A Bad Day With A Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 First Look

Back before mobile phone cameras were a thing, my friend Ray and I were always on the lookout for a portable, carry everywhere camera that would let us get shots on the fly without having to cart around a full bag of lenses and a camera body. That meant we noticed when various manufacturers announced tasty looking new prosumer models. We both spotted the 10.2 megapixel Leica V-LUX 1 when it hit the shelves in 2006. Mrowrrrr.

First rain clouds of 2024, Tom Sadler Bridge, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12

It turned out that the Leica V-LUX 1 wasn’t really a Leica, but a Panasonic DCM-FZ50 with Leica glass, Leica badging, a tweaked JPEG profile, slight styling differences, the same pixel count, and nearly double the price tag. Oh, yes, and the Leica red dot. It was an expensive red dot, given the price difference between two cameras that produced nearly identical images.

Our family was struggling a bit financially at the time in 2006 and I already had my Nikon Coolpix 8800 VR as my carry about camera. It was good enough. Well, other than the word “Leica” not appearing anywhere on it. (Yes, I’m a gear slut.) Besides, the FZ50 had some issues, namely too many megapixels crammed onto too small a sensor surface, making it a noisy camera in low-light and a nightmare to use after dark. It wasn’t worth the asking price of over $1,100 CDN at the time. We won’t discuss the price tag on the Leica at all.

Front badge, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12
Top view, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12
Back, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12
Leica glass, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12

Since the camera was introduced to the market nearly eighteen years ago, buyers can now find used models in good condition at bargain basement prices. Forty-two dollars, shipped, in the case of my unit. I don’t mind taking a risk on it at that price. Also, it does have the word Leica printed on it. (Slut!)

Move along, nothing to see here, Gray Park,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12
Reflected in empty canal, Tom Sadler Bridge,
Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12

I had fun playing with it on the walk to Tom Sadler Bridge and back from my home. The screen on the back works well. The viewfinder works very well. It is responsive for focusing and shooting and the time to write the RAW file to the card isn’t too horrible. The RAW files themselves are decent to work with. You can pull back almost a stop of blowout, but no more thanks to the nature of the FZ50’s tiny sensor.

It takes standard SD cards, thank God. My Sony with the proprietary Memory Stick and my one Fujifilm and two Olympus cameras that use XD memory cards are getting on my nerves. The FZ50 does use proprietary batteries, but luckily they are inexpensive and plentiful on the market.

Local character, Thomas Drive, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12

Shooting a blue sky and then converting an image to black and white is a good way to learn how crufty a sensor is. The Panasonic passes at ISO 400. It was better than I expected it to be. The focal range of 35mm to 420mm effective is also quite nice, although the far end is hard to use without a tripod because of how powerful of a reach it has. I can definitely see this being a not bad birding camera on a hot summer day.

The build quality of the camera itself is excellent. It has a good heft in the hand and it doesn’t feel cheap. It also passes the squeak test. If you squeeze the grip and your camera makes a squeaking noise, dump it on the used market if you can and chuck it into the nearest bush if you can’t. It’s junk.

Snow runoff, Tom Sadler Bridge, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-03-12

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the six-bladed aperture in the FZ50 produces a subtle, but pretty star when shooting specular highlights on water. This is not something most point and shoot digital cameras can do. It’s a decent little rig for the money. By that I mean forty-two dollars’ worth of money, not the original retail price when it was new. It would not have been worth that, and I’m glad I didn’t shell out for one.

The most important thing to know about this camera is that it has the word “Leica” printed on the front lens. This makes it a collectable vintage digital camera for the serious gear slut.

For those who were not paying attention, the black and white images in this diary entry were captured using a camera with the word Leica appearing on the front lens. A mobile phone camera, which does not have the word Leica on it, was used to create the faux Polaroid images. That is a sad thing.

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© 2024 Sean D. McCormick

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