Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution & sharp results
- Good, natural color and excellent exposure
- Superb 12x optical zoom
- Smooth, almost stepless 2-speed zoom
- Effective image stabilization
- Small and light, but well built
- Comprehensive range of controls
- Very fast operation
- Fast (and accurate) focus using 'High Speed' option
- Well designed menu system
- Nice handling and improved controls
- Easy to use
- Bright, clear, high resolution LCD screen
- Excellent EVF, big improvement
- Decent burst mode and fast card writing
- Powerful flash
- Excellent battery life
- Good movie mode
- Usable raw mode (approx 3 second shot-to-shot with a fast card)
- Powerful raw convertor (SILKYPIX) included
- Lots of in-camera image adjustments
- Superb value for money
Conclusion - Cons
- Some areas of performance actually worse than predecessor
- Noise is, as usual, a bit of a problem at lower ISO settings
- ISO 400+ noise reduction produces color bleeding and loss of low contrast detail
- Default noise reduction too high at all ISO settings (use low NR setting)
- Limited dynamic range, highlight clipping in JPEGs
- Default contrast a bit on the high side
- Occasional (mild) fringing
- Occasional focus hunting at long end of zoom in low light and in macro mode
- Slight video lag in live preview makes very short shutter lag rather pointless
Maybe because my expectations have been lowered, maybe because no one else is doing it any better, I ended up liking the FZ8 more than I expected to. The FZ7 was a significant upgrade to the FZ5 (one of the most popular super zoom models ever), and the design, control and interface changes lifted it head and shoulders over most of its direct competitors. But the issue of noise (and Panasonic's 'watercolor' Venus II noise reduction) was hard to ignore.
The FZ8 doesn't add a lot to the already compelling formula that worked so well with the FZ7, but there are one or two key areas where the changes are hugely welcome, especially given that the new camera is launching at $50 less than its predecessor. First, the new electronic viewfinder is a big, big improvement, and is now eminently usable. The LCD screen has also had a resolution boost. The second big improvement is the inclusion of raw mode for the first time in this range (previously you had to the a bigger, more expensive FZ50 if you wanted raw).
By allowing users to shoot raw (and supplying a powerful, if slightly bewildering raw conversion application) Panasonic has diffused much of the controversy surrounding the new Venus III noise reduction system because, for the first time in an FZX camera there is a choice. The performance hit with raw isn't immense (3.0 second shot-to-shot as opposed to 1.3 with JPEG), and the low price and wide availability of high capacity SD (and SDHC) cards means the 13MB or so you're looking at per shot isn't as big a problem as it used to be.
I'm not going to dwell on the noise / noise reduction issue here; we've done it to death and there are plenty of examples in the review and the gallery to allow you to make your own mind up. At ISO 100 and 200, if you turn the noise reduction to low (or shoot raw) the FZ8 is a little noisy, but the overall quality of output is excellent, and it produces superb prints. At higher ISO settings you're never going to get amazing results from a 1/2.5" 7MP sensor. The Venus III uses what I consider to be excessive smearing of the chroma information, losing a lot of the fine texture (and causing color bleeding) in the process. But in some cases - basically shots where the majority of the detail is luminance detail - it actually works very well. I just wish you could turn it down a bit more (the low NR setting isn't low enough) - or turn if off altogether. Once again we come back to the raw option (which also saves a full size JPEG, so you still have the chance to see what kind of job the in-camera processing did).
In summary the FZ8 is a welcome upgrade to one of the best 'super zoom' cameras on the market, even if it doesn't address some of the fundamental issues we had with its predecessor (namely the inability of the sensor/processor to deliver results to match the lens). But it's a very well-priced, very well-designed, wonderfully versatile, fast and responsive photographic tool that offers SLR features - and an effective image stabilization system - in a very compact package.
If you accept that the size and convenience of this type of product means a certain level of compromise you won't be disappointed. Viewed on-screen at 100% the output often leaves a little to be desired, but for 'normal' use (standard sized prints, full screen viewing) the excellent lens and reliable focus/exposure systems cannot fail to impress. On this basis I think it's safe to say that the FZ8 just about offers enough to earn a qualified Highly Recommended, but I'd urge you to check out the sample images - and decide if you're prepared to shoot raw when it matters and to stick to ISO 100 whenever possible - before deciding.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|