Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 vs Olympus SP-550 UltraZoom

First published on: Wednesday, 28 February 2007

I’ve never owned an ultra-zoom prosumer digital camera before, but have been thinking about it. At the time of writing, the Oly SP550 and Panasonic DMC-FZ50 appear to be the reigning cameras in the big-zoom niche.

If I were to pick one, which would it be? Both have optical image stabilization, so no blurry pictures from shaky hands. The DMC-FZ50 has 10 Megapixels compared with the SP550’s 7.1 MP (and yet, the Panny loses out as you will see later). Both also have a lens aperture that begins at f/2.8, and also allow you to shoot RAW — nice!

After doing some research, it would seem the Olympus SP-550 would be the one, and not the Lumix. Summarized below are the strengths of each camera — and the Oly seems to win by a big margin.

Olympus SP-550 UZ Pros

Zoom range

Olympus held nothing back with the release of this camera. The SP550 is the only digital camera on the market that can lay claim to an astounding zoom range of 28mm all the way to 504mm (in 35mm terms). The 504mm end is a monster, but I’m equally impressed with its wideangle 28mm end. This allows me enough flexibility to compose for landscapes and architecture shots during my travels (not to mention group shots in tight spaces) and also grab super-telephoto shots of wildlife. The 504mm end plus a closeup filter, or a reversed, stacked SLR lens ensures that I can take macros with freakish magnifications.

How does the DMC-FZ50 compare? It begins at 35mm, not exciting at all, and goes to 420mm. Clearly, the Olympus outclasses the Panasonic here.

Image quality

I personally find the image quality on the DMC-FZ50 to be quite bad. Even at ISO100 (its lowest settings), there is visible NR (noise reduction) going on. The Venus Engine III imaging engine turned out to be nothing more than a marketing stunt. The noise-reduced JPEGs are absolutely painful to look at — you can see for yourself at:

  •’s FZ50 gallery — view this ISO100 image for example — see the visible effects of NR going on behind the scenes in the form of painterly effects in the image — absolutely horrible. I’m not even going to persuade you to examine the higher ISO images

  • Panasonic Japan’s official FZ50 samples — just view any of the pictures — it makes no difference. The eyelashes of the bride look like they were painted on. Utterly unacceptable for an ISO100 image in my books.

In contrast, the SP-550 images show excellent detail at ISO50, and the NR at higher ISOs are acceptable — no evidence of “painting work” being applied to the image — here are some samples:

View the images at 100%, peek at every pixel, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the Oly wins big time in the image quality department.

Size and weight

My digital SLR and lens give me a slight headache with their combined bulk and weight, so I don’t desire the same torture when it comes to prosumer cams. The Olympus is the preferred choice here, just compare:

SP550 UZ: 460 g (16.2 oz)
DMC-FZ50: 734 g (25.9 oz)

SP550 UZ: 116 x 79 x 78 mm (4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in)
DMC-FZ50: 141 x 86 x 142 mm (5.6 x 3.4 x 5.6 in)

The Oly is quite a bit easier to hold and carry around. Have a look at some camera-in-your-hand pictures to get a better idea, courtesy of
SP-550 UZ: Link (scroll down about 3 pages)
DMC-FZ50: Link (scroll down about 5 pages)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 Pros


Here, the Panasonic does much better than the Olympus. The FZ50 has a guide number of 7m (22.9 ft) vs 4.5 m (14.7 ft) on the Olympus, so the internal flash of the Lumix beats the Uzi’s pop-up. Another big plus on the Lumix is it has a flash hotshoe, thus allowing you to utilize an external flash — this is an important advantage in Panasonic’s favor, especially if you do lots of bounced and indirect flash photography.

Focus and zoom rings

The Lumix has dedicated rings on the lens barrel that allow you to manually focus and zoom the lens, just like the good old lenses on SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. The Oly, on the other hand, only has what effectively are +/- buttons for zooming and manual focusing — I would rather have the dedicated rings myself.

Lens and lens barrel construction

The DMC-FZ50’s lens does not extend when zooming in, on other words, the overall length is fixed within the lens housing. The Oly’s lens telescopes (extends) when you zoom in, thus introducing an element of vulnerability. You’d need to be extra careful not to knock the SP550 around with the lens fully extended. The Panasonic also makes it easy to screw on filter and adapters onto its 55mm-threaded lens. The Olympus requires you to purchase the CLA-10 adaptor if you want to mount the wide-angle converter lens that lets you shoot at 19.6mm (WCON-07) or the teleconverter lens that lets you explore the 856.8 mm end (TCON-17). More details on the CLA-10 lens adapter here.

Memory cards

The Lumix makes use of the common SD card, whereas Olympus has regrettably opted for the XD version. You basically can’t use any of your SD cards from your other multimedia devices on the Oly.


This is contentious, but I much prefer Panasonic’s use of Lithium Ion batteries versus AA batteries on the Oly. Because the Oly uses ordinary batteries, no battery charger is supplied.


The FZ50 allows you to capture videos at 16:9 aspect ratio, in addition to the standard ones. Go here to view a sample recording. The ability to zoom in or out while recording (owing to the presence of the dedicated manual zoom ring) is a big plus.


Handling, build quality, features and functionality seem to be better on the DMC-FZ50. Unfortunately, all those goodies are let down by poor image quality even at ISO100. For me, a digital camera’s primary purpose is to allow me to capture quality photos. The Oly does that in spades, and having the widest zoom range of any camera on the market doesn’t hurt either.

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