My Favourite Bushwalking Cameras

In  a previous post I discussed the features of my ideal bushwalking camera but they may not satisfy your needs. Many keen photographers like to have full manual control over their camera, take RAW photos; others may never want to take video, take macros, use HDR or stitch together panoramic shots. Each to their own!

This post is based on my evaluation of the cameras available today and may be different in a months time. Certainly the options were quite different when I bought my Panasonic Lumix FZ35 in September last year; it has been replaced by the Panasonic Lumix FZ40 which has  24X zoom, 25 mm wide angle, 14 megapixels,  and 3″ screen.

Panasonic Lumix FZ35

Why do I like about the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ35 (FZ40)?

  •  for 99% of photos I take, it can do everything that an expensive and heavy DSLR can do, plus more and usually it can do this using the Intelligent Auto setting
  • lightweight compared to a DSLR or even the Canon SX30
  • great zoom and wide angle with superb image stabilisation: I can’t tell the difference with or without a tripod on most occasions.
  •  great image quality (IQ) which rivals that of the much larger DSLRs, except in low light, which is this camera’s Achilles heel and that of most other small digital cameras for that matter.
  • fast startup, focus and time between shots. In a 100 photos, only a few are are out of focus.
  • auto face recognition and focus on faces if selected
  • fantastic automatic mode which selects not only the correct exposure, shutter speed and ISO but also adjusts backlight, compensates selectively for over/under exposure in small areas of the scene, and intelligently selects settings depending on the type of photo (scene) being taken. I rarely have to use manual except to open up the aperture when I want to put the background out of focus.
  • superb HD video, with stereo sound, which is videocam quality: great for 360s from the top of Frenchmans. Separate button to turn video on/off. Can be played in your HD TV.
  • automates the stitching of panoramic shots
  • HDR: adjusts for both under and over exposure in the one scene
  • reasonable flash
  • high resolution screen: one of the best available
  • adjustable viewfinder: great for bright light viewing
  • great slideshows with effects and music, straight to your TV
  • RAW setting if you like to manipulate you photos without any in-camera pre-processing
  • readily available high quality accessory lenses (screw on the front) allow for ultra closeup, wide angle or tele.

Features the FZ35 lacks

  • geotagging: no GPS
  • not waterproof
  • rotating screen, which Canon posseses
  • good low light performance (common to most small digital cameras)
  • difficulty in putting background out of focus (common to most small digital cameras)

I must admit I am a convert to Panasonic cameras for bushwalking, having previously used Pentax, Minolta and Olympus. I think they have it right: top quality Leica lenses matched with top quality electronics for which Panasonic are renowned. Every year they bring out new models which are usually, but not always, a significant improvement over the last. I also like the user friendly on screen menus, the well thought out features and powerful firmware for which Panasonic have had vast experience in consumer electronics.

If you have a choice buy the Panasonic Lumix FZ35, which will be a little cheaper and, so some say, have better IQ because of the lower megapixels and less powerful zoom. Of course if you are a bird watcher the 24x zoom might be just what you want.

What are the alternatives? 

Panansonic Lumix DMC TZ10

Panansonic TZ10

This camera is my second choice as it has the similar firmware to the FZ35 (FZ40) and if I was trying very seriously to save weight, this would be my first choice. Compromises over the FZ35 (FZ40) to make it smaller and lighter are minimal. Most importantly it has a GPS so all your photos are automatically geo-tagged for research purposes or adding to Google maps etc

Canon SX30 IS

Canon SX30 IS

The Canon SX series has been the only camera to really match the Lumix FZ series and they continually compete with each other head-on. Image quality and other features  are similar. The reason I chose the Lumix was that it was significantly lighter and a little smaller. A friend of mine who has owned this model for some time and does lots of bushwalking has recently changed to the Lumix for similar reasons.

Panasonic DMC FT1 (new model FT2)

This is a rugged waterproof (not just weatherproof) camera with HD video and Intelligent Auto (iA) which even works with the video. I would choose this for any bushwalking activity that required photos in a wet environment eg Kokoda Trail, rafting, Tasmania even. This camera lacks none of the  features of the FZ series; the zoom is only 4.6x, but that is the only real compromise. It even has HDMI output for HD viewing on your HD TV and if your TV is also Panasonic you can use your remote to operate your camera as it plays video and slideshows.

A great second camera!

Panasonic DMC FT1 (FT2)

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This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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