Panasonic DMC-FZ10

What strikes you first about the Panasonic DMC-FZ10 (aka “Lumix”) digital camera is its huge, beautiful Leica lens. With a 42mm diameter, the lens is more closely related to something you’d find on a traditional 35mm single-lens reflex camera than to its tiny cousins in the digital world. This lens gives the DMC-FZ10 a generous 12x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, and a respectable F2.8 aperture. The lens has tremendous potential to capture gorgeous images — a potential that, for the most part, the camera doesn’t live up to.

Although lighter than many comparable lenses, the Leica is large enough to make the camera bulky — at over 1 pound, it virtually requires you to use two hands to snap photos. If the Lumix were a reliable and fast shooter we’d forgive it these shortcomings. However, the Lumix’s autofocus is slow and inaccurate, and its shutter lag is unacceptably long. After pressing the shutter button, the camera frequently spends several seconds pulling in and out of focus, eventually settling on a focal distance — sometimes seemingly at random — and then snapping the shot. Under ideal conditions, shutter lag is 1.2 seconds. Unless you’re shooting rocks and flowers on a calm, clear day, this behavior is maddening.

You can cut down shutter speed to 0.3 seconds by switching to manual focus, which lets you spin the manual-focusing ring around the lens body. This ring, which is really an electronic control, doesn’t directly move the lens body, but it’s a traditionalist touch that dyed-in-the-wool SLR users will appreciate.

When focusing manually, the Lumix throws in a “Manual Focus Assist” feature: The camera overlays the center of the LCD display with an extreme close-up, which can make it easier to ensure that you’re getting a crisp image. Unfortunately, this close-up tends to block out faces, which makes portraits a challenge. Fortunately, you can turn the feature off.

Despite its many limitations, the Lumix occasionally takes successful photos. And when it does, the images are big, clear, and beautiful, with lots of detail, rich color, and plenty of depth of field. If you’ve got the time to shoot again and again in search of the perfect shot, if your subjects are slow-moving or completely still, and you possess Buddha-like levels of patience, the Lumix is the camera for you. But for anyone who’s not living in a monastery, the Lumix will prove an exercise in frustration. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Big Leica lens can take gorgeous photographs
Worst Feature: Slow, inaccurate autofocus means it usually doesn’t

SPECS:
Panasonic DMC-FZ10
$545
Weight: 1.2 pounds
Size: 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.5 in.
Specs: 4 megapixels; 12x optical zoom; optical image stabilization; built-in flash; 2-inch LCD; USB; SD slot (8MB card included); lithium-ion battery
www.panasonic.com

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Panasonic DMC-FZ10