Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp
Further musings on the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
A fox in the road - by Marilyn Karp - A fox in the road -- taken by the Artist's Muse - Panasonic DMC-FZ18 - - art  - photography - by Tony Karp
A fox in the road -- taken by the Artist's Muse - Panasonic DMC-FZ18
Some great features may not be so great   The DMC-FZ28, as well as the FZ18 have a feature that sounds just great. It's called AUTO POWER LCD, and it automatically brightens the LCD monitor screen in bright light to keep it from washing out. Great feature, right? Not so fast. It's okay if you set your camera on full auto and just point and shoot.

But I use what I see on the LCD or in the camera's viewfinder (EVF) to judge the exposure in the picture that I'm about to take, or to check the exposure when reviewing pictures on playback. The first clue that something was wrong was that I was getting a lot of underexposed pictures when shooting in daylight and a lot of overexposed pictures indoors or at night. (Can you see where this is leading?)

It's easy to see that if you're using what you see on the LCD screen to gauge exposure, you can be misled if the AUTO POWER LCD function is cranking the brightness up and down while just trying to be helpful. (I forgot to mention that this feature actually dims the LCD when it thinks the light is low.)

So I've set this feature to OFF.

The FZ28's menu system   While I haven't yet had time to fully explore the FZ28's menu system, I can tell you this much -- it's far more sophisticated than the menu system on the FZ18. Not only are there lots of new items and choices, but the system gives much more information and guidance about the menu choices and how to use them.

For instance, I was never able to fathom how to set the custom white balance on the FZ18. There was no clue in the menu system about which button to press to tell the camera to set a new custom white balance. On the FZ28, the menu system tells you exactly which buttons to press to set this feature.

It's a raw-unfriendly camera   There's a story, probably untrue, about Thomas Edison. When he had a prospective new employee, he would take him out to lunch and watch his behavior. If the new hire put salt in his soup before tasting it, he didn't get hired.

In the same vein, I am amazed at how many people, both on the online forums and in emails to me, go directly to raw processing on the DMC-FZ18 and FZ28 before even sampling the quality of the camera's JPEGs. The theory of raw processing is that the average photographer can take the raw sensor data from the camera and produce a better end result than the camera's internal processor. In the early years of digital photography, this may have been true, but things change.

The FZ18 showed that the camera's JPEG processing can fix things like barrel distortion and color fringing, while the raw shooters had to do this on their own. The FZ28 adds a new processor, the Venus IV, that appears to do a excellent job in handling noise reduction and sharpening, as well as handling the lens's faults.

The FZ28, at this point, is a raw-unfriendly camera. You can use raw, but they're not going to make it easy for you. In addition to having to outdo the Venus IV processor, the FZ28 has removed the Picture Quality menu from the quick-access joystick and buried it deep within the camera's menu system, making it far more difficult to switch between JPEG and raw. And the FZ28's raw files are actually smaller than the FZ18's, even though the camera has more megapixels.

Even worse, the FZ28's new raw file format isn't yet supported by the most popular raw-processing programs and, with more and more cameras offering raw, they may never have support for the FZ28's new raw format. I'm fascinated by this multiplicity of raw formats. Why doesn't raw have an industry standard file format like JPEG or TIFF??

I think the worst thing is that the FZ28 has a delay of over three seconds as it writes a raw file to the card. This is a severe restriction in a lot of photographic situations. How bad is this? Here's one example. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a local air show. I was there about two and a half hours and I shot about 460 pictures. Shooting JPEGs, it was bam, bam, bam, no delays and no missed shots.

If I had been shooting raw, the total delay would have been three seconds times 460 pictures. I would have spent about twenty three minutes out of those two and a half hours staring at my camera and waiting for the camera to be ready to take another picture. Something here to meditate on, for sure.

I'm not writing this to convince the dedicated raw shooters to mend their ways. What I'm hoping is that people will read this and see that there is another side to the story, and not be intimidated by the zeal of the raw shooters into spending time learning the ins and outs of a process that may not yield better results than they could get from JPEGs. Better to spend your time learning how to use your new camera and taking pictures. At least sample the quality of the camera's JPEGs before turning to raw.

And for the raw shooters out there, I'm still waiting for a convincing demonstration that your raw processing can outperform the JPEGS from the FZ18 and the FZ28. I'm not talking about extreme blowups showing a tiny increase in detail. I'm talking about lots and lots of full frame shots where raw is obviously better.

A design suggestion for Panasonic   There's a new Fn button on the FZ28 that you can program to quickly bring up one of the camera menus. It's a great idea. Unfortunately, you can only program it for menus that are already accessible with the quick-access joystick button. Why not allow Fn be programmed for something useful, like the PICT. ADJ. menu so I can easily change the settings for things like sharpness, noise reduction, contrast, and saturation?

And finally, some good news   When the DMC-FZ28 first came out, it was selling for about $100 more than the FZ18 and a lot of people questioned whether the new model was worth the extra money. But in just a short time, a number of retailers have reduced the price of the FZ28, so that this price difference is now a lot smaller.
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