Here's what I've learned
Gotta Love Those Blue Eyes
The FZ20 is a great camera for taking candid pictures of people because with the big
image-stabilized zoom lens you can stand way far back and still get good closeups of people.
With most cameras you have to get so physically close to your subject
that you totally intimidate them by invading their personal space.
I was standing so far back for this shot that the boy and his parents paid no attention to me.
Wally, one of our Cocker Spaniels
If you like this picture, see more of my Cocker Spaniel pictures here
The KSBY-TV Control Room
You can see the Cameraman in the studio through the door in the upper left, the Producer in the lower left, and the Director (my son, Jeff) at the main control board in the center.
This shot was taken hand-held in VERY low light. I think that this shot turned out amazingly well given the difficult lighting in the room and the fact that no tripod was used. I manually set the sensitivity to ISO 400 so that I would not have to disturb them by using a flash. As you may know, shooting at high ISO speeds will increase the amount of noise in a picture... but it was easily removed with image editing software on my computer.
There's been a lot of talk on the Internet about the noise issue regarding the FZ20. Don't let it scare you. It's no different than in the old days of 35mm SLR film cameras. When you pop in a roll of 400 ASA film, you expect to get more noise. That's just the way it works. Digital is no different.
Those Internet camera review sites get spoiled because they test (and probably own) some very expensive digital SLR equipment... and the FZ20 is simply not in that league. You shouldn't expect it to be... it costs only $600 and the digital SLRs cost thousands. Yes, the FZ20 is noisy at 400 ASA... so is every other digital camera in the same price range, and a 35mm film camera with 400 speed film is, too. But it's so easy to remove digital noise with software, I really don't see what all the fuss is. Want to see how easy it is to filter out digital noise? Try the free Helicon filter.
A One-Day-Old Cocker Spaniel Puppy
See more pictures of our November 2004 litter here
Another handheld shot in available light. I used macro mode for this one, and put the camera just a few inches away from the puppy. I manually set the camera to ISO 400 to make the most of what little light there was. The original picture had a little bit of noise in it, due to the high ISO setting... it took me about three minutes of tweaking with Paint Shop Pro and the Helicon noise filter to get the image to look like what you see here. I did not apply any filtering to the face at all, in order to preserve all the details of the hairs... I only filtered the background and the lower corners. So if you're wondering "how much noise is there without the filtering?" just look at the face.
And here's that same pup, three weeks later...
My Nephew playing football
The "Sports Mode" is great at freezing the action, and the big zoom lens got this shot from the sidelines.
If you've ever tried getting a picture of your kids at a sporting event with a normal digital camera,
you know how terrible most cameras are for this. The zoom lens on the FZ20 is awesome!
Keep in mind that no add-on lenses were used to get this shot... just the standard lens built in to the camera.
The steam turbine and generator at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant
I took this same shot years ago with a different digital camera, and got massive chromatic aberrations around the lights and the windows. The FZ20 handled it with no problems. The platform I was perched on was shaking like crazy, and so I was glad that the FZ20 comes standard with an image stabilized lens. This shot was taken hand-held with no tripod.
You can see more pictures I've taken at the nuclear power plant
A storm heading our way just before sunset
The FZ20 has a "scenery mode" that made it very easy to get this picture.
I took this shot handheld with no tripod.
A pelican coming in for a landing
Thanks to the image stabilization I was able to get this fantastic shot without using a tripod.
I was approximately 50 feet away from these guys, and was using the full 12x optical zoom.
For a camera in this price range to get this shot at that distance with no tripod... it's an incredible achievement.
Our Cat, "Socks"
This camera is great at getting close-up photos of your pets.
Wildflowers Overlooking The Pacific Ocean
Impressive that all of the flowers (at a wide range of distances) are in focus, yet the background focus is soft.
Sunset at Pismo Beach
When my new FZ20 arrived on September 8th, I headed on down to the beach and took this picture.
Our boy, Dodger, at 12 weeks of age
Getting pictures of running dogs is extremely difficult for most cameras. By using shutter-priority mode and setting the shutter speed to 1/400 of a second, I was able to freeze Dodger in action.
The ultimate test of the FZ20 zoom lens?!?
I took this shot of the moon from my back patio.
I think when your camera can get pictures of the craters on the moon
without any additional lenses or tricks, you've got a pretty good camera.
What's so special about the FZ20? First, you have to understand what's so special about the older FZ10... a big image-stabilized 12x optical zoom lens... a hot shoe for an external flash... manual focus, aperture, and shutter speed controls... and a high-speed burst mode so you can snap a bunch of pictures back-to-back. Take all those FZ10 features, and make a whole bunch of improvements... and you've got the new-and-improved 5 megapixel Panasonic DMC-FZ20!
