At the start of 2019 I started an ongoing project to use just one camera for a month (called, inventively, One Month One Camera, or OMOC), as a way to combat the frustration I was feeling – and time I was losing – in choosing a camera to use each time I went out to photograph.
I’ve not done this every month since – that was never the plan – but I have for more months than not.
The last time was July, so with the seasons changing I felt it was a good time to embark on another month of cameranogamy.
This time I’ve chosen a camera recommended by a reader here on 35hunter.
It was the final nudge I needed along a journey I was already heading along.
The two previous guiding factors were –
- My very favourable experiences with a 17 year old FujiFilm S7000 bridge camera.
- My also generally very favourable experiences with Panasonic’s Lumix cameras, especially the fantastic LX3 and the super compact XS1.
I’d looked before at early Lumix bridge cameras, which began around the time of the FujiFilm S7000 in the early 2000s, but to be honest got a bit lost in the array of models.
The one mentioned – and recommended – in previous conversations here was the FZ38 (or FZ35 in some territories), from 2009.
The spec looked appealing, a CCD sensor, albeit quite small at 1/2.33″ and higher MP than I usually go for (12, versus 6-10) combined with a Leica designed lens starting at 27mm and f/2.8.
The other end of the 18x (!) zoom range, equivalent to 486mm, is unlikely to see any action in my hands, but given the overall weight of the camera is only around 400g, it’s no extra burden physically.
The inclusion of an Electronic View Finder (EVF) was also appealing, again something the FujiFilm S7000 had, but I wanted to try a better one on a newer camera.
And of course as with most bridge cameras, the promise of DSLR-like handling holds great appeal for me.
With the S7000 this was lacking – the grip was too deep, with not enough space for my fingers to nestle in comfortably, so my hand was constantly in a tense claw-like position.
The grip of the Lumix FZ38 in contrast is as near perfect as is possible with a camera, and seems custom made for my relatively small hands.
The balance of the camera also feels right, and not front heavy like a DSLR can quickly become with a larger lens.
Other first impressions that had me smiling are the Zoom Resume feature, something I found super useful with a previous Lumix I had, the TZ2.
All this does it remember where the lens is zoomed to, and reverts to the same position when you next turn the camera on.
But it’s something I think every zoom camera should have as standard.
As with the TZ2, a few test shots on Aperture Priority mode and reviewing the EXIF showed that at the top of f/3, ie the longest focal length where f/3 is the maximum aperture before it drops to f/3.2 on the next step up, is around 43mm.
This seemed an excellent balance between wide and normal (I usually use compacts at 28-35mm) whilst retaining a reasonably fast aperture of f/3.
So once I’d zoomed to that position and switched on Zoom Resume, I don’t need to touch the zoom again and can treat it like a 43mm f/3 prime lensed camera.
Most of the menus are familiar from other Lumix models, so it was quick to set up.
I typically used DLSRs for colour photography and compacts for b/w. So I was keen to explore the b/w options on the FZ38.
Pleasingly, there are adjustments for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction, each +2 to -2. This is across any colour mode.
There’s also the option of “colour effects”, either this is off for standard colour output, or can be set to b/w, sepia, cool, or warm.
If I do experiment with colour with this camera in the future I’ll likely start with the warm setting and increased saturation.
But to start out, I chose b/w, upped the contrast and saturation, and liked the results.
Also though, there are scene modes.
Now often these are, to me, pretty useless functions in a camera I’ll never use. For example this Lumix has options like party, pet, aerial photo and flash burst, which I’ll never engage.
But it does have a couple of other scene modes that piqued my interest.
First, high dynamic, which then gives you a further choice between standard, art or b/w.
Again the colour options might be explored in future experiments, but high dynamic and b/w sounds very similar to the high dynamic b/w modes I love in both the Lumix LX3 and XS1 already.
Perhaps even better (for me), is a mode called film grain.
As far as I can gather this does three things.
First, increases contrast, even more so than the separate contrast controls allow, so I can get those really deep, inky blacks I love.
Second, it fixes the ISO at 1600. Now if I was trying to get the best and sharpest possible images from this camera – remembers it’s from 2009 and the sensor is only 1/2.33″ – I’d lock the ISO manually to ISO80, the base ISO of its sensor, engage the OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) and avoid low shutter speeds.
I might go up to ISO400 in lower light if I really want the shot and/or wanted a more gritty look, as inevitably noise/grain will creep in.
Another two stops up, at ISO1600, there is far more visible noise, but combined with the high contrast, and monochrome, it’s actually very effective, and does remind me strongly of fast grainy – and sometimes expired – b/w film I’ve shot.
This is a good thing in my book!
Finally, in the film grain mode you choose aspect ratio, between 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9. The largest, 4:3, is then only 3MP, in a camera you’ll recall has a 12MP sensor.
I’m not quite sure why Panasonic limited this, but I suspect it was keep something of a leash on that grain.
Shooting at 12MP then printing around 40 x 30cm may be too noisy/grainy even for more extreme tastes, and might in fact make the average user who wasn’t quite looking for this think their camera is either rubbish, or broken.
So the 3MP limit is probably quite sensible.
I plan to make a few photos on the 3:2 (2.5MP) mode and print a few smaller prints (6×4) with our HP printer at home and see how they come out too.
Initial playing with the EVF has led to the conclusion that’s while it’s perfectly usable, I just prefer using the screen on a camera this size, even though it has DLSR-like ergonomics.
As with most compacts, I’ve found myself holding the Lumix perhaps 15cm from my face (it confuses me when people complain they don’t like using a screen and having to hold a camera at arm’s length – why would you hold it that far away??) with my right hand on the grip, and left hand partly under the camera, with finger and thumb around the lens barrel.
It’s very comfortable and intuitive to hold and use it like this, and far more ergonomic than most cameras I’ve used, especially the brick like (and somehow heavier than it looks) Lumix GF1, and my LX3 which was so gripless I had to make a DIY grip out of foam and skateboard grip tape to find it usable.
Another feature I like is the Custom setting on the dial, which has three slots to save how you’ve set up the camera.
This gives the camera the convenience and directness of a point and shoot, plus the excellent handling and greater customisation of a more sophisticated camera.
Now I really like true, basic point and shoots.
But what I like even more is a camera that has a great depth and range of function, that can then be set up to be as direct as a point and shoot, but with specific settings, like that film grain mode combined with Zoom Resume I’ve mentioned above.
It means you don’t have to reset or re-learn everything when you pick the camera up, just turn it on to required custom settings and off you go.
My Ricoh GRD III excels at this, the most sophisticated compact I’ve ever used, but one that can be set up to work incredibly simply.
So enough about the functions of the camera, are the pictures any good?
As I said when I wrote about the Casio Elixim EX-Z1000, with a new (to me) camera, I always like to try to make a photograph that shows the best of what the camera can do, which then sets a bench mark for future shots.
If, within the first hundred shots say, I can’t get anything close to a picture I love and that hints at the promise of the camera, I usually don’t persist with it.
Fortunately with the Lumix FZ38, it didn’t take long to get a few images I was very happy with.
The photographs in the post were made with the FZ38 and the film grain mode mentioned above.
I’m looking forward to a few more outings with the Lumix in the coming days and weeks, then of course I’ll update you here.
What are your experiences with bridge cameras? Best of both worlds, or too much of a compromise of both a DSLR and a compact?
As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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