After reading just about every lumix review posted on the internet for the last 5 months ,I jumped in to buy the DMC Fz50. Most people feel that this camera has just one chink in its armour. NOISE. Reading through the reviews makes you feel that the images are completely unusable and that Panasonic has made a tectical blunder here in upping the megapixel count when noise/ noise reduction should have been their focus.
However , i have been using this camera for the last 2 weeks...have shot around 1000 pictures already. Following are my experiences.
Body and design : 10/10
The FZ50 feels very solid . Close your eyes and you would think its an SLR. The weight is well distributed. The buttons and dials are ergonomically placed. The zoom and focus rings are very good. Once you get used to them you would never use the motorised zooms on other cameras. One thing i didnt like was the flimsy strap . Pana, you can do better than that!
Operation : 9/10
The camera starts up very fast..typically a second or so. Image stabilization is very effective, especially in the tele-photo range. Colour reproduction is pretty accurate. However i feel the high setting on the contrast and saturation tend to over-saturate the hues and the std setting tends to under saturate. Card write times are pretty fast. When i shoot in RAW, it normally takes 3 sec to write to the card (more a virtue of the high speed SD card than the camera).Auto focus is very good. Sometimes i find it a little tough to achieve focus lock at some distances between 1 ft and 3 ft. But this is the same with any camera in this range.
Lens : 15/10
Wow!! Its a leica and its awesome!! Nothing more needs to be said. The 12x zoom is awesome. The extended optical zoom is more a marketing gimmick than anything else.
Flash : 10/10
Pretty decent for distances upto 15 ft
Battery : 10/10
I can shoot around 300 shots without a recharge. So that is pretty good. Lack of motorised zoom does save a lot of power.
Image quality: 8/10
Day shots at ISO 100... no problem
Low light / night shots without flash at higher ISOs.. quite a bit of noise. ISO 1600 and 3200 are not usable. But performance upto iso 800 is commendable considering the size of this sensor. Shooting in RAW gives amazing results. I was able to get an ISO 200 jpeg equivalent by shooting in RAW at ISO 800 and then passing it through SilkyPix. RAW is the way to go with this camera in low light.
Overall image quality is pretty good. Much better than most cameras.
The noise issue is overrated by most reviews. Shooting in RAW produces good results and mitigates noise. It is unfair to compare this camera to simple point and shoot cameras. This one is in a different league of its own. It beats the Canon S2, S3, Sony H1, H2 hands down. No question about it. The Leica lens makes up for the points the sensor loses on Noise reduction.
The very fact that most reviews compare the performance of this camera with SLRs like the D70/RebelXT/EOS speaks volumes about it. I am not saying this camera is as good as an SLR.
It is probably the closest you can get to an SLR right now , paying half the price.