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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 - Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18

By Cliff Smith

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18

Summary

Our Score:

9

That fast-moving lens makes the FZ18 pretty quick off the mark for a super-zoom; it starts up in around 2.5 seconds and shuts down again in under two, which is faster than a lot of pocket compacts. The autofocus system is also nice and quick, locking on in under half a second, and it is just as fast in low light and even in complete darkness, within the 2-3m range of the AF assist lamp. The AF area can be quickly moved to any of eleven positions, covering a wide area of the frame. In single-shot mode the camera can manage a shot every 1.7 seconds, which is pretty fast for a powerful camera. As I mentioned earlier, the FZ18 also has a RAW shooting mode, and RAW +JPEG too, and it's performance in these modes is much improved over the FZ8. In RAW-only mode it can take a shot every 2.4 seconds, while in RAW + JPEG mode it can manage one every 3.4 seconds. It has two continuous shooting modes (not available in RAW mode), a four-shot burst at 3fps or an unlimited mode which can shoot a 2fps until the memory card is full or the battery gives out. Speaking of the battery, the FZ18 is powered by the same 710mAh Li-ion cell as the FZ8. Panasonic claimed 300 shots per charge for that camera, but for the FZ18, which has a bigger lens to move, the claim is 400 shots per charge. I took nearly 200, about 50 of them with the flash, and the charge indicator was still reading two out of three bars, so the claim, unlikely as it sounds, is probably accurate.

A major feature of the FZ18, and one without which that big zoom lens would be useless, is the optical image stabilisation system, Panasonic's MegaOIS. As I've noted before it is one of the best IS systems on the market, but in the FZ18 it really excels. I found that as long as I held the camera reasonably firmly I was able to take sharp hand-held shots at maximum telephoto (504mm equiv.) at 1/30th of a second fairly reliably, which is nothing short of phenomenal. It represents a stability gain of a full four stops, beating any other IS system I've tested, including those on most digital SLRs.

Finally we come to image quality, and here I'm afraid there is some bad news. Given all the fantastic features and performance, why on Earth has Panasonic chosen to cripple the FZ18 with a 1/2.5-in sensor, the size more commonly found in cheap 3x zoom compacts? The pity is that the lens is far and away the best that I've seen on a super-zoom camera, producing razor-sharp corner-to-corner detail and a total absence of distortion even at the 28mm end. It's the first wide-angle compact lens I've seen that produces perfectly straight parallels in my test shots. The Venus Engine III is a big improvement over earlier versions, producing fantastic colour and tone, but it is labouring against the odds with that cheap little sensor. Overall detail is no better than most 8MP compacts, and the limited dynamic range clips highlights, rendering the sky as featureless white in most shots. The image noise that has plagued every Panasonic camera is also there except at the very lowest ISO setting, causing major problems at higher settings. Don't get me wrong; the image quality isn't bad, and the camera's other qualities more than make up for any shortcomings, it's just that with that brilliant lens it could have been so much better.

Verdict

The Lumix FZ18 is a very nearly the ultimate super-zoom camera, with good performance and handling, an excellent range of features and a simply astonishing lens, made usable by an equally superb image stabilisation system. However it falls just short of greatness due to the inexplicably small sensor, which in turn leads to image noise and dynamic range issues. It's still the best 18x super-zoom out there though, at least until September.

NRoy

July 6, 2008, 2:36 pm

It's been almost a year since the publication of this review. So, I think the ratings need to be updated. My ratings would be like this:


Features 7


Image Quality 7


Value 7


Overall 7





"Why"?


Well, you can't use the zoom while recording video unlike MANY compacts. The audio is HORRIBLE. VGA video is unacceptable for a camera of so much potential, particularly when they already have pieces like the TZ5/50 etc with the new Venus engine 4. Noise is visible THROUGHOUT the iso ranges due to their disgustingly tiny sensor. Also, it needs to be mentioned that it is STILL not available (officially) in many countries (at least in India, where I live). I wish Panasonic releases a venus engine 4 counterpart of this model with better video and audio, and making the zoom available while recording video. It is NOT too much to ask.

