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I like taking pictures, mainly of landscape, travelling to the middle of nowhere in the hope of getting that perfect shot that I can add to my picture collection. But I'm not a professional photographer by all means, in fact, for most of my life I have used nothing more than one of those simple to use compact digital cameras in order to get a nice picture. You know the cameras? They call them 'point and shoot', Point the camera at something and press the button.
I have tried using some rather expensive camera, although I've never actually thought of spending hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on such a camera in order to own it. I have simply borrowed them from friends who are more into taking photographs than I am.
But a few months back I decided to step up on the 'point and shoots' without splashing out the money that I really didn't have to start with. Plus the fact that I was not that confident when it came to actually taking a top quality image using something that would not look out of place sat in the Space Shuttle ready to orbit Uranus, (tee hee).
This made me go for what is called a 'bridge camera', which is the sort of nick name for a camera that is supposed to be better than a compact yet not as good as an SLR, (Single Lens Reflex), which may sound like something you might take gaviscon for but it's not.
My main issue at the time was getting the right one as there are several out there on the market, but my mind was made up when I saw one on offer, less than half price in fact, which was music to my ears.
The bridge camera that I had got my eyes on, which I have used quite a lot over the passed few months, is the Panasonic Lumix DM LZ20.
When I first took it out of the box, unwrapping everything and laying the contents out on the table, checking if everything that was supposed to be there was actually there. And it was.
There is the camera itself, a lends cap which has a piece of cord strung to it so that it can be tied to the camera. There's also a leaflet, a booklet, a CD with some software on it and, which his nice, there's four AA batteries in a plastic bag so that you can get going straight away.
For the record...
You may want to buy yourself a case, some spare batteries, (maybe lots of rechargeable ones), and an SD card so that you can store more images as the internal memory on the camera can only hold a small amount of images.
But anyway, the camera...
* What does it look like then..?
To me it looks like a compact digital camera that has over done it on the pork pies a little, with its chunky grip area and protruding lens, but lets have a closer look as it is a lot more than a greedy compact isn't it.
First of all it's a good size, being about 120mm x 75mm x 80mm weighing in at no more than 390grams, which means that it is easy to hold and use without looking like you need a scaffolding crew in your wake to help you keep it steady.
As for the actual looks, well, let's start with looking at the rear.
There is the 3 inch screen on the left, although to be honest, this screen takes up three quarters of the rear.
Then, on the right of the screen there are a few control buttons, such as an exposure button on the top, which is next to a little rubber patch that acts like a thumb rest. Below this patch and button there is a play button, which has a little arrow icon on it to let you know it is the play button.
Then we have a cursor type button surrounding a menu button. This cursor type button gives you the options of using the flash, up, macro and timer.
Finally, along the bottom, below the cursor, there is the delete button and a display button.
When we, (with we I mean me, but I like to sound like I know what I'm talking about. and, I think I may be related to the queen, according to 'areyourelatedtoroyalty.com').
Anyway, when we take a look at the top of this camera there are a few things to help you get that perfect picture. There's a little hatch that hides the flash when you don't need it, with a tiny little microphone hole on the back of the flash when it is flat down. Then there's a dial control that lets you select the different ways to shoot the picture.
Next to this dial there's the on/off button and in front of this, on top of the main handle/grip area, there is the zoom in/out slider which surround the 'shutter' button.
There is one more little button, which is just next to the flash hatch. This is to manually release the flash itself as it doesn't come out automatically.
On the left side, as we look from the rear, there is a tiny little speaker and another little hatch that hides away the AV/out/digital socket.
So that's the basic look of the camera. But before I go into what it can do I would like to tell you what you will need if you want to install the CD software onto you PC.
* PC system specs...
Windows XP SP3 with 500MHz CPU, Windows Vista with an 800 Mhz CPU, both with a minimum of 512MB of RAM.
If you're running Windows 7 then you'll need to have a minimum of 1GHz CPU with a minimum of 1GB of RAM on a 32 bit, 2GB using 64bit.
But what ever your system you are going to need a minimum of 45MB of free HDD space to fit the program onto.
You do not have to use the software if you don't want to. I have tried it out and found it to be nothing special to be honest, so I did end up uninstalling it after a while as the other software that I have on my PC does the same job in image editing and printing.
