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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 413
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Pros and Cons
Saturday 18 April 2015   —   Category: Equipment
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Exactly a year ago today, I wrote about the pros and cons of the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR camera. Today, in the final article of a five-part series, I am covering the pros and cons of the camera I recently bought to replace my F900 — the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50.


If you have not read the previous articles, you might like to do so before continuing here, because I will be referring to them quite a bit.
  1. First Impressions
  2. First Photo Outing
  3. Sharpness Shootout
  4. Wi-Fi Remote Control
  5. Pros and Cons
  6. Special part six follow-up:
    Focusing Revisited
  7. Special part seven follow-up:
    Reader Responses
I will also be referring to the F900, and this article will be following the same format as last year’s pros and cons article for that camera. First, let’s start with the good news:
1.  Rah, Rah, RAW!
As I have declared in a number of previous articles, I will never buy another camera that does not support RAW images. Recently I have also become fond of referring to, and identifying with, Ansel Adams. He firmly believed that taking a photo with a camera was only half of the photographic process, and that processing the photo is the whole other half of photography.

Adams took his negatives into the darkroom as the raw materials to create the master­pieces we know today. Wikipedia explains that RAW images...
... are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. Likewise, the process of converting a raw image file into a viewable format is sometimes called developing a raw image, by analogy with the film development process used to convert photographic film into viewable prints.
Adams had his darkroom, with its chemicals and specialized equipment. For my modern, digital darkroom, my tools of choice are Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop software.

JPG images have already been processed by the camera. I don’t want the camera to make those critical decisions for me; I want to be in total control of the final image. That’s the same reason I drive a stick shift instead of an automatic. I know what gear I want to be in better than the car does; I want to be in total control.

Of course, JPG images can also be processed in image editing software. But because they have already been processed by the camera, some of the original image data has been lost. Therefore, you will most often get better results by shooting and processing RAW images instead.

Just this week, Sony announced a new pocket camera with specs even better than the just released ZS50. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V boasts the same 30x zoom as the ZS50 as well as a number of other similar features. But it surpasses the ZS50 with a tilting LCD screen, built-in GPS and a pop-up, high-quality viewfinder.

When I heard the news, I was alarmed that I had potentially rushed into buying the wrong camera. But once I discovered that the HX90 does not support RAW images, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I had chosen the right camera after all. Because the HX90 does not create RAW images, I have absolutely NO interest in it, no matter how good its other specs are!

Seeing that pocket cameras are generally intended for the unsophisticated point-and-shoot crowd, the vast majority of them do not offer RAW capability. As of today on the Digital Photography Review Web site, 119 compact or ultra-compact cameras out of 1,780 offer RAW — that’s about the same six percent as when I checked last year. Therefore, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 scores big points with its RAW image capability!
 
2.  Viewfinder
This pro was in the con column with the Fuji F900. Out of the 1,780 compact or ultra-compact cameras listed on the DPReview Web site, only 127 (about seven percent) boast a viewfinder. So I was thrilled that Panasonic came out with a high-zoom pocket camera which is also RAW capable and has a viewfinder. It is the whole reason I bought the ZS50 in the first place. Even after only a few weeks, the viewfinder has proven its worth. For more details, see my first impressions: viewfinder.
 
3.  Super Zoom
The 20x zoom on my F900 camera (and on my wife’s Sony DSC-HX20V) is really great, but the 30x zoom on the ZS50 is awesome! Not only can it zoom in really close to an object (see my set of photos which illustrates this), but you can also get some really wonderful compression effects.

The photo to the right is a good example (click on it to see a larger version). The traffic light was a kilometer (0.6 mile) away, and the utility poles were spaced out at the normal distance from each other along that entire kilometer. But with compression, the distance seems much shorter, the poles seem very close together, and the mountains seem much closer. The longer the focal length of the lens, the more pronounced the compression. Cool!

The ONLY camera released in 2013 to meet my requirements was the Fujifilm F900EXR. With these three criteria (RAW, 20x-plus zoom, and compact body), I really only had ONE choice — but it didn’t have the viewfinder I was longing for. As of today, there is only ONE camera that meets all four criteria: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. For more information on this subject, see my first impression: 30x zoom.
 
