2015 December 11    Digital  Camera Reviews





You may have already seen my article on bridge cameras.

Well, I'd been planning to review the Panasonic FZ70 for quite a while. 

Here's that review, made in the context of what's on the market as we go into 2016.  Is the FZ70 still any good now, compared to what else is out there?  Let's find out.


A Quick Note


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In This Article


Some Specifications

Battery

Power-Up / Basic Use

Auto Mode

Video

Flash

Image Quality

Lens

Low-Light / High ISO Performance

Zoom

FZ70 vs. FZ200 vs. Canon SX50


Conclusion



Some Specifications

35mm Zoom Equivalent:  20-1200mm
Apertures Available:   f/2.8-5.9
Batteries:  7.2V   895 mAh   6.5 Wh Li-ion
Battery Charges Outside Camera?  Yes
Battery Life:   up to 400 shots per charge
Connectors:  USB multi (AV out / digital);  Mini-HDMI out
Crop Factor:  5.2
Exposure Compensation:  +/-3 EV in 1/3-stop increments
Exposure Control:   Auto, Programmed Auto (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), Manual (M), & Smart Auto scene modes
Flash:  Built-in, plus a hotshoe to accept an external flash
Focus:  Auto;  Auto Macro;  Manual Focus also available
GPS:  No
HDR:  Yes (in-camera)
Image Formats:  JPG and 12-bit RAW
Image Processor:  Venus Engine
Image Stabilization:  Optical
Introduced:  2013 July
ISO settings:  ISO 100 through 6400, with Auto ISO available
LCD:  3" fixed TFT (460K dots)
Lens:  non-interchangeable zoom lens, Lumix DC Vario, 3.58 to 215 mm
Memory (Built-In):  200 MB
Metering:  Multi, Center-Weighted, & Spot modes
Microphone:  Built-In only (Stereo) / no mic input jack
Panoramic Modes:  Yes (in-camera)
Resolution:  16 megapixels
Sensor:  1/2.3 inch MOS (7.7 mm diagonal)
Shutter speeds:   8" to 1/2000th
Video:  1080px HD @ 50 fps
Viewfinder:   Electronic (202,000 pixel EVF) with 100% coverage;  also has a fixed LCD screen
Weight (no batteries):  562g (1.24 lb)
Wi-Fi:  No
Zoom magnification:  60x (optical) (20-1200mm equivalent)  /  Digital zoom to 120x (2400mm equivalent)





Battery


Just like the Canon SX50 and the Pansonic FZ200, the FZ70 has a battery pack that can be charged externally.  That means you can buy a spare battery and carry it on your outdoor adventure.

(If you've ever had a battery run out on a photo shoot, you'll know how important that is.)

I would advise getting the OEM battery instead of an aftermarket.   The aftermarket ones rarely have the same battery life.  This is all the more important with the FZ70, since the battery doesn't have the power reserves of the FZ200's battery.

The FZ70 takes a Panasonic DMW-BMB9, which is the same battery called for in the older FZ40 and FZ100.   You can get the OEM battery here if you want a backup.  Again, I'd recommend a spare, due to somewhat shorter battery life than the FZ200.



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Power-Up & Basic Use

As with the FZ200, one of the first things you'll notice on the FZ70 is the location of the power switch.  It's a flip switch that's very convenient to operate with one hand.  On some other bridge cameras (including the Canon SX50), you have to press a button to power the camera on.  Buttons can be difficult to locate when you're not looking directly at the camera. 

The FZ70's power switch can easily be activated without looking at the camera.  It reminds me of the power switch on some Canon DSLR's.  Great idea.

Unlike some DSLR's, however, the FZ70 and FZ200 power switches don't have the dreaded "video overshoot" problem.  It's either camera "On", or camera "Off".  You can record video by pressing the Record button at any time.

There's one aspect of the controls that varies a lot from the FZ200.  The FZ70 has no controls on the side of the lens-barrel housing.

The FZ70's electronic viewfinder (EVF) at 200-something-K dots is nowhere near as hi-res as the FZ200's finder (1,312K dot).  The FZ70's EVF is more in the same league with the Canon SX50's EVF (202K dot).  

If you already know that a very sharp, clear viewfinder is high on your priority list, you may want to skip the FZ70 and get the FZ200 right now, or go for the even better FZ300 with its improved EVF.

As with the FZ200 / FZ300, the FZ70 has that same thumb wheel.  What makes the FZ-series bridge cameras unusual is that the thumb wheel is actually also a button.  Clever, but unusual enough that you'll need practice with it.   It is very easy to adjust the wrong thing because you didn't quite actuate the wheel-button just right. 