As for transferring the images to my PC, well, that's just a matter of taking the SD card out of the camera, slotting it into my PC, transferring the images then replacing the card back into the camera... job done.
So if you only want to transfer you images via the SD card then you don't really need to install the software.
* Can I get a few of the actual camera specs out of the way with too...?
I know some people skip the section on specs so I won't be offended...
It is a 16MP camera, (maximum), and a 4X digital zoom lens with a minimum focus range of 300mm.
Max video resolution of 1280 x 720
Automatic and manual focus
Face detection and priority
Macro range of 20mm
Pop up flash on the top
3inch LCD display
Optical image stabiliser
SD memory card slot
Connection types are USB, video/audio input
Uses 4 AA batteries
A good quality set of batteries could get you a good 350+ photos
* How do you get it going then..?
The first thing you have to do is slot in the four AA batteries that came in the hear shrink wrapped piece of finger slicing plastic. Then, if you have got one, you slot the SD card into the port, which is next to the battery compartment.
To get at the battery compartment you simply turn the camera upside down, or sideways, as long as you can see the little slider that is on the flap. you push this slider forwards, it can only slide one way so you can't go wrong. Then you push the flap sideways slightly and the entire flap should just 'pop' open to reveal the battery/SD card section.
Once you've put the batteries and the card in place you then just push the flap back down, sliding it into place, listening for a little click as the lock kicks in, securing the lot inside.
Now you're ready to start shooting... images, not baby dears or rabbits, although you can shoot pictures of dears and rabbits if you want to, but don't shoot shoot them, if you know what I mean.?
To actually take the 'final' picture, once you've gone through the settings and decided what's best for the atmosphere you are in, you then just gently push the 'shutter' button, about half way down , which seems to focus the image in the screen without actually taking the picture itself, this allows you to decide whether the final shot should be taken. Then, once happy, you just press the shutter button right down and the picture is taken.
You can just press the button right down and take the picture but I have found that I get more 'out of focus' shots if I do that.
It's all a matter of trial and error, finding the right settings, getting used to what does what on the dial and how close or far you need to be from that elusive shot that you've been aiming for since camera's were invented.
The focus button, or more a slider type motion rather than a button, is in easy reach my trigger finger, sliding it to the right for close up and then to the left to bring the shot back again.
You can hear the motor running as the lens protrudes outwards and back in again, sliding along with the grace of Torvill and Dean on ice.
* Is it easy to understand..?
I'd have to say yes it is really, although it is a little more complicated than a compact I suppose, in some ways. But once I got the general idea I was snapping away like a crocodile in a chicken coop.
The dial on the top has a few functions, such as the automatic setting, which is more like the point and shoot system where you just point and shoot, letting the camera choose the best settings for your picture.
There's also an array of other different types of auto settings, sort of, such as sports, scenery, motion and portrait. All giving you the best options in their specific area.
Then there's the manual program mode which is where you are in full control of the picture taking and can blame no one else but yourself when that once in a life time picture of that Elephant driving a Ford Ka down the B5258 comes out all blurry, looking more like John Prescott in one of his jags, which isn't worth keeping really is it.
Then there's the screen which shows you several different setting and information just to let you know how you have the camera set up and what's happening.
Such things like the battery levels, which are displayed on the screen in an easy to understand manner, with a full battery showing up as full white battery icon, to a flashing red icon telling you that the battery need either replacing or, if rechargeable, recharging.
Then there's whether you have an SD card inserted, how many pictures have been taken and how many more you can take, depending on the memory of course and the size of the pictures. There's also other visual indication, many of them in fact, time, date and more, too much to tell you about here.
But what ever is showing on the screen the symbols are easy to understand, with them coming up in red if there's something that the camera doesn't like, such as too little light and you haven't got the flash on, or too close to the subject without the macro, then something will show up red to let you know.
* Is there anything else to mention..?
This is more than a stills camera. It doubles as a video camera as well, which is activated by simply turning the dial on the top to the little video camera icon. Then you simply use the shutter button to start and stop the video camera.
* What about the images and video you have taken..?
