Pointlessly high resolution aside, the FZ38 maintains Panasonic’s lead in the ultra-zoom camera market
Panasonic’s FZ-series of ultra-zoom cameras have racked up a string of glowing reviews on Expert Reviews, and have been the yardstick by which other ultra-zoom cameras are measured. This latest incarnation keeps the same 18x zoom lens as its predecessor, the DMC-FZ28, while upping the resolution from 10 to 12 megapixels.
This will trigger alarm bells for regular readers, who will be well aware of our misgivings about such high resolutions from tiny sensors – and the FZ38’s measures just 1/2.33in across. However, behind the headline specifications there are plenty of other new developments in this model.
Power O.I.S. is an updated version of Panasonic’s image stabilisation system. Comparing our stabilisation tests with the ones we did with the FZ28, we noticed a significant improvement in the reliability of shots at very slow shutter speeds. We were able to shoot wide-angle at 1/8s and telephoto shots at 1/30s with a high success rate. It’s the best stabilisation system we’ve seen from an ultra-zoom camera.
The old FZ28 could shoot 720p HD video, but with the FZ38, Panasonic has fleshed out this video mode with features to rival dedicated video cameras. The soundtrack is captured in stereo at 48KHz, and the lens’ silent zoom motor doesn’t interfere with it. Video noise is far less of a problem in low light.
Priority and full manual exposure modes are available for video capture, and it’s even possible to vary exposure settings manually while recording. The 30-minute clip limit and the lack of a tilting LCD screen aren’t ideal but they’re not deal breakers. Backing up this exceptional video mode is an HDMI out for playback on an HDTV. Many TV remote controls can be used to browse your photos and videos from your armchair, thanks to the Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) HDMI standard.
Apart from a new dedicated video record button, the controls are identical to those of the FZ28, with a mini joystick providing quick access to key settings. Manual exposure and focus are well implemented, and RAW shooting is available for optimising images with the bundled Silkypix software. Only the lack of an accessory shoe and lens rings for focus and zoom count against it compared to pricier ultra-zoom models such as Fujifilm’s S100FS.