Though digital cameras once trailed camcorders by a wide margin in terms of zoom range, the gap has steadily narrowed over the past couple years. Where 24x zooms were the extreme limit of optical reach just a couple years ago, today’s cameras have already pushed to 50x and beyond.
Armed with a market-leading 60x zoom and a 16-megapixel sensor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 (MSRP $399.99) is a camera that looks to bridge the gap once and for all. For that reason alone, it’s sure to capture the interest of soccer moms, wildlife enthusiasts, and frequent travelers. But those same users may be dismayed at some of the tradeoffs caused by the optical design.
Shaped like a DSLR, the FZ70 has a deep, textured grip that really helps when lining up a shot at full telephoto. For the most part, the camera is well-built, but the buttons feel chintzy and the camera seems a bit too light for its size—more like a toy than a high-end camera. A $400 price tag is quite competitive for a camera of this type, but it’s clear some corners had to be cut to make it so affordable.
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The FZ70’s feature list isn’t overwhelming, but you get an onboard flash, a high-quality microphone, an electronic viewfinder, and 1080p recording at 30 frames per second (in both AVCHD and MP4 formats). Video quality is what we’d call “fair,” with some trailing and image artifacts, but it’s certainly better than what you’d get from a smartphone—even without taking the huge zoom range into consideration.
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And that huge zoom range is easily the FZ70’s biggest selling point. The range of subjects you can capture with this lens is simply staggering—from wide landscape shots to headshots of faraway animals. The 1200mm equivalent telephoto is actually identical to its closest competitors, but the FZ70 can capture quite a bit more of your surroundings at its widest 20mm equivalent setting.
However, the ridiculously powerful zoom also introduces all sorts of knock-on image quality problems. For starters, sharpness takes a big hit in comparison to competing cameras with more conservative optical designs. Additionally, there’s noticeable color fringing around high-contrast subjects, and higher image noise levels than you’d expect from a camera at this price point. If it’s any consolation, the optical stabilization is extremely effective, meaning you can actually make use of the crazy telephoto capability.
If it seems like we’re being a little tough on this camera, it’s because it could have been so much more. Though bigger is indeed better in many cases, the FZ70’s world-beating zoom is the camera’s downfall. Despite that enormous focal length, quality suffers to the point that it’s noticeable in day-to-day shooting.
If you’re looking for an enormous zoom with the performance to match, consider the Canon SX50. Though it has “only” a 50x zoom, it has the same maximum focal length and produces much sharper, less distorted images.
If, on the other hand, you don’t need quite so much zoom and value image quality above all else, consider Panasonic’s own Lumix FZ200—its 24x zoom maxes out at 600mm equivalent, but that’s plenty for most purposes and its image quality is far beyond anything else in the class.
Source: USA Today