The FZ20 has more resolution than the FZ10 (five megapixels versus four) and they've improved the Venus engine LSI since the one they used in the FZ10. The Venus engine LSI is the “brain” of the camera which handles all image processing functions. The new version used in the FZ20 offers quicker start-up, increased shutter speed, reduced lag time, and faster consecutive shooting than what was available on the FZ10. In addition, they've added a focus-assist lamp to help the camera focus in low-light situations. (This feature is extremely valuable if you plan on taking a lot of flash pictures in low-light conditions!) A big improvement is that you can save your pictures as uncompressed .Tiff format files on the FZ20... to eliminate any artifacts from .jpg compression. A small improvement is that they made the hand grip a little bigger on the FZ20... the camera feels a bit better in your hand than the FZ10 did. The FZ20 also has an unlimited burst mode... while the FZ10 could only shoot a burst of 5 shots back-to-back. And finally, they changed the style of the lens hood which comes included with the camera. It's amazing how much that new lens hood design improves the "shock and awe" factor... you will look like a total pro carrying this camera around! (Shown with lens hood removed in the picture on the left.)
I'd also like to point out one huge advantage that the entire Panasonic Lumix line of big-zoom cameras has over digital SLR cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel... because the lens is permanently attached to the camera and can not be removed, dust can never get inside the camera and on to the imaging device. One of the biggest problems experienced by owners of digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses is that dust gets inside the camera when they change lenses. At first, that may not sound like a big problem, but when you consider the size of a speck of dust relative to the small size of a digital camera's imaging device... you can see why a small piece of dust can be a big problem. There have been huge discussions in the online digital SLR forums about how to deal with this problem... it's one problem you'll never experience with a Panasonic Lumix digital camera.
Now let me give you a little demonstration of the #1 greatest feature on this camera... the big image-stabilized zoom lens. Here are three pictures I took within a few seconds of each other at a football game, as one of the coaches gave a pep-talk to his team:
A fully wide shot -- no zoom used:
Full 12x optical zoom:
Full 48x digital zoom:
I think those three pictures show an amazing zoom capability. Sure... the the last picture is a little fuzzy, but the thing you have to keep in mind is that the picture was taken with 48x zoom from 25 yards away. I'd like to see you try to get better focusing on something that small at that distance. I was amazed the camera did that well. Yes, it's not perfectly sharp... but if you need perfect sharpness on shots like that from 25 yards, you're going to have to buy a $1000 camera and a $2000 lens for it! It's not perfect... but try that same shot from any other camera in this price range and you won't even get anything close to that good!
Here's another demonstration of what the built-in zoom lens of the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 can do:
A shot of the Harford Pier from the hills overlooking San Luis Bay
Full 12x optical zoom
Full digital zoom
Even more amazing considering that I took this shot handheld... no tripod!
Want to see yet another good demo of
the FZ20 zoom?
|If you've decided that the DMC-FZ20 is the camera for you... there's one little problem: Panasonic stopped making them several years ago! It's difficult to find a new one anymore... and even if you could, you might not want it since it would have been sitting on a shelf for years. You might be better off to check out the DMC-FZ8 , or the top-of-the-line DMC-FZ50 . If you appreciate the information that I've taken the time to share on this page... you can say "thank you" by ordering your camera through any of the links on this page. When you do, Amazon.com gives me a small referral fee... which is the nicest way you can thank me for the effort I've put in to this page.|
If you'd like to find out about other cameras that I recommend, or all sorts of other
electronic items for that matter, take a look at my Holiday Tech Guide!
May I give you a suggestion regarding memory for the DMC-FZ20?
The camera comes with a 16mb Secure Digital memory card... but at over 2mb per picture, that won't get you very far! So, you're going to want to buy a larger SD memory card for it. I'd suggest a 512mb card, which will allow you to shoot well over 200 pictures in the 5 megapixel mode before you'll have to connect to your computer and download them.
Here's the thing that most people don't understand about memory cards... they come in different speeds. The cheap ones can't read and write data to and from the card as fast as the more expensive high-speed cards can. So, it takes longer to download your pictures from a cheap memory card than it will if you shell out the few extra bucks for a high-speed card.
But most importantly, a high-speed card will allow the DMC-FZ20 to work much better when you are using the camera's high-speed burst mode. In boost mode, the camera can take a series of five pictures back-to-back extremely quickly. I've found this to be VERY handy when shooting kids and animals since they tend not to sit still! But if you buy a slow memory card, the burst mode won't work very well because the camera is sitting around waiting for the card to finish writing the pictures to the card. The memory card ends up being a bottleneck to the flow of data simply because it's too darned slow to keep up with the camera!
So my strong advice to you is to spend a couple of extra bucks when you make your memory card purchase and get yourself a high-speed card such as the 32x Lexar SD memory card. There are cheaper memory cards on the market, there's even a cheaper line of Lexar cards... but the 32x card is what you really need to allow the Panasonic camera to work at full potential. Click here to order a 1 gigabyte high-speed Lexar card through Amazon.com... and once again, you'll be giving me a nice "thank you" for the information because Amazon.com will send a small commission check my way.
Why do I recommend a 1 gigabyte card instead of a 512mb or 256mb card? Trust me on this one... you're going to LOVE taking pictures with this camera, so you'll be taking LOTS of pictures. You have to remember that since the FZ20 is a 5 megapixel camera, each picture can take up as much as 2.5 megabytes of disk space. It's so frustrating to be shooting pictures and then to run out of disk space on your memory card! If you use the burst mode... which fires off multiple shots back-to-back... or the TIFF mode which shoots a 14mb uncompressed image... it doesn't take long at all.
