When it comes to cameras, size does matter. I've always had a thing for big lenses, with large apertures and long zooms. So it's with great interest that I've been following the various new long zoom digicams with anti-shake mechanisms. I've already commented on how impressed I was with the Minolta Z3 in my first play, but the more I read, the more I was convinced that the new Panasonic FZ20 was the toy for me. 12x optical, 5 MP, substantial hand grip and anti-shake. Almost as good as an SLR/fantastic value, the reviewers said, and I knew they were right.
That was until I played with one in the company of Sam from Ted's Cameras in Adelaide, never known to be backward with her photographic opinion. She was clearly unconvinced by the FZ20. She felt it was too slow to focus and stabilise the image, and the images were not as shake-free as the older and cheaper 3 MP Canon S1 IS. Well, that's not what I'd read in all the reviews, so I set out to prove her wrong.
And I failed. I got clicking with the Canon, the Panasonic and the 4 MP Minolta Z3, and after photographing both internal and external subjects I came to the following conclusions:
- The Canon IS system consistently gave less blurred results than the other two cameras, despite the lower resolution. This was very noticeable indoors in average lighting, less so in daylight.
- The Canon was also very much faster to acquire focus, with little or no hunting. By contrast the Panasonic hunted up and down fairly slowly before every shot, and the Minolta seemed to flitter with indecision several times before making its mind up. The Panasonic was frankly the most annoying in this regard.
- The Pana won in the image noise stakes, and at its best had more detail, but so it should being a more modern 5 MP camera.
- Overall, each of the anti-shake systems gave better results on than off, but the benefits were smaller than I'd imagined, and quite inconsistent so you never really knew how much benefit you'd get from shot to shot.
- Combine the time taken to focus with the time taken to stabilise, and you end up reducing your certainty of getting the shot you imagined. That tends to offset the advantages.
By now I was a shattered man, and experience tells me the best cure for that is simply to spend more money—a bit of the old 'retail therapy'. So when I learned that Nikon were offering $200 cashback on their SLRs, I broke the bank and ordered a Nikon D70 with 18–70 and 70–300 lenses, duty free. I might have added 60% to my budget but I'll end up with 16.7x optical zoom (out to the equivalent of 450 mm in 35 mm speak), far better pictures, much more versatility, fewer compromises and bigger muscles from carrying the camera bag and tripod.