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The FZ8 has a fairly standard video mode, with 30fps VGA quality and mono audio, but the zoom lens cannot be used while filming. A 1GB card provides just over 11 minutes of video shooting, or 282 shots in standard JPEG still mode.
The 2.5-in monitor screen is nice and bright, and with 207,000 pixels quite sharp too. Its side-to-side viewing angle is good, but in standard mode the vertical viewing angle, important if you want to hold the camera above your head, is relatively poor. To combat this, the FZ8 has a special high-angle mode for the monitor which changes the polarization of the LCD crystals, making the screen too bright when viewed straight-on, but much better when held above head height. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is better than many, and with 188k pixels it is quite a bit sharper than the 115k pixel EVF of the Canon S3, but in manual focusing mode, even with the centre area is magnified to assist focusing, I found that it simply wasn’t sharp or detailed enough for accurate focusing.
I’m a little concerned by the camera’s battery duration. The FZ8 is powered by a surprisingly bulky but relatively weak 710mAh Li-ion battery, which is less powerful than the batteries in most pocket compacts. Considering the complexity of the camera and the size of the zoom lens that has to be rolled in and out every time the camera is used, this seems surprisingly small. Nonetheless Panasonic claims an impressive 380 shots per charge. I’m not entirely convinced by this, because I found that the charge meter was down to its last bar after less than 200 shots. Perhaps the battery gets better with repeated use?
One feature that I am happy to see included in the FZ8 is a RAW mode, although it does slow the shooting speed down considerably. Unfortunately the Panasonic RAW format is yet another that is not supported by Adobe Photoshop RAW converter, so you have to use the supplied conversion software, which is a bit slow and clunky. Hover it does produce good results, certainly much better than the in-camera processing.
Once again this is the downfall of what would otherwise be a really great Panasonic camera. It’s a real shame, because the FZ8 has so much going for it. It has what is arguably the best image stabilisation system on the market, allowing hand-held telephoto shots at 1/20th of a second, and a fantastic lens that produces pin-sharp detail from corner to corner, but it’s badly let down by a puny 1/2.5-in sensor that would be better suited to a budget compact, and an image processing engine that is simply not up to the job. At the maximum quality JPEG mode and the minimum ISO setting, image noise was visible in almost every shot, which is unacceptable in a camera aimed at enthusiast photographers. The extremely limited dynamic range meant that highlights were burned out while shadows were featureless areas of black. Overall colour reproduction was good, but there seemed to be some problem with the blue channel processing which produced very blotchy colour in mid-tone and darker areas. At higher ISO settings the results were even worse, as the frankly sub-standard noise reduction system produced a brush-like effect that smoothed out fine details in mid-tone areas despite the lens’s best efforts, while over-sharpening produced artefacts around highlights and high-contrast edges. All in all this was a very disappointing result, and wasted potential from a camera which could have been so much better.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is a well-made and sensibly designed camera with a range of features well suited to the enthusiast photographer. Its performance is a bit on the slow side, but the excellent lens and brilliant image stabilisation system more than make up for that. Unfortunately however its potentially first-class photographic results are let down by an inferior sensor and poor image processing.