You might also think about ordering an extra battery if you're going on vacation or in any situation where you might want to take hundreds of pictures before you get back to your computer. While shooting several hundred pictures may sound excessive to you right now... you'll quickly find out once you get this camera in your hands that it's easy to do!
One of the reasons that I like my Panasonic Lumix camera is the hot-shoe which allows you to use an external flash unit. Most digital cameras do not have a hot-shoe, so you're stuck with only the built-in flash. By adding an external flash on to the FZ10 or FZ20, you will find that you are able to get much better results in many situations where you are shooting indoors... especially if the room has a white ceiling you can bounce the flash off of.
I purchased a Sunpak 383 flash for well under $100, and it has made a big difference in the quality of my indoor photographs. Here is a little demonstration. The following 3 photos were all taken in my living room with my DMC-FZ20.
This first photo was shot using natural light only. It was mid-day and there was light coming in through the windows, but because the light was uneven you can see we had major shadows. Not a good picture.
Look at how harsh that lighting is. Yuck. It's very un-natural looking. And since the flash was so close to the lens, she got some red eye, too.
This is why people who are really in to photography make sure they have a camera with a "hot-shoe" so that they can use an external flash unit. Finally, we have evenly distributed light... and it gives the picture a nice soft look. I doubt you could get much better lighting than that without spending a ton of money on studio equipment!
You get the soft lighting effect by not pointing the external flash directly at the subject... you swivel it up towards the ceiling and let the light bounce off the white ceiling and fill the room. This is called "bounce flash". So, if you're going to buy an external flash, make sure it can swivel! Some lower-priced external flashes can not. And make sure it can swivel both vertically AND horizontally, so you can bounce it off the ceiling regardless of whether you are shooting in portrait or landscape orientation! The Sunpak 383 is a good match for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 or FZ 20 cameras and will swivel in both directions.
My advice to you: get yourself a Panasonic DMC-FZ20 and a Sunpak 383 external flash. I highly recommend them. If you click on this link you can order a Sunpak 383 for well under $100, and Amazon will give me a small sales commission... which is the nicest way you can thank me for taking the time to give you this little lighting demo.
Note: These Sunpak flashes are very popular and go in and out of stock at Amazon.com. If you see an announcement at Amazon that they no longer have these units... just check back in a week or two. They keep getting them, selling out, and then getting more.
I've been getting a lot of email from people who have bought the FZ20 and a Sunpak 383, and would like some tips on the best settings to use on the camera and the flash.
For best results, turn on the "external flash preset" mode on the FZ20. (Page 81 of your FZ20 owner's manual.) With external flash preset mode turned on, the FZ20 will automatically go to F2.8 and ISO100 any time it detects an external flash unit has been attached to the camera. Then all you have to do is set the Sunpak 383 to ISO100, put the Sunpak 383 in automatic mode, and you should be good to go. The Sunpak 383 has a little sensor in the front that detects room conditions, and when set to automatic mode it will adjust the flash power output accordingly.
My advice is to take a test shot as outlined above, and see how it looks. If the lighting is not quite right, you can experiment with several other options. First, you can try bouncing the flash off the ceiling at different angles. Different angles will produce more or less light on the subject, which may improve your picture. The other thing you can fiddle around with if the automatic mode isn't giving good results is to throw the Sunpak 383 in manual mode, and try the various manual flash power settings... full power, 1/2, 1/4/ 1/8, 1/16.
A lot of times the automatic setting will be just fine, but as you can see there are lots of other things you can try if you're not happy with the automatic results. Because getting top quality results from the FZ20 and an external flash can sometimes take a little bit of experimentation, I recommend using it primarily in situations where you have the luxury of being able to re-take the shot several times if necessary. For situations where you get one chance to take the picture, and that's it... I'd recommend using the FZ20's built-in flash.
While we're talking about external flash units... I want to explain one other thing to you: TTL flash metering. Some camera/flash combinations can take advantage of TTL flash metering, and some can not. TTL flash metering is where the camera can tell the flash how much flash power to use. The camera's metering system checks out the situation and based on what it sees, it tells the external flash whether to flash at full power, 1/2 power, 1/4 power, etc. In other words, the camera and the flash truly work together to get the correct exposure.
TTL flash metering is generally only available on fairly expensive cameras such as high-end digital or 35mm SLRs. The Panasonic FZ20 does not have TTL flash metering, so there's no point in trying to use an external flash with TTL flash metering as they both need to have that capability for it to work. The reason that the Sunpak 383 is such a good match for the FZ20 is that the little sensor on the front of the Sunpak, which is used to determine flash power when you have the Sunpak in automatic mode, is a great way to get around the fact that the FZ20 can't do TTL flash metering.
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Want to see some pictures I shot with my previous digital camera?
Check out my DMC-FZ10 photos
I'm working on writing a few pages
of things I've learned about digital photography.
I've finished the first one... about compressing images. Click here to read it.
If there are any images here which you admire, send
an email firstname.lastname@example.org
I can always use a few words of encouragement!
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