Doug Sinnott

August 6, 2008, 1:14 am

Get a life!


It's video/sound quality is much the same as most compacts,if you want better buy a video camera!


My FZ18 produces great 10x8s,and,although my Nikon D40 can outperform the FZ18 at bigger blowups,the FZ18 is so handy to take with you,whereas my D40 two lens kit is often left behind because of its weight.


For travelling,and holidays,the FZ18 is ideal,and hard to beat,packed with features,with a great lens,as was proved to me on my own recent holiday.For the first time I wasn't weighed down with a bulky camera bagwhich pleased my wife!,and yet I came back with sharp,colouful,photoes as good as most I have taken in the past,even a couple of quite good video clips!


I keep it on a low ISO setting,as I know the limitations of small sensors,and how Panasonic pack it all is amazing.


So if your forte is exhibition prints,get a modern digital SLR,or if your into videos,get good video camera.


You can't expect too much from a tiny camera like the FZ18,but it can turn out great photoes,and the advantages well outweigh any percieved shortcomings you have.


I have been a keen photographer for 40 years,and these modern compacts are a revelation,offering so much,for so little!!

aurum_daktulos

August 18, 2008, 3:41 pm

I've got to agree with Doug on this one.


I have just purchashed this camera and have had some time to play with it. Is it perfect? No, of course it isn't, but it's 'only' 𧶀. If I wanted a system for excellent video & sound, I'd use a camcorder. If I wanted a system for excellent photograph quality in any environment, I'd spend a whole lot more on a dSLR.





As it stands, I had a budget of 𧶔 and needed a camera that would give ease of use for quick photo's, can be perform reasonably in most lighting conditions, have enough functions to be able to custom set-up the camera to the way i want it (without the necessary complexity of dSLR's) and have a good zoom capability.





The FZ18 meets all of these criteria. Personally, I'm more than happy with it.

Bertie

August 23, 2008, 11:49 pm

NRoy,





Audio "horrible"? OK, it's not exactly my Linn system but it's certainly better than what my Canon 8mm analogue camcorder delivers. The picture quality is too but I regard the video function on the FZ-18 as a bit of a bonus to a camera that seems to have a better brain than mine as it consistently turns out results on its iA setting that I'm totally satisfied with.





For two hundred quid odd, the FZ-18 is not just a steal, it's grand larceny! Can't praise it enough and I can only stand slack-jawed in amazement at the technology that went into this unique and remarkable camera.

Shutterbug

September 1, 2008, 12:28 am

I was going to make a comment about the fz 18s versatility as a take-everywhere camera, but found that Doug has got it about right. I took a while to think out the best camera to take on a short break, and eventually settled for my Lumix fz 18 instead of a DSLR (canon 40D). The results of the trip photographically have been better than expected and the great advantage of this compact is that you really don't miss any photographic opportunity at all: the quality of the image is outstanding for such a tiny piece of kit, the only downside being that you probably take many more pics than you would normally, but then you don't have film prices to worry about. So far as the small sensor is concerned, well what do you expect - such a camera with its astonishing spec is bound to be the result of a tradeoff in that area. And, for me the crucial factor is the quality of the lens: barrel distortion such as you experience on the Canon G9 for example (with a 35mm equivalent to the fz 18s 28mm equivalent WA end, is unacceptable. In the end, the lens and the results determine the success of a camera, so for me the Lumix fz 18 gets pretty much full marks throughout for all ratings. Now if Lumix come up with something which improves upon that, then expect Canon and Nikon with their current DSLR prosumer range to take a seriously sharp dip in sales.

Terry

September 18, 2009, 5:47 am

What's this with criticizing some cameras for their "small" sensor and not so for others? It seems that most of this style of camera has a small sensor... so why not downgrade all of them? Appears these cameras are top notch in their own right...

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