You can even see the images or footage that you have taken on the screen, using the buttons on the back of the camera, the buttons next to the screen. Selecting the images by scrolling through them using the cursor, or watching the video by pressing the play button above the cursor.
* My opinion...
I find this camera to be a nice step up the ladder from the compact ones, although it's no way near as good as some others that I have tried out. It can still take a cracking shot and is almost as easy to use as a compact.
I like the entire feel of the camera, particularly the way that the main grip section, for right handed people, feels like a solid mass even though it is hollow inside to house the four batteries that this needs to power up.
Talking of the batteries. I'm in two minds whether I like the idea of using four standard batteries or, like my old compact, having a purpose built battery. I mean, when I used my old compact I always had a spare battery on charge so I could do a quick swap. But with using normal AA batteries there's always a shop open somewhere that sells a good set of copper coloured top batteries... you know the ones.
So maybe AA batteries in a camera are a good thing then...? Time for a debate in Prime Ministers question time me thinks...
Anyway, the setting on this camera are so similar to a compact that there's no real trouble in converting to this upgrade in the camera world, although I did have spend some time using the manual settings so that I could at least look like I knew what I was doing when I was out and about.
As with many cameras of its kind it offers several light sensitive settings, including automatic to make it easier for the user.
It has auto flash but, for some reason the flash, which is on top of the camera, doesn't pop out automatically, you have to manually push it up or the flash makes no difference at all when you take a picture.
It has the good old fashioned macro, which means that you can take a close up picture of something without it looking out of focus. This is great for taking pictures of flowers, insects or other things that stay still for a while and look rather impressive close up.
Sadly though, I have found that it has one flaw in its design. A flaw which is mor annoying rather than troublesome. That is that even though the LCD screen is a good size, for some strange reason the actual image on it is not the best that I've seen. At first I thought it was maybe the way I was taking the pictures, wobbling a bit, causing the dreaded out of focus syndrome. But after several attempts at taking pictures, even going as far as resting this on a tripod, I came to the conclusion that it's not the way I'm shooting it is in fact the screen itself.
I say this as when I put the images onto my PC they are nice and clear but still show up a little 'funny' on the camera's screen.
It's not that bad, not enough to make you want to throw a tantrum, but it's not that good either considering the camera itself.
Also, I'm not too impressed with the image stabiliser either as this is a bit of a let down to, meaning that I have to keep my hands as steady as a rock in order to get a decent picture.
As for the video function, well you can not zoom in when you're in the recording mode, you have to either pause or stop, then zoom in, they continue recording. This is a bit time consuming and can make your finished recordings look like they've been edited by the Spice Girls editing team, but it's nothing worth crying about, (unless you're on that editing team of course and you are still having nightmares about that film they made...)
* What about the price of this 'Bridge' camera..?
This is the good part.
If I said that this camera sells for £850 you'd probably faint on the spot..? But believe me there are cameras out there that cost more than the price of a small cottage in the highlands.
Luckily though, this is not one of those. This one actually sells for the price of a night out with the wife, (meal, drink, a late night show and then,...... who knows..?).
This camera sells for between £80 and £120, which at the low price is well worth the money. Come to think of it, even at the higher range it's money well spent.
May I add that at the time of writing, there a certain online site that sells many things, (think rainforest), who are selling this one for £79.99. Grab it while you can.
* Would I recommend this..?
I'd have to say, after weighing up the pros and cons, that it has to be a yes, I would recommend this. In all, it is a lovely camera and is a great introduction into the more expensive range of SLR cameras that you see some professional stalkers using.
It feels nice to use, takes some good pictures and won't make you look like a Chinese tourist in Lake Windermere, carrying more equipment with you than the BBC news crew
I recently decided to take up photography so a friend of mine bought this for me on my birthday. It is amazing! I have a lot of pictures on there and they all come out crystal clear! I recommend this to anyone who likes to take pictures.. Also the price is just right.
Panasonic's range of bridge cameras have been quite popular and well respected since their first introduction, however compared to some of the other options available on the market they're not exactly the cheapest available - that crown usually falls to a number of the Fuji's. Panasonic seem to have decided they're missing out and have introduced this new camera to fill the void.
