"We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us."
- various attributions
After loving my DMC-FZ18 for a year, and writing lots about it, and showing off pictures that I made with it, I really looked forward to the newest member of the line -- the DMC-FZ28. I checked out Panasonic's web site, which listed lots of great new features, checked out the first samples displayed online, and I was hooked. I ordered my FZ28 on the very first day that it became available. Impatiently, I tracked the package as it skittered across Montana, tarried briefly in Colorado and Kentucky, then finally reached Chantilly, Virginia, where it was put on the brown truck that delivered it to my house.
The unboxing of my new camera took place with great anticipation. I had a freshly charged battery and an SDHC memory card all ready for it. Within minutes, I had my new camera fired up and ready to go.
What follows is the start of an interesting journey. After a short inspection, my initial reaction to the DMC-FZ28 was quite negative. In fact, I actually considered returning the camera. But then I adopted a Zen aspect to try to learn what this new camera might teach me. I've always believed that any new tool -- say a camera or printer -- should change the way you see or work. Otherwise, why are you bothering to spend money on a new toy?
The FZ28 is not just a simple upgrade to the FZ18, with a few more megapixels and some additional features. Although it may look the same, its designers have created a very different tool. There are new features and capabilities. Sadly, there are a few minuses as well.
There are times, when using a new tool, that the implementation seems difficult to use and I end up fighting with it. But closer examination shows that you have to get inside the mind of the person who designed that tool and try to see the world from their point of view. After some thought, I realized that I had been fighting the design and features of the FZ28 rather than trying to see the logic behind them. When I took this approach, things began to flow and I slowly became as one with this new camera.
As with any camera, there is good news and bad news. On balance, the good news far outweighs the bad news and the FZ28 is indeed a worthy successor to the FZ18.
First the bad news. The FZ28's electronic viewfinder (EVF) is actually smaller than the one on the FZ18. (In fact, you can see it sort of sitting in a frame that shows just how much smaller it is than the one in the FZ18.) Looking through the viewfinders on both cameras side by side, you can clearly see detail through the EVF of the FZ18 that is lost in the EVF of the FZ28. The sides of the image in the FZ28's EVF are distorted unless you look directly into the center. It was difficult to look through the EVF of the FZ28 for any length of time without eyestrain. There is also less "eye relief" in the EVF of the FZ28. This is the distance that you can hold the camera away from your eye and still see the whole frame. More eye relief is needed if you wear glasses.
The good news is that the FZ28's LCD monitor in superior in every way to the one on the FZ18. It's bigger, it's brighter, it's sharper, and it has a new function (accessible from the joystick menu) that automatically turns up the brightness in daylight, or whenever it detects a situation where the light might wash out the LCD. When I compared the monitor on the two cameras side by side, the FZ18's was unusable in sunlight, while the FZ28's was Wow!
Taking this as the sort of message that one receives (and often ignores) maybe it was time to change the way I use the camera, switching from fifty years of looking through viewfinders to using the LCD monitor on the back of the camera.
So I went for a walk, just around sunset, down the road to the river. On the camera's joystick-based menu, I chose AUTO POWER LCD from the new LCD MODE menu. (This automatically pumps up the brightness when the camera detects a bright light on the LCD.) The sun was still bright, but the LCD monitor was more than a match for this. Not bad. But you have to be careful to look at the monitor straight on, as tilting it up or down changes its apparent brightness.
So far so good. I left this first batch of pictures on the card after transferring them to the computer. That way, I could compare the same pictures on both the camera's LCD and the computer's display to see how close the were. They were both about the same brightness, but the pictures on the camera's LCD looked a little more saturated. This will require some more study.
In any case, the FZ28 has opened a new door by forcing me to change my picture taking habits and, for this old photographer, that's probably a good thing. (You don't want to hear what the Artist's Muse said about this.)
It looks like there's some bad news for the Raw shooters as well.
I didn't test the quality of images saved as Raw files, since I don't shoot Raw, but I did fire off a few shots in this mode to check out the file size and to see if they would load in different Raw processing programs. If you're a Raw shooter thinking of upgrading to the DMC-FZ28 from the earlier model, there are a few surprises in store for you.
1. The Picture Quality menu has been removed from the joystick-based menu system. It's now buried in the FZ28's main menu system. This means that it is no longer easy to switch between Raw and JPEG format.
2. The FZ28 uses a new Raw file format. Raw files on the FZ18 had a RAW file extension. Raw files on the FZ28 have a RW2 extension. The file format has obviously been changed. The new format is supported only by the software included with the camera. If you use Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW, or any other program for your Raw files, you'll have to wait until they support the new format from the FZ28.
3. This part is a bit of a mystery. Raw files from the FZ18 were about 13.5 megabytes in size. Raw files from the FZ28 are about 12 megabytes in size. If the FZ28 has about 25% more pixels than the FZ18, how come the Raw files are about 12% smaller?
4. There is a delay of about three seconds after each exposure when shooting Raw.
So while the FZ28 supports Raw shooters, it doesn't support them in the manner to which they are accustomed. Perhaps there's a message for the Raw shooters that it's time to rethink the whole Raw thing.
People who shoot JPEG, on the other hand, will be quite happy. The in-camera processing still fixes lens distortion and color fringing. File sizes now are in the 4-to-5 megabyte range at the highest quality JPEG setting (reflecting the increase from 8 to 10 megapixels), way up from the file size of the FZ18. This is a good thing and represents an increase in picture data that will make it easier when you crop your pictures or blow them up to a large print size.
More good news. The Optical Image Stabilization system on the DMC-FZ28 is as good or better than on previous models. In addition, there are lots of new features to explore. The only real change to the camera's controls is that Record/Playback is now a slide switch just under your thumb, on the back of the camera. This is handy if you want to quickly check how many pictures you've shot, and it frees up another position on the mode dial.
A couple of posts ago, I wrote two articles about which settings I use on the DMC-FZ18. I knew the FZ28 had already been announced, but I figured the menus and settings should be about the same. But they're not. Things have been changed and rearranged. While I first saw this as bad news, perhaps it isn't. You have to adopt a different mindset to understand the changes and how to fit them into your understanding of the camera.
This is one of the things I'll be looking at in future articles. I'll also examine the image quality of the FZ28, since this really is the bottom line for any camera. I'll also post some pictures that I've taken with this new camera.