Best digital cameras to buy yourself (part 2)

If you don’t mind a little bulkiness and want the flexibility of a broad range of focal length, get Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50. You have to be willing to drop some change on this 10.1-megapixel megazoom model—it will run you about $480 or more--but you’ll get a slew of features, not the least of which is the excellent 12x Leica optical zoom lens. This camera is the next best thing to a DSLR in many ways (and shoots video, which you won’t find in an SLR).

If you don’t mind a little bulkiness and want the flexibility of a broad range of focal length, get Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ50.

You have to be willing to drop some change on this 10.1-megapixel megazoom model—it will run you about $480 or more--but you’ll get a slew of features, not the least of which is the excellent 12x Leica optical zoom lens. This camera is the next best thing to a DSLR in many ways (and shoots video, which you won’t find in an SLR). Though it’s bulkier than some other

Best digital cameras to buy yourself (part 2)
megazoom models, it really handles and operates much like an SLR. Like the much more compact Canon PowerShot G9, which is also on my best-of list, it includes SLR-worthy features such as full manual controls, RAW image capture, and a flash hot shoe, alongside point-and-shoot-simple automatic controls. But unlike the G9—and DSLRs for that matter--the FZ50 serves up a full 35mm-to-420mm zoom lens without requiring additional interchangeable lenses. I do wish the 2-inch LCD could be a bit bigger, but it’s one of those flip-out, rotating screens that sacrifice size for versatility.

Reviewers laud the shooting performance as being impressive for a non-SLR camera, and are generally pleased with image quality. CNET found images to be “impressive, especially for a Panasonic, whose cameras tend to be noisier than this one.” Its big complaint was that “the automatic white balance turned in horribly warm images with our lab's tungsten lights.” Steve’s Digicams found “image quality was very good using the 10-megapixel, Fine mode, with the ISO set to 100” and “did not feel noise levels were dramatically higher than similar models,” due to Panasonic’s new noise reduction system. DPReview was surprisingly impressed, giving up that “under the right conditions it produces superb output.” Still, its review points out “the smearing of fine, low contrast detail that is the hallmark of the Venus III engine limits the FZ50 to low ISO settings for any serious photography unless you're happy to accept that you'll never be able to produce big enlargements.”

Best digital cameras to buy yourself (part 2)
You should note that Leica also sells its own version of the FZ50, the Leica V-Lux 1. While it has better software algorithms for slightly better JPEG image quality, the $200-plus price premium over the FZ50 is hardly worth it. Still, if money is no object, the Leica is a pretty package for those who are wowed by the classic look.

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