Great for low-light shots, no flash shots.
Recommend this product?
I received this camera as a sort of hand-me-down. My primary digital camera, and point of reference as I write this review, is a Canon S45.
Having read (and believed) all the raves and reviews about the Canon S45, I was a bit arrogant and skeptical about other cameras. I've used and seen the results of other cameras owned by friends (Sony, Fuji, Nikon...) and was sincerely convinced that my S45 produced good pictures. I didn't need a second camera.
All this changed when the FZ1 dropped on my lap. Initially, I thought it was bulky and derided its weak 2-megapixel rating. I also thought that mainstream consumer electronics names (like Sony and Panasonic) would not likely produce a "serious" camera that would be more attractive to the advanced amateur photographer or the photography aficionado.
Then I looked closer. This Panasonic has a Leica lens. I don't know much about lenses, but I know enough to appreciate Leica's reputation as "the Mercedes-Benz" of lenses. Regardless of analogy, Leica equates with legendary optics. Moreover, the optical zoom is 12x, coupled with its 3x digital zoom to produce an unusual 36x zoom for a still camera. My S45 gives me a combined optical/digital zoom of about 12x. The higher the optical zoom, the better the quality of the telephoto shot. Digital zoom tends to distort and lower the general quality of the telephoto shot. (Readers might notice that many of the "cheap" sub-$100 cameras in the market today only have digital zoom capabilities since optical zoom and advanced optics command a higher price.) But a high-power zoom means that the flash might not be powerful enough to reach the far away subject of a telephoto shot, or that you might need a tripod or a surgeon's steady hands to hold the camera still while pulling in a faraway subject for a close-up telephoto shot.
The FZ1 works like a regular digital point-n-shoot camera, although it has various shooting mode presets (night, sports, portrait, macro, movie...). There isn't much wiggle room for users that want to customize picture setting manually. It has a bright LCD display and an electronic viewfinder.
The flash is a pop-up unit. Unlike my S45, which has a flash that somewhat resembles a car's headlamp, the FZ1's unit is hidden from view (and inactive) until the user pushes a button to pop it up. The downside of this is that even in "automatic" mode, the flash does not pop up automatically. Ironically, this flaw of sorts is how I came to appreciate the great indoor flashless shots this camera takes. I have always disliked the washing out of colors from indoor shots that regular flash photography produces, so even with my S45 I have tried to take many shots with the flash turned off. The problem is that the photographer and the subjects must be still for the duration of the shot, which ranges from fractions of a second to maybe about a second or two. While this is a lot of work and sometimes frustrating, the good results are worth the pain. The FZ1's colors and brightness of indoor photos outshines my S45's any day. Plus, the FZ1 has an "optical image stabilizer" which saves from many a blurred shot. What I find most striking is the difference in shooting time with the FZ1. While the S45's shutter would lag once opened, the FZ1's shutter seems to just snap for flashless indoor shots as if taking an outdoors shot in ideal light. With the flash on, indoor flash shots display a fair share of "washing out" of colors and excessive "shine" on the foreground/subject when close to the camera.
Unlike many of today's point-n-shoot cameras that resemble oversized matchboxes, the FZ1 sports a pretty big lens up front, giving it the shape of traditional SLR (single lens reflex) cameras of the past. This shape prevents this camera from fitting in shirt or cargo pants pockets. Most of its weight comes from the lens, but it's not heavy to lug around while traveling. The FZ1 feels substantial: the build quality yields firm and fluid buttons and levers. While it doesn't weigh a ton, it imparts a feel of tactile quality.
My verdict: I have fallen in love with the FZ1s ability to take better indoor flashless shots than my S45: quicker shutter, better colors and lighting, less blur due to shaky hands. All the other user-friendly features make this camera even easier to live with. The FZ1 will become the backup camera for outdoor shots, but will be my first choice for flashless --especially indoor-- shots, trumping my trusted S45.
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Amount Paid (US$): gift
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use