Full-size megazooms, especially the pricier ones, are generally viewed as bridge cameras--something more than a point-and-shoot, but less than a digital SLR. However, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 is really the only megazoom I've tested in the past couple of years that has the features and design to be called a bridge camera.
The main problem is that buyers tend to see the body style and think they're getting digital SLR-quality photos and performance, just without the interchangeable lens part. The FZ100 uses the image sensor of a point-and-shoot (albeit a better, more capable one), so the photos for the most part are still the quality you get with a pocket camera. Combined with Panasonic's apparent inability to produce a JPEG photo taken above ISO 200 without yellow blotching and heavy smearing from noise reduction, and you end up getting pretty average photos straight from the camera. Fortunately for the FZ100, that's not the end of the story.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||1.2 pounds|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||15 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch MOS (14 megapixels effective)|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 460K dots/electronic|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||24x, f3.3-5.7, 25-600mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG, raw (.RW2)/AVCHD (.MTS)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps (interlaced; 19Mbps), 1,280x720 at 30fps (progressive; 17Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 410 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Bundled software||Photofunstudio 5.2 HD Edition (Windows), SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Windows, Mac)|
Photos straight from the camera are very good up to ISO 200 with nice color and relatively low noise. But again, as soon as you jump up to ISO 400, noise and Panasonic's JPEG processing result in soft smeary details and yellow blotching. ISO 800 and 1,600 are unusable except maybe at small sizes. However, if you don't mind shooting in raw or raw+JPEG, you can process the images yourself and get much better results. (View the photo sample slideshow to see what I mean.) Thankfully, the camera is fast enough that you don't pay a performance penalty for shooting in raw.
Color is very good from the FZ100 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and reasonably accurate. Plus, there are a number of ways to tweak your color results. Exposure is very good, too. White-balance presets are OK for the most part; however, the auto-white balance is not good indoors. Unfortunately, you're stuck with that setting if you're using Intelligent Auto or most of the other automatic shooting modes. Whenever possible, use the presets or take a manual reading, which is really easy to do and you can store two presets.
Panasonic controls the barrel distortion fairly well from the 25-millimeter-equivalent ultrawide-angle lens. There's also no sign of pincushion distortion when extended. The lens is consistent edge to edge, with the exception of a slight bit of softness at the far right side and corners. Fringing is under control for the most part, too, but I did see some in very high-contrast areas of photos when they're viewed at 100 percent.
Going by the other megazooms available in 2010, the FZ100's 24x 25-600mm zoom range (35mm equivalent) won't win a specsmanship contest. What is nice is that the maximum aperture at 600mm is f5.2, allowing you to use lower ISOs and faster shutter speeds. Also, Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom digitally extends the zoom range to 32x. Though it is a digital zoom, the results are usable and really no worse than images I've seen from cameras with longer optical zooms.
One of the big selling points for the FZ100 is its movie capabilities, and it delivers. The 1080i AVCHD clips are sharp with good exposure and color. However, as with most point-and-shoot cameras, panning the camera results in a lot of judder. The 720p video appears much smoother, though the video isn't as sharp. Low-light recording suffers from the same noise problems as in photos. The zoom does operate while recording, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it's difficult to hear.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom (2)|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority,Manual, Creative Movie, My Color, Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Close-up, Scene, Custom|
|Focus modes||Face AF, Tracking AF, Multi AF (23-area), 1-area (flexible and scalable), Manual|
|Macro||0.4 inch (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Dynamic Art, Dynamic B&W, Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||15 shots|
As Panasonic's highest-end compact, the the FZ100 has no shortage of shooting options. For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto mode that combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. Overall, it works very well, but photos can end up appearing overprocessed. On a side note, Panasonic sticks "Intelligent" in front of no fewer than eight features in this camera. Remembering what each of them does, where they are in the menus, and when you should and shouldn't use them can cause a bit of a headache. They are helpful features, but the marketing is really starting to get in the way of using them effectively.
There are 21 scene modes for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting. Many of them are available for both photos and movies. Five of the scene modes have spots on the Mode dial and each of them has its own sets of scene modes. Portrait mode, for example, has Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, and Creative settings. Creative is basically the Normal option with a slider for adjusting aperture, giving you a midway point between an automatic scene mode and aperture-priority mode.
Similarly, Panasonic includes several options for experimenting with color and style. On the Mode dial is a My Color mode with a bunch of filters brought over from the Lumix G series cameras. With names like Expressive, Retro, Pure, High Dynamic, Pin Hole, and Film Grain, they're a lot like what you'd find in a smartphone application. There are film types you can play with, too. You can pick from six color types and three monochrome types that can be used for stills and video. When shooting in black and white, the contrast, sharpness, and noise reduction for each mode parameter can be customized in five steps and stored in memory. You can do the same for color types, and adjust saturation. There are two spots for creating your own film types as well. Panasonic also includes the capability to shoot in three film types at once. You simply select the ones you want and fire, and it stores the image three ways.