Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Panasonic jazzes up Lumix camera line

It isn't often that technology converges with high heels and leotards, but such was the case last week at a New York press conference as Panasonic gave the media an early peek at three new digital cameras that are being announced to the public today.

The new 8.1-megapixel Lumix models include two slim units, the DMC-FX55 (suggested price $349.95) and DMC-FX33 ($299.95, at right); and the larger, prosumer-grade DMC-FZ18 ($399.95, below right).

The key difference between the DMC-FX55 and the DMC-FX33, which share the same external dimensions, is the rear LCD panel. The former comes with a 3-inch LCD while the latter's screen size is 2.5 inches. Both come with a Leica 28mm wide-angle lens with 3.6X optical zoom and both offer 4X digital zoom, 27 megabytes of internal memory and a slot for Secure Digital (SD) or Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) removable memory cards. The units are available in a variety of colors.

The SLR-size Lumix DMC-FZ18 comes with an impressive 18X optical zoom, a 28mm wide-angle Leica lens and 4X of digital zoom. An "extra optical zoom" feature extends the zoom to up to 28.7X at the 3-megapixel setting, thus increasing the camera's maximum combined zoom to almost 115X. The unit is available in black (DMC-FZ18K) and silver (DMC-FZ18S). Despite its size, it has relatively little heft at just over three quarters of a pound. It includes a 2.5-inch rear LCD display as well as a 0.44-inch viewfinder display.

All of the new cameras feature face-recognition technology that can pick out as many as 15 faces in a scene. Once identified, the cameras adjust exposure so that the faces aren't washed out or too dark.

Also included in all three is an intelligent scene selection feature which adjusts the camera's mode setting automatically based on what it detects. For example, if a subject is close by, the camera can automatically switch to macro mode.

During the press event, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York's Time Warner building, members of the press were allowed to give the new cameras a spin as a steady stream of jazz performers sang and danced across the large stage.

During my few minutes with a Lumix DMC-FZ18 and a DMC-FX55, the image stabilization circuitry in the cameras seemed to work well. With the DMC-FZ18, I was able to take fairly sharp snaps of the performances, even at maximum optical zoom, from a few levels above the stage (see above). Even from afar, the face-recognition technology was able to select and follow the faces of the performers as they moved.

The LCD display on the diminutive DMC-FX55 was bright and responsive but it was hard to be satisfied with the ample 3.6X optical zoom after playing with the 18X zoom on the DMC-Z18. As with the larger camera, the image-stabilization technology did seem to help keep the long-distance shots sharp (see below).

All of the new Lumix cameras will reach stores in September.

© Text and Photos Copyright 2007 Stadium Circle Features

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