Feb 18, 2005

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1/LZ2 reviews

Jeff Keller at DCRP has posted his exclusive review of the two cameras.

Now here's something you don't see everyday: midsized cameras with a big zoom lens and image stabilizers! And that's exactly what you'll get with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2. The two cameras share the same body design, 6X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilizer, and 2" LCD display. The only differences are the body color, resolution, and sound recording abilities. The LZ1 ($250) is silver only, while the LZ2 ($300) is available in silver or black bodies (there are minor trim differences between the two models, as well). The LZ1 is 4 Megapixel, while the LZ2 is 5 Megapixel. And finally, the LZ2 can record sound, while the LZ1 cannot.

With that in mind, this review will be a little different than most. I will be reviewing two cameras in one review, using the LZ2 as the "model" in the product photos. I will offer sample photos and some test shots from both cameras.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2 are two cameras don't quite live up to their potential. The biggest features of the LZ's are the midsized body packing a 6X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. You won't find anything else on the market quite like these two. Unfortunately, there are some annoying flaws which keep the cameras from being as great as the FZ-series cameras that I've given rave reviews to over the past few years.

First, the good news. The LZ's are well constructed, midsized cameras. Instead of the typical 3X or 4X zoom lens, these cameras have a 6X zoom lens, giving you a lot more telephoto power than you're used to. To help steady keep the camera steady and images blur free, the cameras offer Panasonic's optical image stabilization system, which does just as it sounds (and well, too). You'll be able to get sharp images which would be blurry on other cameras -- just don't expect miracles. Camera performance is very good for the most part, especially in terms of startup, shutter lag, and shot-to-shot times. The LZ's burst mode and battery life numbers are excellent as well. The LZ's are almost 100% point-and-shoot, with the only manual control being the very welcome custom white balance feature.

Image quality on the LZ's is a mixed bag. Colors look nice, as do exposure and purple fringing levels. Photos are extremely sharp, perhaps too much so. Along with this sharpness comes "jaggies" on straight edges and some fuzziness on fine details. Vignetting (dark corners) and redeye were also a problem. While I appreciate the larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display on the camera, it's basically useless in low light situations, and there's no optical viewfinder to bail you out. Along those lines, I found low light focusing to be poor. The LZ's movie mode isn't great either when compared to most of the competition.

I like the concept of the DMC-LZ1 and DMC-LZ2 a lot. I just wish the execution was a little better (the LZ3 and LZ4, maybe?). The two cameras earn my recommendation, but mostly for outdoor shooting. Those taking indoor and low light shots will likely be disappointed with the camera's performance in those situations.

If you're ready to learn about the "LZ twins", read on!