4.  Optical Image Stabilization
During the short but intensive time I have been using the ZS50, I have been very impressed with its optical image stabilization (OIS). Conventional photographic wisdom says that, in order to eliminate image blur from a shaky camera, you should use a minimum shutter speed equal to the inverse ratio of the focal length. In plain English, that means that if I have the ZS50 zoomed out to its maximum focal length of 720​mm (equivalent), I should use a shutter speed of at least 1 / 720 sec. or faster. Otherwise I risk a blurry photo.

Thanks to the ZS50’s great OIS, I have been able to get sharp images at shutter speeds much slower. For example, the photo to the right was taken at a shutter speed of 1 / 40 sec. at 720​mm. It is probably not quite up to the excellent and renowned OIS on my Olympus OM-D E-M5, but my feeling is that it is not that far behind. For more details, see my first impression: optical image stabilization.
 
5.  Full Manual Control
In some situations, automatic exposure just doesn’t cut it. At times like that, a photographer’s skill and experience with manual settings can make or break the shot. Therefore, I insist that any camera I own have full manual exposure control, as well as aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes.

I really like the user interface Panasonic implemented for their manual exposure control. In addition, the ZS50 one-ups the F900 by offering manual focus. However, Panasonic’s implementation of manual focus is not so great. For more details, see my first impression: auto and manual focusing.

Out of the 1,780 compact or ultra-compact cameras listed on the DPReview Web site, only 147 (about eight percent) offer full manual control. And of those, just 98 offer manual focal as well. Three cheers for the Panasonic ZS50!
 
6.  Wi-Fi Remote Control
For a long time I have wished my OM-D E-M5 could perform remote shooting, but it just wasn’t possible. So when I saw that my new ZS50 could (potentially) handle the job, I was eager to give it a go. You can read all of the details of that experiment in the fourth article of this series, entitled appropriately enough, Wi-Fi Re­mote Control. And you can see the wonderful photos I got during that session in the Bird Feeder 2015 album.

I was very, very pleased, happy, and even elated with the photos in this album! The ZS50 really surpassed my expectations! And I was also quite happy with the performance of Panasonic’s remote control app on my iPad Mini. Wi-Fi remote control is a wonderful feature which I expect to use a lot more!
 
7.  Image Quality
It is unlikely that any pocket camera is going to win an award for razor-sharp focus. Nevertheless, I have had my doubts about the ZS50’s ability to produce images with acceptable sharpness. But after my sharpness shootout tests, those doubts have been laid to rest. As far as I am concerned, the ZS50 passed its tests with flying colors.

In addition, the photos I took at the bird feeder show that the ZS50 is capable of very good image quality, even at the maximum 720​mm (equivalent) focal length, and when applying extensive cropping to the photos. I don’t think I would have dared to crop pictures from the F900 so radically.

Just yesterday I took this shot of a crane fly on the window of my house, and then enlarged it by applying a 100% crop. I don’t know about you, but it is definitely good enough for me!

In order to improve image quality, Panasonic wisely decreased the pixel count of the ZS50 compared to its ZS40 predecessor — from 18 megapixels all the way down to 12. By putting less pixels on the same-sized sensor, each individual pixel can be larger. Larger pixels mean less image noise. And less image noise means better image quality!

The Fuji F900 has noticeable image noise in almost every shot, even at ISO settings as low as 100 or 200. In contrast, there is much less image noise with the ZS50 at ISO 200. Of course, it doesn’t compete with the almost-nonexistent image noise of the OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200, but that is comparing apples to oranges.

Compared to my previous pocket camera, the ZS50 is the obvious winner! For more details, see my first impressions: image quality.
 
8.  Small Size
Photo courtesy of Camera Ergonomics.
Some “compact” cameras are not very compact. For example, even though the Nikon Coolpix L810 is in the same “compact” category as the Panasonic ZS50, the P7800 is almost three times as bulky (by volume) and 77% heavier. For my needs, there are times I want a small, lightweight, discreet camera which is easy to carry and doesn’t attract a lot of attention. — PLUS have all of the features mentioned above. The Panasonic ZS50 is just such a camera.

