With a 12X optical zoom, full manual controls, and a cool new Intelligent ISO mode, this superzoom has a lot to offer. But although the 7.2-megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ8 takes pretty good pictures and performs well, it lacks a feature we think important: wide-angle capability.
Because of its 36mm lens, the FZ8 doesn't unseat our current Editors' Choice, the Lumix DMC-TZ3. The TZ3 allows less zoom (1OX), but its 28mm lens can capture more of a particular scene, whether a sweeping landscape or a group shot, without your having to stitch the shots together afterward.
The TZ8 has full manual modes-something The TZ3 lacks. With manual modes, you can compose creative shots by playing around with aperture and shutter speed setting. For example, you can freeze action shots or blur background objects.
Like the TZ3, the FZ8 has an Intelligent ISO mode, which automatically increases the camera’s ISO Setting so as to decrease blur in action shots. When the ISO is raised, say from 100 to 400, the sensitivity of the camera sensor increases, allowing you to shoot with a faster shutter speed. I found Intelligent ISO to work much better in bright light, when it boosted the ISO to 1250 for moving objects and dropped it down to 400 for stationary ones, than in low-light situations. You can specify the maximum ISO yourself (400, 800, or 1250) to avoid excessive noise in the image.
In the lab, my test images had excellent color saturation, good color matching, and very little noise. My only complaint was that some pictures had a bit too much contrast, which caused a loss of detail in shadowy areas. On the plus side, I found that the camera's flash provided just the right amount of illumination. You can fiddle with the flash settings, too, adjusting illumination and exposure.
For video, the camera records motion JPEGs at 30 frames per second to the capacity of the card. The camera adjusted well to various light conditions, but the highlights in the video seemed blown out. Another feature I liked was that you could easily switch between 4:3 and 16:93 aspect ratios.
The FZ8 excelled in performance, improving on its predecessor, the Lumix DMC-FZ7, in all areas. Boot-up time was just over 3 seconds, and recycle time was 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag was negligible.
This is a fine camera for those who like the flexibility that manual modes offer. If you enjoy taking panoramic images, though, and don't want to have to stitch your shots together after the fact, the TZ3 makes a better choice-and it also has a more compact, stylish design. But all things considered, the FZ8 is a capable camera offering lots of features at a good price.
Panasonic Lumic DMC-FZ8: $349.95