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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 first look Digital Camera Review

Panasonic revealed the Lumix DMC-FZ38 and ePHOTOzine were there to get an exclusive first look.

|  Panasonic Lumix FZ-38 in Compact Cameras
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Review by Matt Grayson

Panasonic took a number of journalists out to Lisbon to showcase the new range of compacts and ePHOTOzine were there to see them.

Skip to Verdict

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Specification
  • Zoom: 18x optical
  • Resolution: 12.1Mp
  • Sensor size: 1/2.33in
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Max. image size: 4000x3000 (4:3 aspect)
  • File type: JPEG, RAW
  • Sensitivity: ISO80-1600 (max. ISO6400)
  • Media type: Built-in, SD, SDHC
  • Focus types: Normal, macro, quick AF, continuous AF, manual, oneshot, tracking AF, area select
  • Normal focusing: 30cm-infinity
  • Close focusing: 1cm-infinity
  • Metering types: Intelligent multi, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 60-1/2000sec (max. 1/20000sec)
  • Flash: Built-in, 0.3cm-8.5m (Wide at ISO Auto), 1.0-5.4m (Telephoto at ISO Auto)
  • Monitor: 2.7in TFT LCD (230,000dot)
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 117.6x75.8x88.9mm
  • Weight: 367g (excl. battery and card)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The back is designed the same as the previous model but with a dedicated video record button.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Features
A slightly more squared off design welcomes you into the fold of the newest superzoom from Panasonic. It replaces the Lumix DMC-FZ28 and a lot of the main features have been transited over such as the 18x optical zoom and 1/2.33in CCD. Although the sensor has a marginally higher pixel count of 12 million, up two million from the previous ten.

The ISO range has also been retained with a manual range of ISO80-1600 with expandability to ISO6400 in the scene modes. These higher settings can't be used in manual mode unfortunately but looking at the ISO results from the FZ28 and this may be a blessing in disguise.

One of the newest features and one that Panasonic are extremely proud of is an evolution of the Mega OIS that has been a staple requirement of every compact since they began. Power O.I.S. is the new name for image stabilisation at Panasonic HQ and it's claimed to be able to steady a fully zoomed out 18x optical zoom lens without the need for a tripod.

One of the interesting modes in the scene selection was for dynamic range. It dampens the highlights to prevent blown out hot spots while adding detail to the shadow areas. Using this feature I found gave an unusual result. It made the pictures look like they'd been painted which was odd but the cameras we used were pre-production so this is possibly due to change with final firmware.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
A view from the top shows the squared off design and stereo microphones which also feature wind-cut.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
A busy top plate features the command dial, focus buttons, power switch and shutter release on the top.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Lens in at wide angle.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Lens out at telephoto.
Panasonic are helping to take face detection to dizzy new heights with face recognition. This technology isn't that new in itself, Casio have been doing it for a while but a new development has recently been added to the programme. When you're adding faces for the camera to recognise, you can also add the name and the camera will put the name under the face recognition box. In older models, this sometimes got constricted and would go onto another line by splitting up a word but that issue has now been resolved.

A new Venus engine HD has been added to help improve picture quality further and to accommodate the AVCHD Lite video capability. This HD video system is Viera compatible which means that you can either take the memory card straight out of the camera and slot it into the port on the TV or you can link up using the HDMI port on the camera. With AVCHD Lite, the video is compressed further than usual MPEG files which means you can record more. Panasonic says this is done without the loss of quality to the video.

Anyone who's read the Panasonic DMC-GH1 review (ie, all of you) will know that one fundamental exterior improvement on the previous model was the stereo sound microphones sat in front of the hotshoe and the FZ38 has the same microphone system, just without the hotshoe.

A large command dial sits on the right shoulder giving quick access to PASM modes as well as iA mode, custom, portrai, landscape, sport, macro, night portrait, extra scene modes and a manual video mode. The 'M' next to the video camera is quite important. It means that you can change the video manually and add colour effects as well as using scene modes. The power switch is located next to the dial with the shutter release button at the front on the small grip and two focus buttons sat in between.

On the back is the electronic viewfinder which, unfortunately, isn't as sublime as the LVF (live view finder) found on the G1/GH1 Micro Four Thirds cameras. They offer a 1.4Mp resolution whereas the viewfinder on the FZ38 is only 231,000 pixels. That's not to say that it's not very good, I found it did the job as well as any other superzoom in comparable range, I think I expect the viewfinder from the MFT (Micro Four Thirds) models which is why I get disappointed.

