Design and features
Following up Panasonic's previous superzoom, the FZ28, is the new Lumix FZ35 which shares a similar, if not identical, form factor and specifications. Again, like so many other "update" cameras we've seen this year the FZ35 contains incremental updates to its predecessor.
The clues about the updates come on the outside: 12 megapixels, up from 10 on the FZ28, and the more efficient AVCHD Lite recording as opposed to standard 720p HD recording. The main calling card of a superzoom, its optical zoom, sits at 18x on this camera. It's not as extensive as other offerings from manufacturers like Canon (20x), Nikon (24x) or Olympus (26x) but should be sufficient for most purposes. Weighing 414g with battery and memory card, the FZ35 feels a lot more dainty and demure than its weight would lead you to believe, feeling more like something from the G-series of Lumix cameras, like the Panasonic Lumix G1, than a similarly sized compact digital SLR.
Optically, the FZ35 possesses a 27mm wide-angle lens opening up to a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at this end, and f/4.8 at the telephoto. Like all other Panasonic compacts, the lens is Leica branded. At the top of the camera, there's a mode dial with the standard PASM options, a dedicated movie option, intelligent auto plus scene, custom and preset shooting modes. The power switch is located just alongside the mode dial and is a small switch that slides. The zoom rocker sits around the shutter button and is pleasingly resistive to use.
The top of the Panasonic FZ35. (Credit: Panasonic)
Turning to the back now, and we can see that the 2.7-inch LCD screen is somewhat spartan in appearance, but next to it on the right are a myriad of buttons and options to choose from. There's a four-way directional pad that has the usual flash/self-timer/exposure compensation options plus a programmable Fn button that is initially programmed to switch the camera into playback mode (though there is also a dedicated switch to the right). There's also a small joystick like the one that appeared on the FZ28 that's used to toggle between menus, adjust exposure and exposure compensation depending on the mode, plus a dedicated movie button that starts and stops recording regardless of the mode you are in. The FZ35 has AF tracking as well as face recognition, in a similar configuration to other Lumix cameras — it can recognise recorded faces and adjust exposure accordingly. At the top of the camera, perched on the pop-up flash is a stereo microphone. HDMI output is supported from the camera.
An electronic viewfinder completes the external specifications, with a dioptre adjustment. It's fairly small, and appears to remain unchanged from the version last seen on the FZ28. It's awkward to frame shots with due to its small size (even though it does cover 100 per cent field of view) and cannot really cope with fast moving subjects due to the low refresh rate. Panning or any other swift movement with the camera is likely to induce motion sickness, or an unwieldy blur. Disappointingly, the resolution of the LCD screen at the back is only 270,000 dots, but when compared to other cameras in its class this is fairly standard.
Power OIS, a newer version of the optical image stabilisation that was found on the FZ28, claims to provide increased reduction in camera shake — and with a superzoom, given the telephoto zoom length exacerbates any form of camera shake, image stabilisation is an absolute necessity. In terms of recording options, the FZ35 can take images in JPEG or RAW, or a combined JPEG+RAW, in aspect ratios of 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9. Given the amount of control that the FZ35 affords its users, we're disappointed not to see a hotshoe included on the camera.
The FZ35 uses a Lithium-ion battery that sits in the base of the camera, alongside the SD/SDHC card slot. Note that the power cord for the battery charger is incredibly short. Included in the box is a battery, power charger, the FZ35 itself, a lens cap which can be tethered to the body, a carrying strap, user manuals, a flower lens hood, digital interface cables and a USB cable, plus user manuals and a CD containing software.
Below is a table comparing the FZ35 to its main superzoom competitors.
|Panasonic FZ35||Canon PowerShot SX20||Nikon P90||Olympus SP-590|
|12.1 megapixels||12.1 megapixels||12.1 megapixels||12 megapixels|
|18x optical zoom||20x optical zoom||24x optical zoom||26x optical zoom|
|2.7-inch LCD (fixed)||2.5-inch LCD (variable angle)||3-inch LCD (tilting)||2.7-inch LCD (fixed)|
|Electronic viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder|
Generally, superzooms are not known for their speedy performance and the FZ35 doesn't set our performance benchmarks on fire: it starts up and takes its first shot within 2.05 seconds. Shutter lag without pre-focusing measures 0.35 second on average which is actually pretty fast for a superzoom, but image processing times let the side down again: processing a RAW image takes 4.4 seconds, and a JPEG takes 3.3 seconds.
In continuous shooting, the FZ35 can only take three shots at full quality before coming to a halt to process them and manages about 2 frames per second. The refined and updated Power OIS image stabilisation system was very effective, and in everyday testing we managed to get down to a shutter speed (handheld) of 1/20s before camera shake became visible.
Panasonic rates the battery of the FZ35 at 470 shots.
Image and video quality
As the optics haven't changed since the FZ28, image quality is quite similar to the other camera. Our test shots appeared well exposed with good levels of detail across focal lengths. There was an amount of chromatic aberration present at full magnification across high contrast areas at the wide-angle reach of the lens. The camera also had a tendency to over-expose and blow out highlights in these areas.
Some of the chromatic aberration visible from the FZ35's lens. (Credit: Panasonic)
The lens displays good sharpness and clarity across all focal lengths though (even if optimal sharpness is at the centre of the frame), and there's only limited distortion (barrel and pincushion) at the wide and telephoto lengths respectively. RAW quality is excellent, exhibiting clear and punchy colours, slightly more so than its counterpart shot taken in high quality JPEG.
Noise control is reasonably good up to ISO 800, and ISO 1600 shows up a lot of over-processing and smeariness in order to compensate for the higher sensitivity. Furthermore, the lens hood causes vignetting at the wide end if it's not placed in the correct alignment (which is easy to do as the thread tries to lock it in the wrong position).
In creative movie mode (accessible from the mode dial rather than the dedicated record button), the user has the option of choosing the shooting mode from the PASM options. There's a limitation on the slowest shutter available, at 1/30, but it's good to see manual controls trickling down into consumer cameras with HD video. As for the quality of the AVCHD Lite files, they are generally excellent, though there is a tendency for overexposure in areas that fluctuate between extreme brightness and shade. Sound quality is also good, with the wind cut feature on the microphone doing a very good job of taking out incidental noise. Panasonic has fortunately allowed you to use the full optical zoom length while filming, and the motion is smooth. There is no provision to take still images during filming, but you can take still images from videos in the PhotoFunStudio software provided with the camera.
For a fully featured superzoom, you can't go past the FZ35. There are a couple of quirks as is wont with any camera of this ilk (relatively slow performance, missing expandability options like a hotshoe) but like the FZ28 that came before it, this is a very good choice for someone who wants a compact camera with a relatively extensive wide-angle to telephoto reach lens.