If I wanted to haul around a bulky, heavy camera, I could simply take my OM-D E-M5. Or, to get smaller within the same Micro Four Thirds system, I could buy the highly-regarded Panasonic Lumix DMC-​GM1 and use my existing lenses. To get even smaller, I could embrace the Nikon 1 series or Pentax Q series of in­ter­change­a­ble-​lens cameras.

Unfortunately, none of these cameras, although smaller than the E-M5, are pocketable. Thus, for someone like me who wants a pocket camera, those cameras are not even contenders. That’s one more plus for the Panasonic ZS50!
And now for the not-so-good news:
1.  Slow Focusing
Slow focusing was the top con I listed in last year’s article about the Fujifilm F900, and it tops the list this year with the Panasonic ZS50. To make matters worse, its focusing seems noticeably slower than the F900’s. This can be very frustrating at times.

On the other hand, when I was in Portland a couple of days ago, I was taking some shots of the metro I was about to board as it was coming towards me from down the street. I felt like the camera was taking too long to lock the focus, and that by the time it did, the train had already moved.

Reviewing the photos on the camera’s LCD screen, they looked out of focus to me. But when I checked them on my computer screen once I got home, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find that eight of the nine shots were in focus!

I am embarrassed to say that I think the slow focusing was more my fault than the camera’s. I discovered later that having the camera in AF Macro mode reduces the focusing speed dramatically. I had mostly used the camera in AF Macro mode, because I mistakenly thought it did no harm to leave it there. I have done some more testing, and when the camera is set for normal AF, and not AF Macro, the focusing speed is be much, much better.

For more details on my reassessment of the ZS50’s auto and manual focusing, be sure to read the special “part six” of this five-article series: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Focusing Revisited.

For the best focusing in low-light situations, you will want to make sure the AF Assist Lamp option is turned on in the menu. All in all, I have come to the conclusion that the ZS50’s autofocus is fine, more accurate than the F900’s, and not really much of a con after all.
 
2.  Pathetic Pseudo-GPS Functionality
As I have written previously, I absolutely love cameras with GPS and geotagging features. In fact, I think every camera should have GPS (and RAW)! Over the past few years, some of my cameras have been GPS-enabled, and some have not.

Apparently, in order to save money, I suppose, the trend these days is to refrain from building true GPS capability into most cameras. Instead, manufacturers are relying on the GPS capabilities of their customers’ smart phones to provide what I call pseudo-GPS functionality. Crappy mobile apps and finicky wireless connections between the camera and mobile device render this pathetic approach almost useless.

I wrote quite a bit about this dysfunctionality in my pros and cons of the F900 article last year. In my first attempt with the ZS50 and my iPad, I could not get this “feature” to work at all. If it does work, it is not at all intuitive. Perhaps I need to sit down with the instruction manual and see if I can figure it out.

Even if I do get it to work, I doubt that I will ever use it. When I’m out in the thick of things, shooting like crazy, I am never going to take the time to run Panasonic’s app on my iPad (I don’t have a smart phone), establish a Wi-Fi connection between it and the camera, and then fiddle with their app in order to get GPS info from my iPad over to the camera. No way!

It is a really bad approach, and I’m really sad that manufacturers are cutting corners like this, just to save a few bucks. I’ve said it before, and I’ll shout it again — EVERY camera should have GPS (and RAW)!
 
3.  Inadequate Wi-Fi Photo Transfer
After writing about the wimpy Wi-Fi photo transfer of the F900 last year, I’m happy to report that the Wi-Fi photo transfer capabilities of the Panasonic ZS50 is better, but still inadequate for my needs. A camera with photography-enthusiast features like manual exposure control, manual focus, and RAW images ought to have an accompanying app which caters to their needs in addition to the needs of the general-consumer masses.

