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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Gordon Laing, October 2007

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 Verdict

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ18 builds on the already excellent FZ8 to deliver one of the best super-zooms on the market. We can give or take the extra megapixel and higher ISO settings, but swapping the already powerful 12x zoom for an 18x lens which extends both wider and longer gives you much greater flexibility. The optical stabilisation remains very effective, but what’s particularly impressive is how the FZ18’s managed to avoid the coloured fringing which plagues its 18x rivals when fully zoomed-in.

 
 










The new lens alone would make the FZ18 a worthy successor, but Panasonic’s also tweaked a number of internal aspects. Face detection has been added, the RAW mode now lets you choose if it's accompanied by a JPEG file, and the new Intelligent Auto mode uncannily seems to know what photo you’re trying to take. While it’s too much to ask for a flip-out screen on this model, Panasonic has also made some small tweaks to the exterior too, including a handy AF / AE lock button and separate controls for the Macro and Manual focus.

We’d love to say the new 8 Megapixel sensor and image processing have also solved the noise issues of its predecessor, but sadly pixel peepers should prepare for a disappointment. If you examine images at 100% on your computer screen, you’ll see tell-tale texturing from noise at all sensitivities including 100 ISO. This inevitably gets worse as the sensitivity is increased, although we found shots taken at 400 ISO still looked fine on smaller prints and even 800 ISO samples contained a reasonable amount of detail.

In fact if you closely compare samples taken with the FZ8 and FZ18, we’d argue the latter suffers from less apparent smearing due to noise reduction when both cameras are using their default settings. But don’t get too excited. The FZ18, like its predecessor, remains a camera best-suited to someone who doesn’t examine their images too closely, although the more demanding out there can always shoot in RAW and carefully process their photos.

So how does the FZ18 compare to its predecessor and close rivals?

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8

 
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8
 
 

First up the Lumix FZ8, the predecessor to the FZ18. It has one less megapixel, and is lacking bells and whistles like face detection and Intelligent Auto modes, but the really big difference is the lens. The FZ8’s 12x zoom has an equivalent range of 36-432mm, whereas the new FZ18 sports an 18x range equivalent to 28-504mm. The longer telephoto end is a bonus, but for most the really important bit is the 28mm wide angle, which is simply much wider than 36mm.

If you can live without the wide angle and face detection though, the FZ8 remains a great buy. In fact the typical internet prices of the FZ8 at the time of writing were around two thirds that of the FZ18 and other models on this page – and that still makes it the best value super-zoom on the market. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 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 25% more than the FZ18, 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 – you can even zoom it while making a video. 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 it’s really now missing wide angle coverage. So if you can live without the hotshoe, flip-out screen and manual zoom ring, then the FZ18 represents better value, especially with its longer and wider lens coverage. If however these particular features are important to you then the FZ50 remains hard to beat, but do also consider Panasonic’s new L10 DSLR. See our Panasonic FZ50 review for more details.

 

Compared to Olympus SP-560UZ

 
 
Olympus SP-560UZ
 
 

The Olympus SP-560UZ costs around the same as the FZ18 and shares its 8 Megapixel resolution and 18x optical range, although in practice the range is equivalent to 27-486mm. We tested its predecessor the SP-550UZ which is identical other than a slightly lower resolution 7 Megapixel sensor, and found the camera featured slightly better build quality to the older FZ8, but its optics suffered from softness and significant fringing when zoomed-in.

We were willing to cut the SP-550 some slack as it was the first 18x super-zoom camera, but now Panasonic has proven you don’t need accept fringing on such a range. As such unless you really prefer the look and feel of the Olympus body, we’d say the Lumix FZ18 is a better buy. See our Olympus SP-550UZ review for more details.

 

Compared to Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd

 
 
Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd
 
 

The Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd also costs around the same as the FZ18 and shares its 8 Megapixel resolution and 18x optical range, although in practice the range is equivalent to 27-486mm. We tested the S8000fd alongside the Lumix FZ18 and you can see many of its results in this very review. Interestingly the body, controls and optics also share a great many similarities with the Olympus SP-560UZ, and although we can’t confirm it, believe both cameras are made by the same company – or at least are based on the same underlying shell.

Sadly this means the S8000fd also suffers from serious coloured fringing when zoomed-in, an effect which is virtually absent on the Panasonic FZ18. Unlike the FZ18 and Olympus, the Fujifilm also doesn’t have a RAW mode. As such unless you again love the look and feel of the S8000fd or prefer its use of AA batteries, it’s hard to recommend it above the FZ18. See our Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd review for more details.

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9

 
 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
 
 

The Sony H9 is another super-zoom which costs roughly the same as the Panasonic FZ18, but offers a unique selection of features. The 15x optical zoom may not be as long, but it’s still powerful and features a reasonable wide angle. Sony’s whopping 3in screen has no rivals though and offers great flexibility by tilting up or down. The H9’s quick 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 image quality issues, the screen and handling are very seductive. See our Sony H9 review for more details.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 final verdict

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 may cost 50% more than its predecessor but it’s still hard not to be impressed. While it no longer offers the same sheer value, it does give you the flexibility of a longer and wider 18x optical zoom with decent stabilisation and none of the fringing concerns of immediate rivals.

The new electronic features like face detection and Intelligent Auto are also nice to have, especially if you’re the kind of person who prefers leaving the controls up to the camera. That said, like its predecessor, the FZ18 also offers full manual control should you want to intervene and there’s a RAW mode for those who want to try and get the most from their image data.

Speaking of the pictures though, the FZ18 is not immune to noise. It remains ever-present across the entire ISO range and is visible even at the lowest 100 ISO setting. But then this issue also faces its rivals and most non-DSLRs these days. If you like to examine images on-screen at 100%, the FZ18 – and its rivals – are not the cameras for you.

Ultimately when concluding our review of the earlier FZ8, we felt the only issues were noise, lack of wide angle and no flip-out screen. We weren’t surprised to find the FZ18’s screen still fixed as this appears to be a key up-seller to Panasonic’s higher-end FZ50 and the new L10 DSLR. We’re also not surprised to find the noise issues still present – if you hate them, look at a DSLR instead. But Panasonic has addressed one out of the three issues by equipping the FZ18 with a wider and longer lens, and best of all, it appears not to suffer from the compromises of its 18x rivals.

As such with the FZ18, Panasonic’s improved on what was already an already excellent camera. It may no longer be the sheer bargain of its predecessor, but still outperforms the competition while matching their prices. Consequently we have no hesitation in Highly Recommending the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18  - it’s the best all-round super-zoom we’ve tested so far.




Good points

18x optical zoom with OIS and little fringing.
Decent quality 2.5in screen.
Intelligent Auto a useful auto mode.
Good manual control and RAW facility.

Bad points
Noise visible throughout ISO range.
50% pricier than earlier FZ8.
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
16 / 20
16 / 20
18 / 20
19 / 20

85%
 
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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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