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White Balance

In addition to the auto white balance mode the FZ5 offers four presets (daylight, cloudy, halogen and flash). There is no preset for fluorescent lights, but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create a custom setting.

In use - especially outdoors - the FZ5 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are more patchy. You'll need to use manual white balance under incandescent lighting, though the results from auto white balance under fluorescent lighting are good (much better than the FZ3). When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get very orange results under tungsten lights unless you switch to manual WB.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.1%, Blue -1.1%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 0.0%, Blue -0.9%
Excellent
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 7.2%, Blue -11.9%
Average

Flash Performance

No real complaints here. The range is good (around 1 to 15 feet with auto ISO), and color and exposure very reliable.

Skin tone Cool color cast, good exposure Color chart
Virtually no color cast, excellent exposure

Macro Focus

The FZ5 has a dedicated macro mode, accessed via the main exposure mode dial - this means you cannot combine macro focus with manual or semi-automatic exposure, which is a pity. The macro mode works throughout the zoom range, but - as is usual on this type of camera - only gets really close when used at the widest setting. There is inevitably some distortion when you get really close - less expected (and less forgivable) is the slight vignetting (darkening of corners) and chromatic aberration (colored fringes). To be fair this is far less visible in real life shots.

Wide macro - 40 x 30 mm coverage
63 px/mm (1604 px/in)
Distortion: High
Corner softness: Low to average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Tele macro - 89 x 66 mm coverage
29 px/mm (730 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Given the huge (36-432mm equiv.) range, it is a tribute to the designers at Leica (who presumably had some say in the design of the lens) that distortion is kept fairly low. The 1.2% barrel distortion is just enough to be visible in wideangle shots, but not enough to be a problem, whilst there is virtually no measurable distortion once you start to move into the middle and long end of the zoom (note that these figures use our new more accurate measurement system, so are not directly comparable to the FZ3 results).

Barrel distortion - 1.2% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.2% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Specific Image Quality Issues

It is hard not to be impressed with the images produced by the FZ5 - sharp, full of detail and with admirably natural (i.e. not over-saturated) colors. In our extensive real-world testing we only found a few minor problems - the occasional focus error when shooting quickly at full zoom, some mild exposure problems, and some flare in very bright light (mostly solved by the use of the supplied hood). It should be noted, however, that the 'hit rate' is very high; I would guess only 1 in 100 shots had a problem serious enough to ruin the shot, and nearly all these were when shooting at the extreme long end of the zoom or when shooting in very high contrast situations (when highlight and shadow detail can get clipped). My only other complaint is that the images are a tad over-sharpened (something you can't disable in-camera, and something it's impossible to do anything about in post-processing), but it's not a major issue.

Most surprising, however, is how much better the results are than we got from the FZ3. Not just in the amount of extra detail offered by the extra two megapixels (though there is quite a boost), but in overall image quality. There is virtually none of the vignetting seen in wideangle FZ3 shots, and we couldn't find any color fringing worth mentioning - as noted above, there is a small amount of chromatic aberration when shooting in macro mode, but it's not really visible in real-world shots. Noise at higher ISO settings is inevitably higher than we'd like, but this is a problem in general with such a small 5 megapixel chip, and Panasonic's noise reduction system does a pretty good job compared to much of the competition.

Image stabilization

The MEGA O.I.S image Stabilization system used on the FZ5 (and most other recent Panasonic models) works, and it works well. There are two modes: Mode 1 (IS on all the time) and Mode 2 (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made). Mode 1 makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image (in the same way as, for example, the Canon S1 IS), but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is considerably more effective. I certainly found the 3 or 4 shutter speed steps gain claimed by Panasonic to be justified - and was able to shoot at 432mm equiv. at speeds as low as 1/60th second successfully. Impressive stuff. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system - especially in Mode 2 - when shooting at 420mm equiv. at 1/50 sec (top row) and 1/15 sec, both examples were handheld (the lower example I was resting on my elbows, thus the slower shutter speed was possible). Although we've no definitive test for IS systems in real-world use, I was very impressed with the FZ5's system, though if pushed I would suggest that it is perhaps not quite as effective as the FZ3 - due no doubt to the larger sensor, extra pixels and extra detail (which means you can see the small amount of blur more easily when you zoom in).

IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/25 sec, 432mm equiv.
IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/40 sec, 432mm equiv.
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