Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18K Digital Camera
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; 7:19 PM
The least expensive camera in our megazoom roundup, the $350Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18Koffers an 18X optical zoom, a 28mm wide-angle lens, and a host of manual controls for a very reasonable price. An amateur photographer who hasn't used many advanced point-and-shoots or digital SLRs can really learn more about the art of taking a great shot by playing with the 8.1-megapixel FZ18K's manual settings; yet the camera is also   beginner-friendly   thanks to its 18 preset scene modes and auto mode.
Besides the 18X optical zoom, the FZ18K's wide-angle Leica lens stands out in other ways. The focal range extends from 28mm to 504mm, and the camera's excellent macro (close-up) mode allowed me to take some great shots of food--and scare the grin off of a bug's face. It's also a camera built for comfort: It has a bulky size that feels good in the hand, but it   weighs less than a pound with the battery in.
One reason for the FZ18K's lower price may be the unit's image quality in comparison   with the other cameras tested in our megazoom roundup. While I was impressed by the camera's image quality by itself, its overall image score came in near the bottom   among all   the megazooms in our subjective testing. It also   scored surprisingly low in exposure quality and flash exposure; the latter was especially surprising given the FZ18K's fairly large, flip-up flash.
Battery life was also disappointing: The FZ18K beat   only the older Canon PowerShot S5 IS in this respect. In our tests, the FZ18K's rechargeable lithium ion battery took 420 shots on a single charge, compared   with shot counts in the 500 range for most of the other cameras.
During testing, the FZ18K's face detection feature didn't produce anything spectacular. Sometimes while focusing, the camera failed to recognize a person's face in the dark. It would take a few half-presses on the shoot button to get a clean focus on the subject's face. Another shortcoming: the FZ18K's optical image stabilization, which   gave only so-so results unless the camera was in auto mode.
Besides its manual controls and its wide-angle lens, the Lumix FZ18K has   other goodies for more-advanced photographers and image editors; for instance, images can be shot in RAW format--but keep in mind that the image size will be about six times larger than a traditional JPG (and plan any SD memory card purchases accordingly).
All in all, the Lumix DMC FZ-18K does come through for the price, especially   if high optical zoom, a great lens, and a beginners' course on manual settings is what you're looking for. If image quality is at the top of your wish list, however, you may be better off with theOlympus SP-570 UZor theFuji FinePix S8100fd.