To push the video capabilities, Panasonic have introduced a dedicated record button at the top right corner. Again, this is nothing new as Casio added this to their HD compacts a couple of years ago. Still, it's a good idea and useful for quick bursts of video for those “Jeremy Beadle” moments as well as settling the YouTube crowd.

One thing I like about Panasonic cameras is the record/playback switch. It can get some getting used to as pressing the shutter release half way doesn't bring you out of playback like with other cameras, but it means you can switch it to playback, turn the camera on and review your images without the lens popping out.

There's the usual Q-menu that we've seen on many Panasonic compacts and it's designed to give fast acccess to your most commonly used features such as ISO, metering, focusing, white balance, resolution and, oddly enough, screen brightness. It's the same as a function button on a lot of other cameras, it does the same thing.

In the Scene modes, there a Dynamic Range option and this mode has three settings. It's a mode for getting more dynamic range to the image which is technology that adds detail to low light areas and prevents burning out of high lights. It can give quite an interesting effect if done properly and unlike the Pentax K-7 which also has this feature, it does it in one shot.  Of course this means that it's not true HDR, but the effect is pleasing enough.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
A shot of a flower with no HDR settings and contrast is in abundance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
With the standard setting added, the effect is already taking place.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The art setting pops the colours out in a similar fashion to the Olympus art mode.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Changing to black & white loses the flower among the plants but the HDR effect can still be seen.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Build and handling
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38The camera feels really nice in the hands and mine, I would say, are medium to large size. After a day using it, I was used to the locations of the buttons and could quickly navigate my way around the menu.

The lens design has been provided by Leica and is the same Vario-Emlmarit f/2.8 as seen on the FZ28 which was a very good lens. These lenses aren't built by Leica but are built to Leica specification and Leica standards. This is the same with any manufacturer such as Sony/Carl Zeiss or Samsung/Schneider and the lenses are just as good.

After around 3-4 hours of shooting with the camera being turned on and off sporadically, the battery showed the first bar disappear. I don't think this was too bad as I used video and stills as well as reviewing and employing the screen most of the time.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Performance

Shutter lag is a standard time of 0.08sec which I expect from any compact camera these days. What this means is that it's a standard time response in the tests that I do.

Considering the lens has to physically move out of the shadow of the larger bezel, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 can start up and take a picture in 1.5sec which is fast enough for most people's needs.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38Looking at the colour test chart, the FZ38 boosts blue nicely but red and yellow are also popping out as though they want their own share of the limelight. Earth brown and forest green are deep and rich although in stark contrast the skin tone tiles all look a little paler than what they really should. The mono tones are balanced and the pastel colours have the right amount of hint to them.

I took a photograph of my son on a day out and even with the sun behind him, the camera managed to metering precisely on his face. What I like about this shot is that the clouds have burnt out. That means the meter gave priority to the subject which is great. Colours are a little subdued which is unfortunate but it's still a good shot and I don't think I'd notice if I wasn't testing the camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The clouds have over exposed to get detail in the face. Not bad from a pattern metering set up.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Backlit yet still has detail in the shadow area. the sun is just off shot to the left. Taken five minutes before the Lancaster.
I wanted to do a macro shot and they were all coming out boring as  I simply couldn't get an angle I liked. With this in mind I changed angle and shot up to get the blank blue of the sky. The sun is just off the screen to the left and the flower has still exposed well enough, albeit, underexposed, there's detail in the shadow areas.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
This Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flew past in formation on their way to Derwent.
While visiting relatives I was lucky enough to be witness to a flyover of a Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire and Hurricane. We were near to Derwent which is where the 617 squadron tested the bouncing bomb theory in 1943. It flew past us and I rushed for the camera, then it circled back as if wanting a picture to be taken. I shot it as it came back over head before flipping easily into video mode and filming some footage using the dedicated record button on the back. One disappointing part of the image is that despite a really sunny day and selecting ISO100, the noise on the image is so great that I can't make out the markings on the plane. I wanted to see if it was a display by the BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Foundation) as the website didn't give any indication. I tried to see the plane markings as they're unique but the image is too badly broken up.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
I think this bird actually posed for me as she sat there for ages while I took loads of shots.
This image of a female Blackbird was taken through the window so has a slight sheen on it from that. This would happen on any camera because of the reflection, so I wouldn't mark the Panasonic down because of it. This was taken at full 18x zoom so the image looks quite good with lack of shake. I expect this is with a lot of help from the new Power O.I.S system. Again the image is let down by noise and I'm now worried that the noise will be a big failing on the camera.