Unfortunately, like Fujifilm’s pathetic mobile app, Panasonic’s also tranfers only JPG images to your mobile device, and not RAW images. That one failure right there makes Wi-Fi photo transfer totally useless to me. Seeing that I detest social networking services and never use them, the app’s ability to whisk photos off to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Picasa and Flickr is totally meaningless for me.

On the positive side, the Wi-Fi photo transfer does let you see a full-screen enlarged preview of the image to help you decide if you want to transfer it or not. If you do choose to transfer it, the app copies the image at full resolution, but JPG only, as I said before.

Furthermore, when I reviewed Fujifilm’s app, it was designed for the iPhone only, so when I ran it on my iPad it was in that irritating compatibility mode. In contrast, Panasonic’s app is a universal app, so it runs natively on the iPad and makes full use of the larger screen.

Because I want to transfer the camera’s RAW images to my iPad, the only way to do so it to use Apple’s Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader (or the older iPad Camera Connection Kit.)

As I wrote in the pros section above, the remote control part of Panasonic’s Image App mobile software is pretty well implemented and quite useful. The geotagging and photo transfer functions leave more to be desired. But overall, it is still a step up from the capabilities of Fujifilm’s app.
 
4.  Non-Tilting LCD Screen
Almost all of the cameras in this class have fixed, non-tilting, non-articulating LCD screens, so this is simply one of the compromises you have to make with this size camera body. Because of this limitation, it is sometimes very difficult to frame a shot, like when I was trying to get a picture of this mushroom with my older Fujifilm F900 camera.

Unfortunately, the ZS50 joins the F900 in lacking a tilting LCD. But its remote control capability goes a long ways towards making up for that lack. Imagine if I would have had the ZS50 for that mushroom shot. I could have established a Wi-Fi connection between the camera and my iPad, put the camera on the ground, and then controled the camera via my iPad without even having to crouch down!

I can think of a number of scenarios where this functionality would come in very handy. Although in some cases a tilting LCD screen would be much more convenient, in other situations this remote control capability would be even better. What would be best is to have both!
So, there you have my take on the pros and cons of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. If you compare carefully, you will see that two of the cons of the F900 last year made it into the pros section for the ZS50 this year. And this time there are twice as many pros and cons. That’s progress in the right direction!

It’s still not my dream camera, but then again, my dream camera does not even exist. They say that the best camera is the one you have with you, so in that light this is the best one. In addition, it is the one camera that best meets my needs, so I guess it’s a keeper until, once again, something better comes along. Hmmm ... if Sony were to add RAW image capability to the successor of the Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V I mentioned above ....
UPDATE: I guess my five-part series about this camera is not over yet! Because I had made a stupid mistake, and also because I jumped to some hasty negative conclusions about the ZS50’s auto and manual focusing performance, I have found it necessary to add a sixth article: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Focusing Revisited.
For a look at the practical use I have put this camera to, you might like to check out these articles:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 413
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Reader Comments
On April 28, 2015, Franz wrote:
Thanks for the review. After reading it I pressed the order button ;-)

And yes, the perfect camera doesn't exists. I have a Canon 5mk3 which is perfect in bad weather / dark situation ... and I like it very much ... a real workhorse ... except I have to to carry it the whole day ... and it's very very embarrassing and disturbing when taking pictures, for example, in Arabic cities.

I also have a Panasonic GM1 ... perfect for most of the things ... even diving (I use a Chinese uw-case and it works fine) ... but with my usual zoom ... a 14-140mm (28-280mm equivalent) ... it is not pocketable ... and I miss the extreme zoom ... this I will get now with the TZ71 as it is called here in Europe.

Something I still miss and no digital camera can offer is a near 180 degree panorama with the look of a 40-50mm lens ... in analog times it was possible ;-) ... and your plus point about manual focus ... OK sometimes I used it also ... but that that's not most important criteria.

I think the possibility to focus via touch screen is much much more important ... with the GM1 it is the way I take pictures ... its much better than manual focusing except for videos ... but that is not important to me.

Anyhow ... good review ... even very good ... thanks.

