Panasonic's 24x optical Super Zoom is packed with manual controls. But does the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 have image quality to match? Read our full review to find out.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 Overview
If you're in the market for a do-it-all camera and are not intimidated by size, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 is one of your suspects. This is a camera that packs in almost anything the average photo hobbyist could think of. It has lots of manual controls, a giant zoom, 720p AVHCD Lite video, and Panasonic's tried and true Intelligent Auto suite. On the downside, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 suffers from Entry-level Image Sensor Syndrome, and the camera's ability to shoot in RAW does not alleviate much of the lackluster image quality symptoms. What's even more discouraging is that the $100-heavier Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 has the same size sensor with different processing. This is a classic "all show and no go" scenario, and in this price range, we'd expect much better image quality than this. For the average shooter who plans on cropping and resizing, the FZ40 will be fine, but if you plan on showing your pictures in a gallery, think again.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 Design
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 is a beast. It's not particularly portable unless you carry it in an over-the-shoulder camera bag. But that's the price to pay for a Super Zoom, for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 has a 24x optical zoom 25mm wide-angle lens. That's a lot of lens that requires a lot of body to harness its obscene telescopic projection. The FZ40 is not as heavy as one would expect, but its body construction is fairly solid. There's a sleek popup flash that ejects with a simple press of a button, and the stereo microphone is embedded on top of the flash itself.
For monitoring, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 has a 3-inch 230,000-pixel display, but it doesn't flip out of rotate. At this price range, we'd like to see an LCD screen that wasn't fixed and had a better resolution. We do get an electronic viewfinder with a 100% field of view and 201,600-pixel resolution. Unfortunately, the resolution does not cut it for using the manual focus. External controls are heightened by a control dial located at the top right corner on the FZ40's backside.
In addition to the advanced control brought on by the control dial, the FZ40 has a 4-way directional pad with Exposure Compensation, Self-Timer, ISO, and an assignable Function button. There's an AF/AE Lock button, Quick Focus button, and Focus Mode button. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 records to SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and is powered by a large lithium ion battery that offered plenty of shooting time. The FZ40 is definitely an advanced Super Zoom that will welcome students with plenty of tools to learn.
Shooting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40
One of the reasons we love Panasonics is that they offer a 60-second shutter speed. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 was no exception, giving us a shutter speed of up to 60-seconds and an aperture range of f/2.8-f/8.0. As far as aperture, the FZ40's range is not very special, but if you like to do a lot of long exposure shooting, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40's shutter speed range will do the trick. White Balance was excellent, allowing us to customize any White Balance mode using a color graph, in addition to manual modes. ISO was limited to 1600, which is another indication that Panasonic did not want to compromise the FZ40's basic sensor any more than necessary.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 has four focus modes: AF, AF Macro, Macro Zoom, and Manual Focus. Auto Focus functioned well, giving us spot focus as well as a multi-pane focus grid. Unfortunately, the LCD resolution is too pixilated to properly adjust the manual focus. When you combine a basic screen resolution with a Focus Assist feature that uses magnification, it will almost certainly come to no good end. There was also Focus Tracking, but the box usually strayed off into La La Land half the time. We did like the Macro Mode with four different subject types—Flower, Food, Objects, and Creative (adjusting the aperture to blur the background).
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 offered plenty of Scene modes on the Mode dial and in the Scene Selection option. But all of the fun was found in Art mode, which included filters like Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, and High Dynamic. All of the filters were customizable, but we could not shoot in RAW with them. However, we could shoot at the highest quality 720p video with the filters engaged, which was a big plus in our book. There's no secret about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40's advanced feature arsenal, and we were never left stranded in the manual control department.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 Still Image Quality
With an advanced external design and a cavalcade of shooting features to boot, we were hoping the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 would score the hat trick with image quality to match. Unfortunately, the camera let in a goal, for the FZ40's image quality was slightly better than average. Now we've seen basic imagers crank out very good performances—heck, we've reviewed Panasonic compacts in the mid-$200 range that fared better than the FZ40.
What it all comes down to is the fact that Panasonic tried to make the FZ40 an omnipotent, Everything Camera rather than focus on a few key elements. That's why we find a 1/2.33-inch 14.1-megapixel sensor inside the FZ40. Too many pixels for too small a sensor. We could see the effects in most of our test images—noise in almost every image and the need to boost the ISO in any shooting environment that hinted at low light. RAW only improved our images slightly, and the Silkypix software Panasonic includes with the FZ40 is godawful. Good luck even getting the program to recognize the camera's RAW files.
Sadly, this is a classic tale of a camera that flaunts a lot on the outside, but doesn't have the junk in the trunk to back it up on the inside. Forget about Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution technology claims. This is Basic Imaging 101.
We actually preferred the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40's video quality over the still image quality. That's because Panasonic gave the camera 720p 30fps AVCHD Lite—the company's top HD recording system. Video shooting modes offered were a Wind Cut, Continuous AF, and Zoom Mic, and we could shoot using Art modes in HD quality. On the downside, AVCHD files must be converted before throwing them online. The ability to shoot in Motion JPEG is there, but the AVCHD Lite quality is far superior. Still, since the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 has a basic imager, low light took a major hit.
Not only could we zoom in while recording--very slowly, mind you--but the FZ40 offered a Manual Video mode, which allowed us to shoot in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. For a beginner, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 is probably most appetizing because of its video mode.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 Final Answer
Here at InfoSync we focus on three main arenas in the world of digital imaging: Design, Shooting Features, and Image Quality. The best cameras excel in all three categories. We've even applauded cameras that were short on a few features or had a funky design because they produced exceptional images. But unfortunately, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 has the former two and misses on the latter. The FZ40 is a camera that is packed with manual controls and is designed with the advanced beginner in mind. From the outside, it's a powerhouse, and certainly fun to shoot with. But it's not fun to get home and load less than great images onto your computer.
For that, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 resides within the basic shooter pool. Plus, there's the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, which just walked into our office as we type. Before you pull the trigger on an FZ—either the FZ40 or the FZ100, wait for our review of the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.
Price and Availability
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 is available now for $400.