Digital camera history has several eras, and one of them was the mega-zoom camera that looked like a DSLR. That was no mistake — it attracted buyers who would have liked to own a DSLR but weren’t thrilled by DSLR prices. Cameras like this sold for significantly less. That’s not to say such cameras were inexpensive. This Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 sold for about $500 when it was introduced in 2005. DSLRs just cost a lot more than that then.
For its time, the FZ5 was well specified. Its 5-megapixel, 1/2.5″ CCD sensor yielded images at 2560×1920 pixels. It packed a 6-72mm (36-432mm equivalent) f/2.8-3.3 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens that offers “Mega OIS” image stabilization. It’s set in a shutter that operates from 8 to 1/20000 sec. (although shutter speeds over 1/1300 sec. are strangely available only at apertures greater than f/4).
Around back you’ll find a 1.8-inch LCD and an LCD viewfinder; press the EVF/LCD button to switch between them. There’s also a built-in pop-up flash. To activate it, press the Flash Open button on the back. It offers automatic, manual, red-eye reduction, and slow sync modes. There’s also a self timer, and controls for exposure compensation and white balance.
A traditional mode dial sits atop the camera, with the usual Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes. Setting shutter speed and aperture in the non-Program modes is a pain, You press and release the tiny Exposure button and then use the D pad with its ▲, ▼, ►, and ◄ buttons to adjust the values.
To use the FZ5 as a point and shoot, set the mode dial to ♥️. SCN opens a menu on the screen that lets you choose from among nine scene modes. You can also choose movie and macro modes with the dial. Unfortunately, the FZ5 shoots video only at a paltry 340×240 pixels, and you can’t combine macro mode with manual or semi-automatic exposure.
The FZ5 also offers a clever flip-animation mode, which you activate using the menu. It creates a video of up to 20 seconds from a series of still images that you shoot.
The FZ5 saves images as low- or high-resolution JPEGs, or as TIFFs, but offers no RAW mode. It saves images on an SD card. It uses a proprietary battery, and comes with a charger.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 may look like an SLR, but it is far smaller at 2.7 x 4 x 3.3 inches. It weighs just 11.5 ounces. It was available in black or silver.
The FZ5 came with a lens hood that made the camera far longer than it was wide. The proportions are almost comical. Even with the lens hood, this camera is known to suffer from a little flare when the sun isn’t perfectly behind the photographer.
If you like vintage digital cameras, I’ve also reviewed the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here) and C613 (here), the Canon PowerShot S80 (here) and S95 (here), the Nikon Coolpix 950 (here), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 (here) and FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
This camera was a gift from a friend — it had been her father’s, and she gave me all of his photo gear after he passed away. I took this Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 with me on a number of outings. On a neighborhood walk, I made this image on the tennis court.
I live in the thick of suburbia, and can walk to any number of chain stores and restaurants like this McAlister’s.
Sometimes I used the screen, and sometimes I used the electronic viewfinder, to compose images. The EVF suffered from a strong blue caste which I didn’t enjoy, so after a while I stopped using it.
The flash works well, illuminating the scene evenly. That’s my camera cabinet on the left, and the desk at which I write this blog on the right.
I was surprised by how much barrel distortion this lens displays at its wide end. The more you zoom in, the less distortion you get. Given the processing every digital camera does, I can’t believe that the FZ5 doesn’t fix this in camera.
I shot this Lowe’s building at maximum zoom — every line is perfectly straight. The onboard image stabilization works well, too. As you might expect, it’s challenging to compose at maximum zoom. Even the slightest movement of the camera results in a large shift in what the camera sees. I shot this scene five times before I was satisfied with the framing.
Without moving from where I stood, I then zoomed all the way out to make this photo. That’s one heck of a deep zoom!
I was shocked by how dingy the images were straight out of the camera. It’s as if I had a gray filter in front of the lens. I recently bought a Photoshop plugin called Radiant that does a bunch of adjustments at once to brighten an image. Use the slider on the image below to see the image straight out of the camera (left) and after processing with Radiant (right). It’s a shocking difference.
The camera handled okay. It wasn’t difficult to carry around given its small size and light weight. On the other hand, the camera is so light and plasticky that it feels like a toy. The strap that came with the camera was too short for my taste, so I wrapped the strap around my hand to carry the camera. The shutter button is right where my finger expects it to be. The zoom control is the collar around the shutter button, so it, too, is easy to reach and use. Zooming is responsive and fairly precise. I experienced only occasional slight overzooming.
I went to visit my old friend Michael in Terre Haute, and as I headed home I made some night photos with the FZ5. Charlie’s is pretty much a Terre Haute institution. They make a terrific cheeseburger they call the Tweety Burger. I ate hundreds of them during my time living in Terre Haute in the early 1990s.
I shot this Firestone service center from the open window of my car. It’s on the main drag in Terre Haute — old US 40 and the old National Road. I like being back in Terre Haute; it always feels like home.
The FZ5 does a reasonable job in available light, despite its maximum ISO of 400. It helps a lot that I have a steady hand and the camera has image stabilization.
I love macro photography so of course I tried the FZ5’s macro mode.
With the lens hood on, I touched the end of the lens to this manhole cover and zoomed in step by step until the FZ5 would no longer focus. This is as close as I could get.
Because the lens has to extend on startup, and then the lens has to focus, it takes a couple seconds before you can use the camera. The same happens when the camera is on but goes to sleep, because the lens retracts. Pressing the shutter button partway reactivates it, but it takes time to extend and focus. I seldom absolutely need instant response from any camera, but the FZ5’s slow start was annoying just the same.
To see more from this camera, check out my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 gallery.
DPReview liked the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 when it was new, and gave it a Highly Recommended rating. Maybe it was a great camera in its time, but today it has more compromises and limitations than anyone who loves old digicams needs to put up with.
That’s not to say this is a bad camera you should avoid. The FZ5’s images are sharp and full of detail, with natural colors. They have an unusually strong gray tint, but a little Photoshop action brightens them right up.
Still, I wouldn’t seek out one of these. If you come upon one for ten bucks, buy it and have a little fun with it. Its deep zoom is certainly useful.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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