Check out an examination of photo quality from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40, the company's lower-end, but still pricey, full-size megazoom.
Photo quality from the FZ40 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 is usable at small sizes, but more of the same effects as seen at ISO 400 are visible. Photos taken at ISO 1,600 are just plain bad with noise and color issues. However, if you don't mind shooting in raw or raw plus JPEG, you can process the images yourself and get much better results. Unfortunately, you pay a performance penalty for shooting in raw as it drives the shot-to-shot time up to 4.1 seconds.
This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo. It is some of the best fine detail you'll get from the FZ40 with the lens fully extended, though it is a little soft. Also, the farther your subject is from the lens, the less detail you'll get. If you're hoping to make poster-sized prints, you'll want to have a lot of light and be as close as possible.
Even with plenty of light, you may need to use higher sensitivities when the lens is fully extended. This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo, which was taken at ISO 800. Basically, you'll lose whatever fine detail you have at lower ISOs, making images suitable for small prints, without enlarging or cropping.
The top photo is a 100 percent crop of a JPEG straight from the FZ40. Taken at ISO 800, you can see there isn't much fine detail left, the image is soft, and the tile at the top of the frame is mottled with yellow. The bottom crop is the processed raw image after only a couple minutes of basic noise adjustments. In some cases it was as easy as opening the raw file (.RW2 format) and doing auto adjustments. Regardless, 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.
The FZ40 macro function can focus as close as 0.4 inch to a subject. The results are fairly sharp below ISO 200 (this is at ISO 80) with plenty of fine detail, though a little sharpening with software improves things. A button to the right of the LCD lets you quickly switch to macro autofocus or manual focus. It will also enter macro in Intelligent Auto mode when you get closer to a subject.
Color is very good from the FZ40 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, and Film Grain. There is a Custom option as well.
Panasonic controls the barrel distortion fairly well from the 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens (top). There's also little 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 somewhat under control, but not completely. It's clearly visible in very high-contrast areas of photos, such as around the white bulbs in this shot. If you tend to enlarge and crop photos, you'll see it, but not so much at smaller sizes.
Going by the other megazooms that became 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 ISO settings and faster shutter speeds.
Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom digitally extends the zoom range to 32x. This photo is a 100 percent crop from the inset 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.