Dominating the bridge market
For the enthusiastic amateurs out there, the developments in the digital photo industry has opened up lots of opportunities to learn and experiment. A type of camera that has conveniently lodged itself was the bridge camera, which provided users most of the features of an expensive SLR, at high end point and shoot prices.
We've looked at Fuji's Finepix S6500fd a while ago through this column. This was an entry level bridge camera. Fuji still dominates the bridge market, with the new F100FS which features an 11MP image sensor and a 14.3x optical zoom lens being the latest entry to the segment.
But a fundamental problem with the whole range of Fuji's bridge camera range has been their incredibly small aperture size at the Tele end of the lens. The S9000/S9500, S9100/S9600, S6000fd/S6500fd and IS had a 4.9/f, and even the new F100FS have a relatively small 5.3/f aperture at the Tele end, which makes it almost impossible to get a fast shutter speed unless you have plenty of light, or you're using really fast film speed. And the small aperture means that the depth of field is quite broad, which means that the perfect shot with the background is a blur and is, well, not so perfect anymore.
And the same has been the issue with the rest of them as well. Samsung's Pro815 with its huge 15x zoom lens had the same small 4.6/f aperture, putting it in the same bracket.
That's where the subject of today's column manages to shine. Panasonic Lumix has had the FZ50 in the market for a while, and the FZ50 overcomes the aperture problem by having a relatively large 3.7/f aperture at the 12x (420mm equiv.) Tele end.
The specs are pretty impressive too. It has a 35m-420mm equiv. lens, 10MP image sensor, ISO 80-1600 sensitivity, a fluid barrel zoom ring, and focus-by-wire manual focus ring. It also features a little dial near the shutter that lets users adjust aperture size and shutter speed while maintaining the same exposure level, a TTL flash hot shoe and the capability to attach a remote shutter release.
It's pretty close to an SLR and the cost tilts the argument hugely in favour of bridge cameras. To get the same level of usability from an SLR by purchasing lenses, it would cost quite a fortune. The other convenience of having a 35-420mm lens is that you don't have to change lenses to shoot wide-angle, and then to go for a close-up.
The only other camera that can pose a threat to it is the S5 IS by Canon. While boasting the expected high end image quality of a Canon image sensor, the S5 falls a rung short due to its electronic zoom system. It however, has an aperture of 3.5/f.
And don't think this is a tech gimmick by Panasonic. The optics for the camera are not from Panasonic, but from the German manufacturer Leica. And they've come up with their own version of the camera as well. So if you're willing to pay premium, for an extra 30-40% you can get the Leica version of the camera, which goes under the name V-LUX 1 featuring a Leica image sensor.
The FZ50 is not an SLR, and as hardcore photographers have us believe, it will never replace an SLR. But if you want to get serious about photography, then this is the way to start.