I hope I will enjoy my TZ71 ... and as you and others said before ... the best camera is the one you have with you ... and I think this is a step in the right direction.
On May 22, 2015, Keith Gaboury wrote:
Your review now has me choosing between two cameras. The Nikon P7800 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50. I don't need RAW, but the zoom capabilities of the ZS50 are very enticing. Macro is important to me too.
Thanks for a great review, without all the graphs which are not helpful.
On June 25, 2015, Cyril Ord wrote:
I enjoyed this blog and will watch it more than once. I had a Lumix FX55 which I just pointed and fired and I canâ??t remember using its zoom. Anyway, it was time for an upgrade and the choice out there is vast. I had to do some serious thinking. It was as bad as giving birth. I have stretch marks on my skull to prove it!
First it had to fit in my top pocket although I was prepared to have my pocket altered if necessary. Second,it had to have a viewfinder which could be adjusted to suit my aged and bespectacled eyeballs.Third, I wanted something sturdy that wouldnâ??t fall apart in my hands. Good image quality with a respectable zoom was essential. Shooting raw, image stabilisation and manual control with a Wifi remote control were bonuses and yes, I would have loved a fully flexible screen. GPS, and supersonic focusing under all conditions and ability to to transfer photos raw would have been icing on the cake, but from reading blogs like yours I was happy to take the plunge. All I have to do now is read a zillion other contributions by the likes of yourself to learn how to produce results.
On June 30, 2015, Lee wrote:
Brian, which Photoshop will this raw open in? I use an older version Photoshop CS, but I think I can download a free version. Can you help?
On July 1, 2015, Brian wrote:
In response to Lee’s question above: Before the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom came out some weeks after I got my ZS50, I had to use the standalone Adobe DNG Converter. This software will convert almost any RAW file to the DNG RAW format, which can then be opened in most versions of Adobe’s image-editing software. This was not a problem for me, because ever since I started shooting RAW, using at least five different cameras over the past few years, I have always converted the camera’s RAW files into the DNG format. You can find the Adobe DNG Converter on this Web page for both Mac and Windows.
On July 2, 2015, David Griffiths wrote:
While I have a digital SLR, I don't like to drag it everywhere I go; a compact camera can give very good shots, within its limitations. Contrary to the photography magazines and their advertisers, 90% of a photo is artistic and 10% equipment.

I have had this camera for a few months, although due to bad southern hemisphere winter weather I haven't really had too much time to try it out. Like Brian, my first impressions were bad and I thought of returning it, not much chance with something bought online from Hong Kong.

Initially I found the pictures not very satisfying, I have an old Panasonic digital DMC-LZ1 and I think the pictures are better, but obviously the magnification is only 6 times. But perhaps its the JPEG engine.

I couldn't open pictures properly in Picasa and why doesn't their own software support RAW and do anything more than crop? There was a supplied link to download Silkypix but unless I missed something this was a paid program.

Colours are poor in low light conditions. In bright sun I do get some good shots. Think it might need a firmware upgrade. Needs a few more buttons for manual mode rather than software which gets too fiddly. But otherwise a very feature rich camera.

In general shots not taken in bright sunlight on the TZ70 look washed out and colours are poor even on ISO 80. And then you also get the sky getting washed out — needs a polarizing filter, but maybe asking too much for what it is. I don't want to bag it too much, I'm trying to finds ways to work around issues.

I made up a gallery in Google Images called Panasonic TZ70 Good shot Bad shot — https://picasaweb.google.com/Davo4prog/PanasonicTZ70GoodShotBadShot02?authkey=Gv1sRgCOS00Pqh9by2ag#

As I said in poor light conditions I don't really care for the pictures, although in one dull shot you can see distant paddle boats on a lake brilliantly coloured — good job by the camera.

The other think I dislike is in automatic mode it frequently decides shots are back lit, and takes two exposures and combines them. And as you will see with the captioned shot the colours are shocking. I have an HDR function on my Galaxy S3 phone with a paid app A Better Camera that does really nice colours and works well in high contrast environments by combining different shots.

