Tuesday, May 22, 2007

FZ50 Vs. Entry Level DSLR

Let me say right up front that I don't own an entry level dslr so a direct comparision is not possible here. That said, I did own a 10D 6MP camera so i'm perhaps not entirely 'talking through my hat'.

The FZ50 provides 35 - 420 mm. in a single relatively compact, quite light unit, with image stabilization and noise issues for $650 Canadian.

A Rebel XTI is a bit bulkier in body and were you to put on one of those third party 23-300 mm. lenses and allow for the 1.6 multiplication factor, you'd end up with a package that isn't a whole lot bigger and perhaps 50% heavier than the FZ50. Price would be $900+$400 for the lens or about double the price. There's no image stabilization but you can quite easily increase the ei. by a factor of 3 stops to get the equivalent effect (and stop moving subjects better). That would increase base ei from 100 to 800 and noise is very approximately equivalent to the FZ50 at 100.

Thus the two packages are really rather similar.

The DSLR gives you the option of using a lower ei. than 800 when it isn't needed for truly superb results. On the other hand the FZ50 has a superb lens which walks all over even some of the Canon zooms with superb central sharpness and excellent edge sharpness, instead of adequate centre sharpness and mushy edges of a 28-300.

If you allowed yourself to carry multiple lenses and buy good glass, there would be no comparison, but that wasn't the question was it. The price now goes up to $3000 for camera and at least two lenses and it now weighs something like 5X as much as the FZ50 and requires a 'real' camera bag.

There are other factors which may sway your decision one way or the other
- tilting lcd on the FZ50
- no lens changing and therefore dirty sensors with the FZ50, potentially making it a better choice for iffy environments
- greater depth of field with the FZ50 - can be a blessing for landscape photographers and a problem for portraitists
- dramatically faster focusing with Canon lenses on a Rebel XTI or Nikon D40X - a make or break issue for someone photographing sports (or whales).
- raw shooting with DSLR's is a lot faster
- jpegs with the FZ50 are remarkably smooth but are VERY painterly at 100%. This affects large prints but generally not small ones (eg. 8X10).
- the FZ50 can be very unobrusive, with waist level viewing and no sound image capture. That might be important to some.
- some people can't stand electronic view finders - raised on the Olympus 2100 then Sony 707, it doesn't really bother me but there's no doubt an optical viewfinder is better - still the FZ50's is pretty good.
- the noise on the FZ50, present to some degree even at ei. 100, is quite film like and particularly in black and white, can look very like 35 mm. tri-x. OK, that's not at 400 ei. but with the depth of field afforded by the small sensor and the image stabilization - photographs of tri-x 35 mm. quality are fully to be expected, and that's no bad thing.

So, who should by an FZ50? As a fun, walk around camera suitable for modest size prints (13X19 with a decent border)it has a lot to recommend it. As a landscape camera backup, it probably makes more sense to park one of the 10 MP dslr's on a tripod and use good lenses. For sports and action, there's no question that a dslr is the way to go. Did I do the right thing with the FZ50 - so far I think so - it's been fun using it.


thechrisproject said...

I thought I was relatively well versed in photography terms, but what's "ei."?

George Barr said...

Exposure Index, just a away of saying the equivalent of film speed in the digital era. Not sure that it's even technically correct but I have seen it expressed this way on a number of sites.

doonster said...

Your views confirm my own about this whole type of camera. I've been recomeedning "super zooms" to a number of would-be enty DSLR buyers, most of whom don't care about the advantages it offers but are definitely worried about the downsides.

I think there are way too many people being duped into DSLRs, and a similar number who'd do better to learn the capabilities.

Dave New said...

As a kid/teen, I used various film boxen of the day, all fixed-focus, fixed-exposure cameras. After getting married, when our first child came, I was frustrated with not being able to take effective baby pictures, and thus, ended up 'backing' into an SLR (an Oly OM-10, which I still have).

Over the years, I learned to use my SLR to great effect at family gatherings, on vacations, trips, etc., but fell to the siren-song of a compact 35mm film camera (a twin-zoom Oly XA) in the 90's, when I needed something small, lightweight, and weatherproof for my annual Canada fishing trips with my in-laws.

I completely stopped lugging the SLR around, and didn't really miss it, for the kind of snapshots I was making. With 'full-frame' 35mmm film and sharp lenses, the shots from the campact 35mm camera were every bit as good as what I could take with the SLR, within the limitations of the available lens focal lengths on the compact camera.

Eventually, I stopped shooting film altogether. The cost of shooting film and my disappointment with so-so processing from local affordable film labs had turned me off photography entirely.

Then, the digital camera arrived. I waited until prices on digicams came out of the stratosphere, and the pixel count got up to something reasonable, then took the plunge with a Nikon Coolpix 4500 4MP twist-body digicam. That camera took really nice shots, and I was duly impressed, and re-found my 'muse' when it came to doing photography again, just for the joy of it.

