Panasonic's FZ150 is king of the superzooms, sporting a long lens matched up with excellent image and video quality.
If you were at all familiar with the previous high-end superzoom from Panasonic, the FZ100, this camera will look very familiar. Besides a few tiny exterior alterations, the body configuration is identical to the older model. The FZ150 has the same 24x optical zoom Leica-branded lens, external microphone input, stereo microphone, hotshoe and button layout.
What is new on the outside is the addition of a zoom rocker on the lens barrel, which is useful for video recording and any application where you don't want to be reaching for the regular zoom around the shutter button. There's also a little label on the barrel stating that the lens now has nano surface coating, something that we're seeing quite frequently on lenses, which reduces flare and ghosting on images.
A visual representation of just how close 24x optical zoom can get you. The wide end (25mm) at top, and full 24x optical zoom at the bottom.
Things change more on the inside, with Panasonic downsizing the MOS sensor to a high sensitivity 12.1-megapixel version in an attempt to improve image quality. The FZ150 also gets full 1080p video recording rather than 1080i.
Like many of the late-2011 crop of cameras, the FZ150 boasts incredibly fast autofocus at just 0.1 second. This camera features the same three-inch, 460,000-dot articulating LCD screen and RAW image processing as found on the FZ100. The camera has full manual control, as well as intelligent auto, a range of preset scene modes on the dial and creative filters (expressive, retro, high key, sepia, high dynamic, pin hole, film grain, miniature).
The FZ150 also has an electronic viewfinder located just above the LCD screen, but it is very small and really only useful for bright situations where you can't see the LCD properly.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150||Nikon Coolpix P500||Canon PowerShot SX30 IS|
|12.1-megapixel MOS sensor||12.1-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor||14.1-megapixel CCD sensor|
|3-inch, 460,000-dot articulating LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot flip-down LCD||2.7-inch, 230,000-dot articulating LCD|
|24x optical zoom, 25mm wide-angle||36x optical zoom, 22.5mm wide-angle||35x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|HD video (AVCHD, 1080p, 30fps)||HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p, 30fps)||HD video (H.264, 720p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash, hotshoe||Pop-up flash||Pop-up flash, hotshoe|
The FZ150 has various continuous shooting modes, so we are basing this test on how many continuous frames it can take. The FZ150 can take 5.5 frames per second in continuous mode with autofocus, or 12 frames per second with fixed autofocus. The FZ150 is able to take approximately 23 images at full resolution JPEG (5.5fps) before slowing to process them, and 12 images at full resolution JPEG and RAW combined. The 12 frames per second measure is only valid for one second — after taking its sequence of 12 shots the camera stops to process them. Panasonic rates the battery at 410 shots.
Panasonic has reduced the megapixel count in the FZ150 and tweaked the image processing engine, which has resulted in the camera delivering some excellent images. In particular, we were impressed by the camera's macro mode, which was able to resolve plenty of detail. Colours on JPEG images were bold but not unnatural, while the lens remained as sharp as it was on the FZ100.
An example of the excellent macro images the FZ150 can produce. 100 per cent crop inset.
Naturally, with such a wide lens there were distortions, but these can be corrected in post-processing, and for most users won't present too much of an issue. Images taken at the full 24x optical zoom length of the lens appeared slightly sharper than those on the FZ100.
An example of a RAW image from the FZ150 compared with its JPEG twin, 100 per cent crop inset. The FZ150 actually reduces the intensity of the blue channel in its JPEG processing, and applies some decent noise reduction as well as chromatic aberration control.
Noise was controlled well up to and including ISO 800, and images beyond this will be usable for enlargements if shooting in RAW and applying noise reduction. In all, the images from the FZ150 were impressive and much less noisy at 100 per cent magnification than those from the FZ100.
Video quality was very good, with the move to 1080p an excellent one on Panasonic's part. Sound quality from the stereo microphones mounted on the hotshoe was good, and decently separated.
Exposure: 1/100, f/4, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/500, f/4, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/2000, f/4.5, ISO 160
Panasonic's FZ150 is king of the superzooms, sporting a long lens matched up with excellent image and video quality. While there's no huge jump in features from the FZ100 to warrant an upgrade, new users will benefit greatly from the additions and, of course, the improvement in image processing.
The companion camera to the FZ150 is called the FZ47, which features many of the same attributes, except it's downgraded to be interlaced rather than progressive full HD, and gets a CCD rather than a MOS sensor. The FZ150 retails for AU$799 and the FZ47 will be available for AU$649.