Who's the king of the 18x optical zoom EVFs: the Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd,
the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18, or the Olympus SP-560UZ?
The competition is heating up in the 18x superzoom EVF category! Earlier this year it was simple: If you wanted an 18x zoom EVF, you had one choice, the 7-megapixel Olympus SP-550UZ ($340, street). Now, the original superduperzoom has been joined by an 8-megapixel Olympus sister, the SP-560UZ ($450, street), and two competitors, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 ($350, street) and the Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd ($320, street ).
These cameras offer a lot of big-camera functionality in a small package, along with wide-angle to supertelephoto reach that's got more versatility than any DLSR lens on the marketplace. All this for less than an entry-level SLR with a wide-normal kit lens.
Looking over the spec lists, these cameras have a lot in common: Optical- or sensor-shift stabilization, wide to supertelephoto zoom lenses, face detection, a host of scene and shooting modes including full manual control, and VGA video capture, to list just a few. But after running these three 18x digicams through our lab and field tests, these are three different cameras.
We're comparing the major features and functions, and performance of the Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd, Olympus SP-560UZ, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 to help you decide which super-duper-zoom is right for you.
THOSE 18X OPTICS!
Obviously, all three of these cameras have integrated 18x zoom lenses. Both the Olympus SP-560UZ and the FujiFilm Finepix S8000fd feature 27-486mm f/2.8-4.5 lenses (35mm equivalent). Both of these lenses will close-focus to 1 centimeter in Super Macro mode. Both lenses posted nearly identical DxO 2.0 distortion results at 27mm/1x (Visible Barrel), 243mm/9x (Slight Pincushion) and 486mm/18x (Slight Pincushion). Furthermore, the visible internal gasketing of both lenses is identical, which leads one to assume that despite the "Olympus ED" and "Fujinon Zoom" inscriptions on the barrels, these cameras are basically employing identical lenses. Perhaps there's a difference in the coatings or element composition, perhaps not.
Meanwhile, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 packs a 28-504mm f/2.8-4.2 (35mm equivalent) Leica DC-Vario Elmarit lens with Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization with shifting lens elements to stop camera shake. Like its competitors, it can close-focus to 1cm. At 28mm/1x, the Panasonic showed only Slight Barrel Distortion, which is very impressive, and is probably a combination of both optical construction and firmware-based distortion correction. At both 252mm/9x, and 504mm/18x, distortion is imperceptible (9x: Imperceptible Barrel, 18x: Imperceptible Pincushion.) The Panasonic glass is also a touch faster than its competitors at the telephoto end, but this 1/5 stop difference is negligible, since all three cameras set shutter speeds and apertures in third-stops, and you'll be getting nearly identical exposure settings at telephoto with all three cameras.
For all intents and purposes, there's not much of a difference between a 27-486mm and a 28-504mm lens. It's a step or two backwards or forwards to get the identical framing with any of these cameras. However, with both the Fujifilm and the Olympus, you'll often notice the distortion at different focal lengths, particularly in images with straight lines such as landmarks, non-centered horizons, and interiors.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18Tie: Olympus SP-560UZ, Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd
IMAGE QUALITY: JPEG RESULTS FROM THE POPPHOTO LAB
We tested all three cameras in the Pop Photo lab at highest-quality JPEG settings, since only the Panasonic and the Olympus models support RAW capture. Looking at our resolution and noise results, it is obvious that all three cameras employ noise suppression at higher ISOs -- some to a greater extent than others. In the Pop Photo lab, we compared resolution at each camera's lowest ISO and again at ISO 1600, and noise at all full-resolution ISOs.
At ISO 64, the Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd has Extremely High (1583) Resolution, and Low (1.7) Noise. At ISO 100, Noise rises a touch to Moderately Low (2.1). At ISO 200, Noise is Moderate (2.9). At ISO 400, Noise is Unacceptable (3.0); aggressive noise control kicks in at ISO 800, bringing it back down to Moderately Low (2.4). At ISO 1600, noise is again Unacceptable (4.0), with a significant Resolution drop to Acceptable (1150). Color accuracy is Extremely High (Average Delta E: 9.4, ISO 64, Auto White Balance.)
At ISO 50, the Olympus SP560UZ also has Extremely High (1660) Resolution and Low (1.7) Noise. Noise is also Low (1.7) at ISO 100. Noise is Moderately Low at ISO 200 (2.3). At ISOs 400 (2.4), 800 (2.4), and 1600 (2.8) Noise is Moderate. Resolution also drops dramatically at ISO 1600, to Unacceptable (900.) Noise is Unacceptable at ISO 3200 (3.1). Color accuracy is Excellent (Average Delta E: 7.7, ISO 50, Auto White Balance.)
At ISO 100, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 has Excellent (1890) Resolution, with Low (1.7) Noise. Noise is Moderate at ISO 200 (2.4). Noise is Moderately Low at ISOs 400 (2.2), 800 (2.1), and 1250 (2.2) and Moderate at ISO 1600 (2.5.) At ISO 1600, Resolution drops to 1325 (Very High). Color Accuracy is Extremely High (Average Delta E: 8.1, ISO 100, Auto White Balance.)
For the absolute best image quality with all three of these cameras, we suggest shooting at the lowest ISOs possible, combined with image stabilization only when necessary. When it comes to higher-ISO performance, the Panasonic has the definite edge in both resolution and noise control. At ISO 400 and up, the Fujifilm seems to favor resolution over noise suppression, while the Olympus favors noise control over detail.
LAB TEST RANKINGS:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18Olympus SP-560UZFujifilm Finepix S8000fd
CERTIFIED TEST RESULTS:
• Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18
• Olympus SP-560UZ
• Fujifilm FinePix s8000fd