I'm going to have to start shooting in RAW — Panasonic RW2 is a unique format, why couldn't they have stuck to the generic DNG? Or given a choice? However I now have programs installed that can convert that. And I have fixed up some of the JPEGs using XnViewMp and I'm a lot happier about the shots. In particular reducing the gamma and slightly increasing the saturation fixes up those washed out looking photos taken on cloudy days.

I'm using one of my photos as a background on my computer, test of a good camera ultimately getting past the technical to artistic results. David.
On July 2, 2015, Brian wrote:
In reply to David's comments above: Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences. Out of the tens of thousands of photos I have taken during the past decade, it is very rare for me to use an image straight out of the camera. I pretty much always process every single picture I want to use, in either Adobe’s Lightroom, Photoshop, or both. Even when using my high-quality and expensive Micro Four Thirds camera equipment, I always process the photos. How much more with a pocket camera like the ZS50?

Therefore it never enters my mind to expect good-looking pictures straight out of the camera. What matters to me is how the photos look once I am done processing them, and not how they looked when I snapped the shutter. As I have already mentioned a number of times on this Web site, I agree with Ansel Adams that taking a photo with a camera is only half of the photographic process, and that processing the photo is the whole other half of photography.

I almost always let the camera set the exposure, but I also often override the camera’s decision by using the exposure compensation setting. For example, I used the ZS50 just this morning with an exposure compensation of +1⅓ EV when taking this picture of the moon. Without overridding the camera’s decision, the photo would have been way too underexposed.

There are very few cameras which produce DNG images; almost all manufacturers use their own proprietory RAW format. Fortunately there’s the free, standalone Adobe DNG Converter software which will convert almost any RAW file to the DNG RAW format.

After all these years of photography, I’m still constantly learning more about how to use my camera equipment and image editing software to get the best possible results. I wish you all the best as you continue to add to your photographic experience with each shot you take.
On January 2, 2017, Paddy Zoller wrote:
I would love to know how to use my iPhone and Panasonic DMC-ZS50 to get the location information on the Cameras photos. I really really miss the feature of gps, but need the view finder
On January 2, 2017, Brian wrote:
In reply to Paddy’s comments: As I wrote above in Point 2 of The Cons, the pseudo-GPS functionality of this camera is truly pathetic and pretty unusable for all practical purposes. My recommendation is that if you really need your photos geotagged, you should get a camera with a built-in, true GPS, and not one that relies on a separate mobile device.

I just did a search on DPReview, and the only two pocket cameras with both a viewfinder and built-in GPS are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 (the 2014 predecessor of the ZS50), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V from 2015. No such cameras were released in 2016. Come on, camera manufacturers! Give us a nice pocket camera with both a viewfinder and built-in GPS in 2017!
On September 6, 2017, Patricia Burton wrote:
I cannot seem to understand time exposure in my DMC-ZS50. I can find time lapse. Can you help me? Thanks
On September 6, 2017, Brian wrote:
In reply to Patricia’s comments: I’m not 100% sure what you mean, but I will assume you are referring to long-exposure photography. I Googled “panasonic ZS50 longest shutter speed” and found this helpful article:

TZ70 For Night Shot (TZ70 and ZS50 are different names for the same camera).

I’m guessing that you want to take long-exposure photos, maybe of the starry sky, or other very dark scenes. As noted in the article, the longest shutter speed it 4 seconds, which could be quite limiting. Also, the small sensor size will generally produce a lot more image noise.

In actual use, the ZS50 might do better than one would expect, and illustrated by some of the photos in the above-mentioned article. Also mentioned in the article, you could try the Starry Sky scene mode, although you would have more control, and perhaps better results, by setting the mode to M (manual), and setting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture yourself. You will probably get the best results when using a tripod.

I hope this answers your questions. If I have misunderstood what you were asking, please contact me again, being more specific and clear, and I will try to find the answer you are looking for.
On September 27, 2017, carol alonzo wrote:
I need help ... what setting to shoot nighttime like taking pictures of the moon, sunset, northern lights, etc. Please advise ... I have a Panasonic ZS50.
On September 27, 2017, Brian wrote:
For the answer to Carol’s questions, see the reply I gave to Patricia just above.
 
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 413
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