On the upside it features a longer 15x optical range which is both wider and longer than the FZ8, although by not quite as much as the Olympus. Sony’s whopping 3in screen has no rivals though and offers great flexibility by tilting up or down. The H9’s focusing speed is also unparalleled for a non-DSLR.

While every model on this page suffers from overly-aggressive noise reduction though, the Sony H9 takes the biscuit. The smearing watercolour effect plagues images even at 100 ISO, and bizarrely there’s no option to adjust the compression, let alone support a RAW mode. These are serious omissions for the Sony, but if you can live with its quality issues, the lens, screen and handling are all very seductive. See our Sony H9 review for more details.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 final verdict

It’s revealing three-quarters of the cameras we’ve compared the FZ8 against here all cost around 50% more. The simple fact is there’s no real competition for the FZ8 at its price range other than Panasonic’s own Lumix TZ3, which as discussed above is aimed at a different kind of market. In short the FZ8 represents excellent value for money and while it’s understandably missing some of the sophistication of these higher-end models, it really can compete – and in some respects even beat them.

Smearing at low sensitivities remains the biggest problem facing the FZ8, but it’s one which applies to almost any non-DSLR in today’s market – and as we’ve mentioned, models like the Sony H9 actually have it worse. So this aspect of image quality aside, there really wasn’t much we didn’t like about the FZ8.

Ultimately we’d have preferred better wide angle capabilities and a flip-out screen, but the latter is unlikely to make it onto the FZ8 line given it’s a key up-seller for the FZ50. 28mm wide angle capabilities though are something we’d expect to find in a successor given Panasonic’s almost global adoption of the feature and heavy marketing across its range.

Assuming flip-out screens are reserved for the flagship model and there’s nothing they can do about image quality, our only fair complaint against the FZ8 is lack of true wide angle. That’s really about it.

So if you’re seriously considering the FZ8, you need to ask yourself two questions: are you the kind of person who likes studying images on-screen at 100%, and will you find the 36mm wide angle restrictive? If you answer yes to either, then you’ll probably be disappointed by the FZ8, but if the answer to both is no, then the FZ8 offers a highly compelling proposition and almost unbeatable value. As such we can confidently award it our Highly Recommended rating and rank it as the best affordable super-zoom camera around. For a full demonstration, check out our FZ8 video tour.



Good points

12x optical zoom with OIS.
Decent quality 2.5in screen.
Quick access to settings.
Good manual control and RAW mode.

Bad points
Noise becomes a problem above 200 ISO.
Wide angle coverage 'only' 36mm.
No flip-out screen.
May be too small and light for some.




Scores

(relative to 2007 superzooms)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
15 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
20 / 20

84%
 



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