The current line up goes: LZ20 (this model) - entry level, FZ62 - mid range, FZ200 - top end. Rough comparisons in price range from £140 for this camera up to about £460 for the FZ200 - obviously for a rough total difference of £320 between the cameras you should expect some vast differences in quality. The LZ20 has 16 megapixels which is actually more than the higher end models (catering to the people who think more is always better - it isn't) and a 21x optical zoom whereas the other models have 24x.
What is a bridge camera?
For those of you who've never heard of this type of camera before a bridge camera is quite literally what it is called - they are designed to bridge the gap between a compact camera and an SLR. This is in terms of physical size and functions. These cameras are also sometimes known as superzooms as they generally have larger zooms that compacts and a greater range than you will get in any single SLR lens. The lens is not interchangeable.
What are the features of this model and what sets it apart from the other current Panasonic models?
Unlike the FZ62/200 the LZ20 is a AA battery model, taking 4 of these batteries which fit underneath inside a large hand grip area. The lens has a 21x zoom which seems fairly impressive and to be honest it is rather large - however it is only 1x larger than Panasonic's TZ30 and Sony's HX20 compact cameras which are significantly smaller in physical size. The LCD screen comes in a a well sized 3" and there is a distinct lack of any kind of viewfinder.
How easy is it to use?
The mode dial on the top of the camera is not as extensive as on the higher end models which in theory makes it simpler and easier to use, there are also minimal buttons so you shouldn't be able to press too many things by accident! There is a rubberised thumb rest on the rear although personally I find this is positioned too far to the right to be comfortable to use - maybe this is because I have quite large hands. It's also useful to note there is no dedicated video button - this must be selected on the mode dial, again good for not doing something accidentally, not so good from a speed perspective. Everything is well laid out in general and easy to understand so shouldn't be too difficult for a child/technophobe etc to get used to.
I did notice a lack of scroll wheels which are generally placed on cameras to enable quick adjustments of various manual settings - as these are absent the central pad controls functions such as shutter and aperture instead.
One downside I found is that the flash has to be popped up by hand to activate the auto flash function - otherwise it will never fire. I wouldn't have thought it would have been to difficult for Panasonic to have put in a mechanism that flips up the flash by itself when required.
What is the build quality like?
Although made from plastic, it's quite a nice feeling, fairly matte plastic that makes it feel quite well made. The large hand grip sits well in the contours of your hand so the camera almost feels like an extension of your body and the battery door is as sturdy as can be expected.
The rear LCD screen is of very poor resolution - honestly my vision is 20/20 but looking through this screen I was none the wiser as to whether the camera was adequately focused on the subject I was pointing it at, this problem only gets worse in sunlight and there's no viewfinder to use as an alternative - it is truly shocking.
Is the picture/video quality any good?
Yes and no, but heading more towards the latter! The image stabilization is not brilliant so I'd stay away if you have rather shaky hands. Furthermore the camera has 'sweep panorama' which in theory should be the easiest way to produce a panoramic image, but in this camera it is anything but - it's far more complicated that the same feature in any other camera I've tried and is impossible to do hand held.
In terms of the finished image I found the colours ever so slightly cold toned and a bit insipid looking, a bit more boost to the contrast levels would be beneficial too. I'd say it seems the camera is over processing the results as they look like they've had a bit too much in camera 'noise' reduction applied leading to images that are on the soft side and yet still fairly grainy looking.
The movie quality is quite frankly shocking - it's not any kind of HD, but that's not the problem. You cannot zoom while recording, can't refocus and everything looks a bit fuzzy in general.
As far as the manual options are concerned, they are quite restrictive - you can pick a shutter speed between 2000/1 and 15 seconds, but you can only choose between 2 apertures of f3.17 and 8.9.
Minimum focus for macro work is around the 4cm mark - not bad, but there are a lot of other bridge cameras that can get closer than this and focusing in general can be very slow.
Would I recommend this camera?
In a word - no. There are pros - it has a large screen, is generally easy to use and feels well made, but pretty much everything else classes as a con. I could forgive most of the faults, but the quality of the screen really kills it for me - almost doesn't matter how good the rest of a camera is if you can't adequately see what you're doing! If I was looking at a cheap bridge camera then I'd be more likely to consider the Fuji options (even though I'm not generally a fan of the brand).