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White Balance

In addition to the auto white balance mode the LZ2 offers only three presets (daylight, cloudy, and incandescent). 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 when light levels are good - the LZ2 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are less reliable - fluorescent causes no problems at all, but incandescent (tungsten) lighting produces a distinct orange color cast, and - unless you're after a warm feel to you pictures - you need to use the manual setting for more neutral results.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.2%, Blue -0.1%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -1.3%, Blue -1.1%
Good
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 12.9%, Blue -20.7%
Poor

Flash Performance

No major complaints here. The range is acceptable (around 1 to 13.7 feet at the wide end of the zoom with auto ISO), and color and exposure very reliable. The red-eye reduction works as well as any pre-flash system can when the flash is so close to the lens (in other words not that well). The only serious problem is the recycle time, which can stretch to a good three seconds or so, during which time the LCD screen stays completely black. The lack of an AF illuminator also means in very low light the LZ2 can struggle to focus (though at the wide end of the zoom we didn't really have problems in normal indoor lighting).

Skin tone Excellent color,
Good exposure
Color chart Good color, slight underexposure

Macro Focus

The LZ2 has a dedicated macro mode, accessed via the main mode dial. 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, and some mild vignetting and a touch of Chromatic Abberation (fringing) visible in our wideangle test shot. Less forgivable is the pronounced corner softness and strong CA when shooting closeups at the long end of the zoom (in fact if you've ever wondered what CA looks like, as opposed to 'purple fringing', open the full size tele macro test chart shot below).

Wide macro - 55 x 41 mm coverage
28 px/mm (703 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Below average
Equiv. focal length: 37 mm
Tele macro - 92 x 69 mm coverage
46 px/mm (1168 px/in)
Distortion: low
Corner softness: Above average
Equiv. focal length: 222 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Nothing to complain about here - there is a small amount (1.1%) of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, though nothing you'd see in real-world pictures, and a lot better than many ultra compacts. There is no measurable distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom. Excellent.

Barrel distortion - 1.1 % at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 37 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 222 mm

Noise Comparison

Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 80, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. The noise levels at ISO 80 and 100 are, inevitably, very similar (though the lower setting is slightly cleaner), but luminance noise does increase noticeably at ISO 200 and the LZ2 has to use some pretty heavy noise reduction at ISO 400, and even this can't hide the grainy appearance (and the introduction of some color noise in pale green and blue areas)

In use, noise levels at ISO 100 and over are visibly relatively high, and though the images look 'sharp' in small prints, the noise reduction is so strong (and obvious) that if you look too closely all images at ISO 200+ look like they've had a 'watercolor' effect applied. This is particularly noticeable in flash shots (especially low-light slow sync shots) using Auto ISO (which happily goes up to ISO 300), and I'd recommend switching to manual ISO 100 unless you're trying to get the flash to cover a large area or distance.

ISO 80 100% crop ISO 100 100% crop
ISO 200 100% crop ISO 400 100% crop

Specific image quality issues

Overall image quality was actually very impressive, and when you take into account the 6x zoom lens - unique on a 5MP camera at this price point - there is little here to cause complaint. The biggest issues are missed focus at the long end of the zoom in low light, the aforementioned aggressive noise reduction and some purple fringing. On the plus side the sharpness and detail (especially at ISO 80) is excellent, exposure generally very good (though there is a very slight tendency to underexposure - presumably to reduce the chance of highlight clipping) and color very natural, but vivid enough to produce pleasing prints without the need for post-processing. We also saw a lot of the same dynamic range problems (blown highlights or filled shadows in high contrast scenes) that seem to plague virtually all 5MP cameras.

Color fringing

Recent Panasonic models have used the Venus II engine (signal processor) to almost entirely remove the problem of purple fringing. The LZ2's Venus Plus engine is less successful, so you will see quite strong fringing around high contrast edges (particularly when, as here, the area in question is slightly over exposed). It's not a major issue, and it certainly doesn't appear in many shots, but it's disappointing given Panasonic's recent success in removing fringing from 5MP cameras such as the FZ20 and FZ5.

100% crop 69 mm equiv., F3.2

Image stabilization

The MEGA O.I.S image stabilization system used on the LZ2 (and many other recent Panasonic models) works, and in this case it works pretty 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 supposed to be more effective.

Overall Mode 2 is still the most effective, allowing handheld shots at the wide end of the zoom down to around 1/8th of a second (if you're fairly steady-handed). But there were times when Mode 1 seemed to work better (specifically with extreme shake; long exposures or when using 222mm the long end of the zoom). In either case the IS has demonstrable benefits even in a small, budget camera, and even at the wide end of the zoom, but there are limits to what it can do. Our advice when the shutter speeds falls below about 1/15 sec would be to take a few shots - at least one of them will be sharp enough to be a 'keeper'.

IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/30 sec, 222mm equiv.
IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/15 sec, 222mm equiv. Macro mode
IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/8 sec, 222mm equiv.
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