Check out an examination of photo quality from the 14-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100, a 24x wide-angle megazoom.
The photo quality from the FZ100 is mixed. Photos are very good up to ISO 200 with nice color and relatively low noise. But 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 plus JPEG, you can process the images yourself and get much better results. Thankfully, the camera is fast enough that you don't pay a performance penalty for shooting in raw.
The top photo is a 100 percent crop of a JPEG straight from the FZ100. Taken at ISO 800, you can see there isn't much fine detail left, the image is soft, the white balance is off, and where the floor meets the wall is yellow from noise. The bottom crop is the processed raw image after only a couple minutes of adjustments. The difference is clear: if you can take the time to do a little raw image processing, you'll be able to use the camera's higher ISO settings.
This is another example of Panasonic's JPEG processing at ISO 800 versus raw processing (right). Though there's noise in raw photo, it's much nicer-looking than the watery results of the JPEG straight from the camera (left).
The FZ100 macro function can focus as close as 0.4 inch to a subject. The results are fairly sharp below ISO 200 with plenty of fine detail, though a little sharpening with software improves things. Unfortunately if you enter macro while using Intelligent Auto and are under incandescent or fluorescent lights, you end up with some overly warm results.
Going by the other megazooms available in 2010, the FZ100's 24x 25-600mm zoom range (35mm equivalent) is not all that exciting. What is nice is that the maximum aperture at 600mm is f5.2, allowing you to use lower ISOs and faster shutter speeds.
Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom digitally extends the zoom range to 32x. The top photo is a 100 percent crop from the bottom photo. 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.
Panasonic controls the barrel distortion fairly well from the 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens (top). There's also no sign of pincushion distortion when the lens is extended (bottom). The lens is reasonably consistent edge to edge, though there is 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 a bit in very high-contrast areas of photos. (For example, on the black-and-white jersey in the next slide.)
Burst shooting: 5 frames per second with autofocus
One of the big selling points for the FZ100 is its burst shooting, and the camera doesn't disappoint. You can choose from 2 and 5 frames per second options with autofocus or 11fps with the focus and exposure set with the first shot. This is a 100 percent crop at 600mm with the 5fps AF burst.
At 11fps you can capture some fun shots, but since the focus is set when you press the shutter release, moving subjects might not be in focus. The camera also has 40 and 60fps burst modes that capture at 5 and 2.5 megapixels, respectively. Those, too, set focus and exposure with the first shot.
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.
My Color mode gets its own spot on the mode dial. It gives you access to a bunch of color filters brought over from the Lumix G series cameras. From top left to bottom right: Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Dynamic Art, Dynamic B&W, Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, and Custom.
Along with the My Color mode, you get film modes. 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 as well as adjust saturation. There are two spots for creating your own film types. Panasonic also includes the capability to shoot in three film types at once. You simply select the ones you want, fire, and it stores the image three ways.