However, I found that as good as that 4500 was, it failed miserably at taking the place of my beloved Oly SLR, and didn't even really surpass the Oly XA, in terms of being able to get available shots in dim interior lighting, without resorting to flash, risking excessive camera shake or subject motion, or getting really noisy ISO 400 or higher shots.

As soon as Canon introduced their Digital Rebel for under $1000 ($999 to be exact) I was one of the first customers at the local photo emporium on the first day of availibility.

Since then, I've upgraded to a 20D, unsatisfied with Canon's Rebel marketing practices, where they purposefully crippled the 300D in their firmware. I prefer to choose my own combinations of metering, focussing, flash, etc., thank you.

Since I've gone to a DSLR (and sold my 4500 to a co-worker who's wife is using it successfully to make macro shots of doll-house miniatures for ebay sales), I've been waiting/looking for someone (anyone) to make the replacement for my Oly XA.

Weatherproof, near-zero shutter lag, full- (or nearly-full) frame sensor, noiseless at up to about ISO 800 (which the current crop of low-end Canon DSLR's do handily), a 28-105mm or 24-135mm zoom range at about f2.8-f3.5.

I'm sure there are other features, but I've not seen anything like this for less than the Leica for $5K. Sorry, that's not my idea of an affordable knock-about camera.

Come on, manufacturers. Stop the mega-pixel race and produce the replacement for all those handy compact 35mm film cameras out there.

George Barr said...

Dave:I hear you. I'd love to think that a manufacturer could make money from a sensor between the 1/2 inch consumer ones and the APC size 1.6 multiplier. dSLR's, or for that matter, how about Canon taking the sensor from the 10 MP Rebel XTI (400) and putting it into a fixed lens body, optical viewfinder (a decent one) and with 3 inch tilting LCD screen. Size would take precedence over zoom. IS would be nice but since it would have a fairly short lens, it would be easy to just increase the ISO so wouldn't be essential. They could charge $900 for it just like they do for the current Rebel body. Electronics could be the same exc. for metering. They could even make two models, one with the equivalent of a normal lens, another with the equivalent of a 24 or 28. they'd be cheap enough and small enough serious photographers would just buy one of each rather than bother switching lenses or fiddling with bulky zooms. With no mirror to deal with you wouldn't need retrofocus design lenses and the camera would likely fit in a rain coat pocket.
Focusing is an issue - rangefinder would be best but a good one isn't cheap and they'd cut their market without autofocus. How bout the option of auto focus or focus confirmation using the sensor itself to check focus (after all, there's no mirror).

Anyone want to buy one?

Simon Bunce said...

Hi George, Something has puzzled me for a while, and one of your paragraphs made me think about it again, with regard to no dust in the camera, when the lens goes in and out it changes the internal volume, there must be an air valve somewhere to allow pressure equalisation unless it continually creates pressure and partial vacuums in the camera. Do you know if there is an air valve or similar on the FZ50 please ?

George Barr said...

Unlike a lot of consumer digicams, the lens on the FZ50 doesn't change length at all - the front element stays exactly in the same spot from off to on to zooming and focusing - it doesn't even rotate. Internal lens groups do move but that would only exchange air within the lens, not suck air in from outside.

Simon Bunce said...

Hi George, thank you very much indeed, i had decided to get a FZ50 from looking at your site and others, and looking at the specs. I managed to get hands on one today and saw what you just very well described, Thanks very much, I see just what you mean.
Can I ask please your horse and colour train galleries, were they originally shot in raw, or jpeg please , and were they with the FZ50?
Kind Regards, Simon.

George Barr said...


some of the train images were from my 10D, others from the 1Ds2 which replaced it. The engine shed is 5 images stitched from the 10D and none are from the FZ50. Frankly I would think the FZ50 is a bit slow in focusing for use in chasing trains based on my limited experience and comments from other members of my model railway club. - you could certainly prefocus and get a single shot but a series of shots is not to be.

I always shoot raw exc. a few times with the FZ50 where I didn't want to wait the 3.6 seconds for the raw image to process I switched to jpeg. IF you don't need super fine detail and like nice tones, the jpegs on the fz50 are nice but if you want film like resolution and grain, then you are better with raw.


andrew said...

George, what do you mean when you say the jpegs from the FZ50 are "painterly?"

George Barr said...


will post image showing the effect on new blog entry.


MarlonV said...

Since my gf has an FZ50 (Im a pentax k20d guy) I have to agree on the merits of the fz50. It's friggin stunning, performs well, even in demanding time-critical situations. I have noticed it again this weekend. Maybe Im just slower than most dslr users at changing lenses and getting my settings right, but I still think the FZ50 (although lacking in the jpeg artifact and iso area) is superb. Which camera doesn't have quirks anyway? And she does this in half the time and effort it takes me. But I Like my DSLR :D