As with the FZ200, though, it's pretty easy to learn the thumb wheel control, to the point where you (probably) won't mess up.  It just takes practice.  If you use the FZ70 as your primary camera, you'll likely get so good with the controls that you'll be glad they have that thumb wheel. 





Auto Mode

As with the FZ200, there's that red pictogram of camera with "iA" on the mode dial.   This is an OK mode for beginners, although I usually recommend going to "A" or even manual mode if you're really trying for the best pictures.  Then again, if you pick up the camera and just want to take a picture in a hurry, the "iA" mode is handy.  (See also the Low Light / High ISO section.)

The FZ70's Auto mode selects the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO appropriate to the scene.   Depending on the conditions, it can also activate special scene modes as well.



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Video

The FZ70 has the video record button near the shutter release, just as you'll find on the FZ200.    You can activate Record from almost any mode, which is handy. 

I find the record-button placement to be convenient, but only after practicing with this camera (and the FZ200) for a while.   If you're accustomed to thumb-activated record buttons, then maybe it's going to be a bit confusing, because you'll keep expecting that record button to be where your thumb is.

Again, it's a matter of acclimation. 

The biggest issue with video on any camera is that it just fills up memory cards too fast.  As a result, I end up shooting a lot of 720p or even VGA video.  Mostly this is for quick stuff, like reminding myself how something goes back together after disassembly.  (I still use film for some of those types of pictures, but if it's in very poor lighting, I'll use digital and save the film for stuff that I actually want to print and hang on a wall.)

Overall I like the appearance of the FZ70's video.  As for the audio, there's no mic input, so that's kind of limiting.  You get the built-in mic, and that's that.

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Flash

Like the FZ200, the FZ70 has a pre-flash that attempts to reduce red-eye by getting the subject's pupils to constrict.  Unfortunately, the pre-flash is at just the right time so that your subjects will be blinking when the main flash goes. 

As I suggested with the FZ200, the best solution is to get an external flash unit for this camera. 

If you're not photographing people, it won't matter.  Actually, I think I disabled the pre-flash anyway.  Now I just use the FZ70 to take convenient snapshots of stuff, so I can remember how it goes back together.  In "P" or perhaps Auto mode, the flash works fine. 

Some cameras get the flash all wrong in "A" (Aperture Priority) mode, but the FZ70 seems to do just fine.  This one was shot in "A" mode:



Electromagnetic Device With Red Paint

Panasonic DMC-FZ70
Aperture Priority mode
Auto ISO 250
f/5 @ 1/125th sec.
Focal length 10.3mm (about 57mm equivalent)
On-camera flash


Looks like the camera gets everything right;  I took actually a bunch of flash pictures in this session, and many other sessions too;  they all looked right in terms of metering and the amount of light emitted by the flash.  There are more expensive cameras-- including some DSLR's-- that can't even do this. 


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Image Quality

The FZ70 has image quality close to that of the FZ200, which I've already noted to be on par with the Canon SX50.  In other words, I would say the FZ70 is one of the top three bridge cameras in terms of image quality and price. 

If we're talking about image quality only, the Panasonic FZ1000 could eat all three of these cameras for lunch.  However it's much more expensive and has a much shorter zoom range.   The same goes for the Olympus Stylus 1s, which by all accounts is a fantastic camera;  but again it's rather expensive, and the zoom goes to about 10x instead of 60x.

For more info on how & why I arrived at these three cameras (FZ70, FZ200, SX50), read this article, and maybe this one.

Now, among the top three contenders, I find that the FZ70 is maybe not quite as good as the FZ200 or SX50.   It's fairly close, though.  Be sure to read Lens for more info.




The Phantom Wavelength of Magenta

Panasonic DMC-FZ70
Zoomed in fully (1200mm equivalent)
Hand-held (no tripod)

The depth of field is actually quite thin here;  much of the plant is not actually in focus.
To see what is, you might need to study a larger version of this picture.

And nope, magenta is not an actual wavelength on the visible spectrum
(kind of interesting, that.)


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Lens

Lumix DC Vario.  14 elements in 12 groups.

This is not a Leica lens, as far as I can discern. 

Contrast that with the FZ200, which has a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens (14 elements, 10 groups).

I'm not an optical engineer, and I'm no Leica expert, but here's what I do know.  I have used both the FZ70 and the FZ200 enough to notice the FZ200 has better image sharpness across more of the zoom range.  

Building a zoom lens that can go from 20 to 1200mm equivalent is no easy task.  I'm surprised anyone was able to do it as well as Panasonic did here.  I think this might be why the Canon SX50 is 24 to 1200mm, instead of 20 to 1200.   

Well, you just knew that we camera consumers wanted a 20 to 1200mm bridge camera.  And we totally do, or at least I do. 

At 20mm there is a bit of softness, but the FZ70 is still ahead of what I'd call the second- or third-tier bridge cameras.


