by Charles Paxton
I mentioned ordering a LUMIX DMC FZ70 camera to the Lyvennet Photographic Society recently and a member asked me to review it. These are early days and I haven’t yet used many of the functions of the camera.
First I’ll list my perceived pros and cons and then list some tips I’ve learned since using the camera.
Pro 1 – Light, compact super-zoom 20 -1200 mm equivalent
It’s all about the lens, the extraordinary lens. It’s a beast in a small package! The DMC FZ70 has an optical zoom range that’s equivalent to 20 mm (super wide, min aperture F 2.8) at one extreme and 1200 mm (super telephoto min aperture F 5.9) at the other. Check out the detail on the eye of the Northern Cardinal hen, very pleasing.
That makes this lens:
- very luminous for the price, I’ve had longer heavier zooms in the ’90’s that were ‘slower’ at both ends of a more limited range and cost more then than this whole camera did now
- very powerful. For the first time in my life my lens view competes with my binoculars.
- very versatile, which is important in Nature and Events photography
- Nice close-up distance
- there’s a nice creamy blur (bokeh) to distant elements when you focus on a close subject
- affordable to me
The quality at full wide angle and full telephoto zoom seems pleasing to me so far, see results for yourself.
Here are examples of video taken under normal conditions on Louisiana’s wonderfully wild Bayou D’Arbonne.
Pro 2 – 16.1 Megapixel images with Raw 2 output
The FZ70 produces images in 180 dpi Jpegs and 300 dpi Raw 2 up to 4608 x 3456 pixels in area, Panasonic’s version of Raw are developed in free software called Silkypix Developer 4.2 SE by Ichikawa Soft Laboratory, but it seems you can also see them in Google’s Picassa program. I feel it’s worth me putting in the time and getting to know Silkypix better, because the raw images are output at 300 dpi, and everyone wants the option of hi-res these days. Making initial adjustments to the Raw image improves the quality at the first output stage and you can modify the exposure levels quite widely which can rescue images that are shot too light or dark, sharpen and punch up the saturation and contrast. The Lumix Jpeg settings are so good that there seems little difference between the Raw and Jpegs until you do post production enhancement.
Here’s the same Red bird from Raw, just shrunk for web:
Pro 3 – Responsive controls. The Start-up and Autofocus feel quick, Burst shooting is quick when not using Raw.
Fast start-up and autofocus is important for wildlife. This is fast, apparently the fastest AF in its class when it first came out. I’m very grateful for this. I haven’t used its fastest burst shooting potential beyond a couple of frames, because I was using RAW.
Pro 4 – Size and handling
The body is nicely modelled for hand holding, with a roughened surface to facilitate grip and it feels well balanced to me which facilitates hand-held shots. My hand is not the steadiest, but I shot the Red bird, (Cardinal) below, handheld, from about 16ft away, through a window on a bright overcast February afternoon.
Pro 5 – A lot of nice options regarding camera settings.
I have hardly scratched the surface, I’ll add some examples here over time.
The Starry Night Mode is good. You’ll need to support the camera for these long exposures.
Con 1 – There’s no cable release socket
Practice helps with hand-held long telephoto. Hold your breath, pray, tuck in your elbows and roll your finger over the button. Support the camera in low light and set the timer to minimise shake.
Using a superzoom requires a slight change in mentality. It pits you up against your limits and the limits of the lighting when it comes to handheld shots – you do need to support the camera for sharp images at the 1200 mm range when light levels are low and set the 2 sec timer to minimise shake. I used both a rice bag and a tripod to support it. My tripod’s a bit stiff for this lens, so I missed some good opportunities before switching to the rice bag – I’ll replace the tripod with something better.
Take camera support with you. I botched quite a lot of Great Egret shots due to being complacent. Low light is what it is.
I got an inexpensive rubber lens hood 55mm, that folds back out of the way for 20mm shots, but serves well for the telephoto end.
The 16.1 Mp sensor is a nice upgrade, it means you can crop-in the shot afterwards and still have quite a large image if you want.
Using Landscape scene setting helps you focus on birds through twigs.
Steve Holroyd taught me the importance of customising camera settings to suit your own taste so I’ve set Custom settings. Setting the white balance on your camera to cloudy so that you capture the colour of the ambient daylight is a good idea, and punching up the saturation, sharpness and contrast in Silkypix helps too. Then using the levels setting in your photo-editing software to drag the left slider in a bit to ‘punch up the blacks’.
Long telephotos flatten your subjects quite a bit, so enhancing your images in post-production is necessary. The camera has built in photo-enhancement. I have yet to give that a try.
I bought this Bridge camera last week on a limited budget, to achieve high quality results on nature and wildlife expeditions, for documentary and portrait photography and I hope to sell photographs from it. I have no relations with Panasonic or any other manufacturers whose products are mentioned here and am not paid for this article.
Update: Check out the Union Museum of History and Art’s Youtube Channel The Discovery Place for examples of a business-like HD movie that I shot with this camera and edited on Cyberlink PowerDirector 16.