Panasonic appears to have just lapped everyone in the superzoom camera race — at least in terms of zoom range — by offering a whopping 60x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 20 to 1,200mm in the just announced Panasonic FZ70. While that’s not a longer telephoto reach than, say, the Canon SX50, which also can zoom out to 1,200mm, the FZ70’s zoom range starts from a 20mm wide angle and provides a 12% wider field of view than does the Canon SX50’s 24mm wide angle. Add in a lens that also starts out at max aperture of f/2.8, brighter compared to the SX50’s f/3.4, and the Panasonic FZ70 has our full attention. At least on paper, this FZ70 boasts stats that beat our favorite of all the superzooms we’ve tested (yes, the Canon SX50), and looks like a serious option for photographers wanting a ton of shooting flexibility.
We were fortunate to have some hands-on time with a pre-production FZ70 before launch, and perhaps what surprised us most about this bridge camera is that it’s almost an entirely different machine compared to its predecessor. After all, the Panasonic FZ60 — which started shipping just six months ago — provided only a 24x optical zoom with 25-600mm equivalent range.
What stands out most in addition to the FZ70’s 60x zoom is the camera’s completely new 16.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch type High Sensitivity CMOS sensor that’s supported by Panasonic’s Venus Engine processor. The company claims the new sensor cuts the FZ70’s noise levels by 10-15% compared to those of its predecessor, while also “dramatically” improving high-sensitivity image quality. The new superzoom is also capable of high-speed burst shooting at nine full resolution frames per second (we actually managed an even 10fps in our tests), albeit with only a maximum of three images per burst. And perhaps most important for serious photographers, the FZ70 camera can capture RAW files, just like other superzooms in its class (and unlike the FZ60).
Design. While the FZ70 maintains the familiar shape of the FZ60 — and, really, of most superzoom cameras — the new model is considerably larger and heavier, which is not a surprise considering it now packs a 60x zoom lens. It measures 5.1 x 3.8 x 4.7 inches (130 x 97 x 118 mm) with the lens fully retracted, compared to the FZ60’s 4.7 x 3.2 x 3.6 inch (120 x 81 x 92 mm ) dimensions. The FZ70 weighs 21.4 ounces (606 g) including battery, 4.0 ounces (113 g) more than the FZ60. However, it’s about a third larger than the 50x zoom Canon SX50, which is a better comparison, but weighs about the same.
The Panasonic FZ70 features a sizable, nicely textured handgrip that should give most photographers plenty of purchase. And except for the controls that sit atop the grip, the rest of the front of the camera is completely clean with no buttons or controls marring the sleek, functional design.
Optics. The Panasonic FZ70’s LUMIX DC Vario lens delivers a maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.9 across its 60x zoom range, which is fairly bright compared to the competition. The Canon SX50, for example, sees maximum aperture fall from f/3.4 to f/6.5 across its shorter zoom range.
The lens features 14 elements in 12 groups, including three dual-sided aspherical lenses, and three regular aspherical lenses. That’s a total of nine aspherical surfaces!. There are also three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lenses. Panasonic says that combining all these elements helps suppress wide-angle distortion and telephoto color bleeding. It’s important to note that Panasonic manufactures its own lenses in its Yamagata factory, which gives the company an advantage over others in terms of access and cost.
Aiding the FZ70’s image capturing capabilities is the company’s POWER O.I.S image stabilization technology, which minimizes blur due to camera movement and vibration. Panasonic officials told us the image stabilization on the FZ70 offers twice the shake correction at 60x zoom than does the FZ60 at 24x. If accurate, that’s an incredible feat, and we’re eager to put it to the test in the real world when we post our full review.
Controls and functions. Up top, the FZ70 features a hot shoe for pairing with an external flash, as well as a built-in pop-up flash that can be raised by a press of the button on the back of the camera (unlike the Canon SX50, whose flash you have to raise manually).
But what rests on top of the flash is much more interesting — a newly designed Wind Shield Zoom Microphone, which Panasonic claims minimizes wind noise by 70% compared to prior models. There’s not only a slit in the front of the microphone for wind to come in and then exit side grilles, but also a tiny sponge inside designed to dampen the noise. If the mic performs as advertised, that’s a big boon for recording movies — something which few superzooms of the past have focused on.
Speaking of movies, the FZ70 has a dedicated Movie button perched on the handgrip, right next to the zoom toggle. Nearby is a Drive mode button for instant access to change from single to continuous shooting, which we think is a very nice feature to have. The Mode dial features full PASM controls, as well as Intelligent Auto (iA), Creative Effects, Scene, Panorama, Custom and Manual Movie modes.
On the rear resides a right thumb Control dial for quick changing of camera settings, as well as an assortment of dedicated buttons: one that toggles between the LCD screen and electronic viewfinder, an AF / AE lock button that also doubles as a customizable Fn1 button, an AF / AF (macro) / MF button for quickly changing focusing modes, and a playback button emblazoned with a bright green playback arrow.
There’s also a rear four-way pad that lets you select ISO, White Balance, the Self-Timer and one slot for a custom function (Fn2). In the center of the pad is the Menu / Set button, and below sits the Display button and Q.Menu / Return / Trash button.
LCD and EVF. The FZ70 features a 3-inch TFT LCD monitor, with 460,000 dots of resolution and an anti-reflective coating. It’s fixed in place, fairly flush with the body of the camera. We didn’t get to test it in sunlight, but it has a wide viewing angle and an approximately 100% field of view.
The EVF — again, which can be toggled on and off with a dedicated button rather than an eye sensor — offers 202,000 dots of resolution and features an approximately 100% field of view. For those who demand a viewfinder in their cameras, it’s definitely usable but eminently average for its class.
Video and creative effects. With Full 1080p HD video recording at 60i and 30p frame rates in AVCHD and MP4 formats respectively, not to mention the new Wind Shield Zoom Microphone, the FZ70 aims to improve its appeal to moviemakers. The full 60x zoom is available during recording — although with a slight focal length crop for a 35mm-equivalent range from 22 to 1,320mm — as is the ability to adjust shutter speed and aperture. The camera’s Power O.I.S. stabilization system has an Active mode available while shooting video, allowing users to walk around and film with minimal camera shake, according to Panasonic. Finally, 14 different creative filters can be applied to video shooting for extra drama.
For still photos, the Panasonic FZ70 features 15 different special effects and filters — ranging from Dynamic Monochrome to Miniature Effect to One Point Color — that are available while shooting in Creative Control mode. Or you can add them after the fact through the superzoom’s Creative Retouch mode.
Of note, the camera’s Panorama Mode also allows you to use 13 of the creative filters, which is a relatively uncommon touch.
Battery and storage. The FZ70 operates on an included rechargeable Li-ion battery pack (7.2V, 895mAh, 6.5 Wh) that is CIPA-rated for 400 images per charge (50% taken with flash on). There’s also an optional AC adapter available as an additional purchase.
The FZ70 records stills in RAW, RAW+JPEG and JPEG formats onto SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards. It also has 200MB of internal storage to help you capture a few shots when you’ve forgotten your card.
Accessories. Is the 60x zoom not enough? The 1.7x DMW-LT55 Tele Conversion Lens can be used with the FZ70, via the DMW-LA8 Lens Adapter, giving you mind-boggling reach. The camera is also compatible with the DMW-LC55 Close-up 3x Filter, several external flashes (DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360L, DMW-FL500), and neutral density (DMW-LNDH55) and polarizing filters (DMW-LPL55).
Pricing and availability. The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ70 will be available in black for US$400, with an expected shipping date of September 1st, 2013.