Trees at 20mm

Panasonic DMC-FZ70
Zoom at 20mm equivalent
Handheld
ISO 100
f/5.6 @ 1/250th

Larger.

 The trees near the middle of the picture are in focus, but it's not pin-sharp focus.
The FZ70's zoom lens is not at its sharpest when zoomed out, or fully zoomed in.
As usual, best performance is somewhere in the middle of the range.



Ultrawide lenses are difficult to make well in a prime;  now imagine a superzoom lens.

That, and the FZ200 has the Leica lens, while the FZ70 does not.

I used to think the whole "Leica lens" thing was a marketing gimmick, but maybe not.  I say that because even in the middle of the zoom range-- where zooms are usually the sharpest-- the FZ70 just doesn't seem to have quite as much sharpness.   Now, another reason could be diffraction, because 16MP is sort of too much for a 1/2.3" sensor;  but I think it's the lens more than anything.

Then again, it ain't half bad.  Detail renders just fine, especially in the vast "middle" of the zoom range.



The Square Root of Rust

Panasonic DMC-FZ70
Auto ISO 160
1/400th sec.
11.8mm (about 66mm equivalent)

Larger.



Bottom line:  the lens on the FZ70 is very good, even if the FZ200 and the Canon SX50 still have a slight edge.  Overall I am very happy with the FZ70 and would highly recommend it for all-around fun use.


(Purchase this camera)

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Low-Light / High ISO Performance


As I've said in numerous articles, bridge cameras are not the ideal choice for low-light photography.   Their 1/2.3" sensors are a tad bigger than what you get in an iPhone-- also not a stellar low-light performer, by any means-- but they're adequate if you work within the limitations.
 
A 1/2.3" sensor is good up through about ISO 800 in dim light, and maybe 1600 in brighter light.  In very dim lighting, you'll either need to use a tripod or flash.  

If you're just taking pictures of things that hold still, it's possible to get usable photos in incandescent light.  The image stabilization allows for handheld photos down to at least 1/10 of a second.    The FZ70 does not have the constant f/2.8 offered by the FZ200, but it does allow f/2.8 at the widest zoom settings. 



    





Zoom

The FZ70 has a "60x" zoom.  That extra power above the 50x of its competitors is not magnification power.  Instead they expanded the wide-angle range.  And so, the FZ70 still goes to 1200mm (just like the Canon SX50 does), but on the wide end, the FZ70 goes to 20 millimeters instead of the more common 24 or 25mm.  

(Those are millimeter equivalents.  The actual focal length is much shorter... smaller sensor, and all that.)

So here we have a camera that can do both ultra-zoomed and ultra-wide-angle photography.  This, and the relatively low price, are the major draws of the FZ70 as compared to the FZ200 and the Canon SX50.


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FZ70 vs. FZ200 vs. Canon SX50

The main differences:

Canon SX50 has top image quality, but it doesn't go as wide as the FZ70 (24mm vs. 20mm).

FZ200 has f/2.8 available throughout the whole zoom range.  This is very unusual in a bridge camera.

FZ70 has a wider zoom range, including better wide angle (20mm vs 25mm) and better telephoto (1200mm vs. 600mm).  However, image detail is not quite as good as SX50 or FZ200.

The FZ70 is better if you just want zoom versatility.  Originally it cost less than the FZ200, and somewhat less than the Canon SX50.  However, the FZ200 through this link has come down in price quite a bit, at least as of when I write this.

Price considerations aside, the FZ70 still has that zoom versatility.  And to some people, the non-articulating LCD might be an advantage, too.  It's just one less thing to go wrong or get in the way. 


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Conclusion

Features on a bridge camera are important to many users, but image quality trumps everything (at least to me it does).

The FZ70 has image quality amost as good as the FZ200 and Canon SX50, which are top-notch.   It also has at least one feature you can't get with either of them:  20mm equivalent wide-angle.

One nice thing about the Panasonic bridge cameras is their color rendition;  the Panasonic colors are almost as good as Canon's.  In fact, sometimes I even think I'm looking at Canon images.  There's a very slight difference, maybe, but Panasonic cameras are great for landscapes.

The FZ70's major advantage is the quality vs. price ratio.  A big reason for getting the FZ70 over any other bridge camera is that it's got most of the quality at a lower price.   It lacks some of the features (articulating LCD screen), but it works great and it's not terribly expensive.   It has RAW mode and a flash hotshoe, which I consider essential.  You might get by without those features, but when you really want them, they're there.

There are better bridge cameras, and there are cheaper bridge cameras... but I don't know of any bridge camera that's both cheaper and better than the FZ70.  (I should really say "lower-cost" here, because the FZ70 is well-made.)

It's just a great all-around, handy little bridge camera.

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