The following images were taken at the launch of the Panassonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 and due to the models we used being pre-production, we're not allowed to display large sized images, but I can upload small size pictures for you to try and get an idea of what it can do.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Detail of a Portuguese cathedral.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The same shot cropped in to the statue to the left of the frame.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Macro has been retained at 1cm for ultra close ups of subjects such as this tea light candle.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
I'm impressed with how the camera has coped with one person in shadow and the other in light.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Shot at 27mm wide 1/3step under exposed to bring out the blue sky.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
This image used the pinhole mode to make the picture look older.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
This image of a mime artist was taken at approximately 90mm and is a really good result.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Portrait mode also features a beauty portrait option which smoothes skin and reduces blemishes.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Inside a cathedral, the white balance was all over with natural light, stained glass and artificial lights. The camera coped well with a manual override of a reading from the white t-shirt of an unsuspecting tourist.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
I simply like this picture. I like the old street lantern and the broken windows. What I find most interesting about this is that the room beyond the broken window looks occupied yet nothing is done to fix the glass.
 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Wide angle takes in plenty of information about the world around you.
The 18x zoom laughs in the face of panoramic shots.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
Taken in a dark corridor of a cathedral, I like the way the metering has worked this out.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
I shot this street scene with the sun straight on but hidden behind the building
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Noise test
If you're looking to buy this camera for snapping at parties or on holiday then I think you'll be ok with getting the camera up to around ISO400 before you get too annoyed with the lack of quality and this is the main failing of the camera.

Even at ISO400, colour is invading the shadow areas of the flower that are cast on the grey card and there are random purple spots appearing all over the petals. Above this setting shows the detail in the petals disappearing as noise control tries to sort the problem but it's too much for it to handle and by the top setting of ISO1600, the image is pretty dire.

By capping the sensitivity at ISO1600, Panasonic are showing a sense of honesty that they know the camera simply can't perform at high settings. However, I think it also shows that they simply aren't there with noise control. I've seen much better results on digital cameras that are cheaper than this and that also have large zooms.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The ISO80 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38
The ISO1600 test.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Verdict
There are some good features on the new model which will keep a varied amount of customers very happy. The new video controls will appeal to the YouTube generation while the Viera link will attract families wanting to share their images on a big screen and the innovation led crowd.

On the surface, the image quality appears to be good, it's not until you zoom in to full size magnification that the problems occur. If you're the photographer who simply wants to shoot holidays and days out then this is an ideal little package with a big zoom and fast response.

If you're more serious about taking creative shots then you may want to compare before making your decision.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Plus points
Small and light
Good build
Fast response
Nice colour rendition
Good metering

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38: Minus points
Noise, noise and more noise
Busy layout could confuse newcomers





You can see the full press release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 by following this link:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 costs around £269.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

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Photographs taken using the Panasonic Lumix FZ-38

candidsA boy with his toyssnapshot from my bedroom window #2grabshotTo the seaside.Amsterdam canalAmsterdam canalLondon eyeChicago at nightThe Wasp and the HollyhockCanal AbstractA Splash of ColourThe weedkiller didn't workHigh and DryWaiting for the Tide

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1 Sep 2009 5:55PM
The samples are all ~1M in size. This means over-compressing (in-camera low or post-processing). So, no relevant quality. The jpeg size should be around 5-6 Mb in original fine quality.
MattGrayson 13 622 3 England
15 Oct 2009 4:06PM
The samples taken in Lisbon were on a pre-production model and I'm not allowed to put the full file size images up.

The other images are Saved to Web so they're easier to upload onto the page for you. Smile
StrayCat 16 19.1k 3 Canada
3 Jan 2010 7:13AM
Matt, I've been looking for a camera for my wife. Her present compact only has 5X zoom, and we get an abundance of wildlife behind our house. She wants something with the reach to get closer shots of the wildlife, and the HD video for the grandchildren. I was settled on the Panasonic ZS3, then I discovered this camera. I believe it fits the bill for someone who's interested in snaps; what do you think? I ordered one last night, so I'm commited.

Virtually every compact I researched had noise issues, in fact, I haven't seen a review of any compact ever that didn't have these issues. It's inherent in the small sensor, I believe. I wish they'd quit the megapixel race and concentrate on IQ. These sensors shouldn't be expected to produce any more than 8MP in my opinion.

Also, when one finds satisfactory performance in one area, something else crops up. Ya can't win.

I find this camera to take excellent shots with good lighting (check out flickr) but in low lighting its fairly disappointing compared to its predecessor, fz-28. Also the zoom lever tends to get stuck at times, irritating when you are trying to review shots.

Other than these few issues, Im satisfied. I would be even more satisfied if they had a hardware update to handle noise but I cant complain too much because this is a practice cam until Im ready to upgrade to a dslr.

Question, does anyone know whats the best setting for noise control? They give you options from -2 to +2.

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