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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
12.1MP | 27-486mm (18X) ZOOM | $300/£230

The FZ35 (FZ38 in Europe) replaces the FZ28 as the latest model in Panasonic's long line of successful big zoom ‘FZ’ cameras. Again, there are no radical changes between the two generations and the new model is more evolution than revolution. The nominal resolution has slightly increased from 10 to 12 MP, Panasonic claims the AF speed has increased and in movie mode you can now record stereo sound. However, the 18x zoom lens and the core feature set remain essentially the same as the FZ28, with the lens and sensor wrapped in a fairly compact body that offers a good number of external controls.

  • 12.1 effective Megapixels
  • 27-486mm equiv lens with 18x optical zoom and 4x Digital Zoom
  • 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
  • Electronic Viewfinder with 100% field of view
  • 720p AVCHD Lite HD video recording
  • Movie scene modes
  • Shutter speed and aperture adjustable in movie mode
  • Stereo microphone
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400 (at reduced resolution)
  • RAW format
  • Face Detection and AF Tracking
  • 14 shooting modes including Intelligent Auto
  • Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
  • Battery life: 470 shots

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Overview

The design of Panasonic's FZ series has remained fairly consistent since the launch of the FZ7 back in 2006. The FZ35 is only slightly larger than the smallest cameras in this group test and also quite lightweight. Nevertheless the textures of the plastic body and the rubberized grip help give the camera an impression of solidness. The metal 'lens ring' is a nice touch and the camera is ergonomically shaped with a comfortable rubberized grip and thumb rest.

The control layout of the FZ38 now sports a dedicated movie button but has otherwise only been marginally modified over its predecessor. Pressing the joystick button takes you into the very useful quick menu for access to the most important settings and there's a good selection of buttons as well. With its logically laid out external controls the Panasonic is a good choice for photographers who frequently change settings and rather prefer not to rely on the auto or scene modes (although these are of course available on the F35 as well).

Apart from the 12MP still images the Panasonic FZ35 offers movie capture up to HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second and with stereo sound in either AVCDH Lite format (for playback on HD television sets) or Motion JPEG. The FZ35 is also one of the few compact cameras that comes with manual control over shutter speed and aperture in video mode and as such it boasts arguably the most refined movie mode in this test.

Key Features

The FZ35 is a mid-sized camera compared to the others in this test. However, even at full tele-range the lens only extends very moderately which means it's not too obvious when you're zooming to get close-ups and the camera retains its comparatively discreet appearance.
This photo shows the camera after powering on with the zoom at wide-angle setting. The lens only extends very slightly.
The FZ35 sports the familiar button layout that we've seen on previous FZ models. In addition to the usual four-way controller there's a joystick to access and navigate the quick menu. A relatively large number of controls means it takes a little longer to get acquainted with the interface but it becomes quick and easy to use after a little while.
In addition to the standard PASM modes the FZ35's mode dial sports a variety of scene and intelligent Auto modes for those users who'd rather not use the camera's many buttons. There are also a dedicated movie button and a user-configurable AE/AF lock button underneath the dial.
An 18x zoom lens seemed unbelievable when it first appeared on the FZ18 in mid 2007 but in 2010 the FZ38's optic offers the most restricted range in this test.
Pressing the joystick button brings up the Quick Menu that allows direct access to many of the key shooting settings (exactly which settings those are depends on how automated the selected shooting mode is). There is however a dedicated button for exposure compensation.
The Panasonic is the only camera in this test that captures movies in AVCHD Lite format. It also offers manual control over movie capture and stereo sound recording.

Image quality and performance

The Panasonic FZ35 feels quite snappy in most situations and is overall the most responsive camera in this test. At 1.5 seconds it powers on quickly, shot-to-shot times (1.7 sec, 1.8 sec with flash) are class leading and image browsing is very swift as well. On paper the zoom is quite slow to move from wide angle to full tele (2.4 sec) but it's also almost stepless which makes precise zooming much easier than on any of the competitors (apart from the Fujifilm HS10 which comes with a manual zoom ring).

Panasonic claims it has improved the AF on the new model and at 0.2 sec (wide angle) and 0.3 sec (tele) it is indeed the fastest system in our group test. However, as on most of the cameras in this group, focus slows slightly down in low light (0.5/0.8 sec).

In terms of image quality the Panasonic FZ35 is our favorite in this group test. Focus and exposure are very reliable and sharpness across the frame is consistently good - throughout the focal length range. The FZ35 has the same tiny sensor as all of its rivals in this test and therefore its images are never super-sharp (these cameras always apply some noise reduction, even at base ISO) but the Panasonic captures very good detail for this class of camera. Chromatic aberrations or other types of fringing are not visible at any focal length and appear to be processed-out by the camera.

The results of our flash test don't give any reason to complain either, exposure is good and the camera keeps the sensitivity at a low ISO 160, preserving more detail than most of the rivals. At higher ISOs the FZ35 shows the mixture of noise reduction blurring, noise and other artifacts that is typical for cameras with such tiny sensors but the Panasonic JPEG engine manages to find a better balance between noise reduction and retention of detail than most of the other cameras in this test. At ISO 400 and higher the FZ35 is the best performer in this test. It is also one of four cameras in this group that capture RAW files. This allows you to remove the camera's default noise reduction and to process the images exactly as you wish. However, in our tests this did not get us much more resolution.

The Panasonic's video output is clean with very smooth motion. We also noticed that on the FZ35 the optical image stabilization in video mode appeared to work just a tad better than on the competition, almost creating a real 'steady-cam' feel.

The FZ35 is right at the top of this group in image quality terms. Its output shows all the flaws that we are used to from this type of camera when viewed at a pixel level, but to a lesser extent than its competitors. In addition the images are consistently sharp across the frame, and any fringing that might have been present is removed by software processing in JPEG files. Exposure and focus can be relied on in almost any situation and the colors are natural, with a very slightly warm touch, but vivid enough for pleasant out-of-the-box prints.

None of the cameras in this test are great at higher ISO settings, but at ISO 1600 Panasonic has found the best balance between noise and detail and the FZ35 produces output that is good enough for smaller print sizes.

Summary

The Panasonic FZ35 is arguably the most refined camera in our test field. At base ISO it reliably delivers clean but yet detailed images that are sharp across the frame and zoom range. Focus, exposure color and white balance are consistently spot on. The FZ35's snappy responsiveness in combination with the intuitive and coherent user interface make it a joy to use. It works very reliably in Auto mode but is also very suitable for photographers who like to set their shooting parameters manually.

If we had to criticize the camera for something it would have to be its comparatively short zoom range. While its predecessor, the FZ28, was in this respect one of the better models amongst its peers, things have moved on since then and the new model is only a minor upgrade. As such, it might look a little weak next to a camera such as the Nikon P100 with its 26x zoom lens and CMOS high speed capture modes

Having said that, the Panasonic offers an excellent feature set, and a very good video mode with manual controls and stereo sound. If you can manage with the slightly shorter lens and don't need 1080p or super slow motion video, and image quality and fuzz-free, snappy operation are high up your list of priorities the Panasonic FZ35 is the best option amongst the cameras in this group test.

  • We like: High quality LCD, effective image stabilization, snappy operation, intuitive user interface, fast and reliable AF, reliable metering, decent high ISO output (for smaller prints), compact design, RAW format, excellent video quality with stereo sound and manual controls

  • We don't like: 'Short' zoom range (compared to the competition)
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