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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

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.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

The Good

Outstanding feature set and shooting options; fast shooting performance.

The Bad

Menu system can get confusing; JPEG photo quality tanks at ISO 400.

The Bottom Line

As long as you're willing to work with raw image files, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 is one of the best full-size megazooms you can get.

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
Price (MSRP) $499.95
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
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
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.

For those who like more control, the FZ100 does offer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes. Apertures are f2.8-8 wide and 5.2-8 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second. There is a manual mode for shooting movies. There's a Program mode, too, should you want to adjust aspects like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.

For those who like to shoot close-ups, the FZ100 can focus as close as 0.4 inch to a subject. A switch on the lens barrel lets you quickly switch to macro autofocus or manual focus.

If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, namely children, pets, and sports, the FZ100's multiple burst shooting options give you a lot of flexibility and a fighting chance of getting a good photo. Its fastest burst modes--40 and 60 frames per second--are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to 15 shots at 11fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5fps options that set those things with each shot so you're able to get a subject moving moderately fast in focus and properly exposed. The camera's high-speed shooting also allows for a few handy bracketing options. You can shoot in three different white balances, flash intensities, and exposures.

Other aspects of the FZ100's shooting performance are excellent as well. Shutter lag is low at 0.4 second and 0.8 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot to shot without the flash you're waiting only 0.9 second; adding the flash drags that time to 4 seconds and is really the only slowdown you'll find. The time from off to first shot is 1.5 seconds, which is above average for the camera's class, too. And again, shooting in raw or raw+JPEG had very little effect on performance.

FZ100's control panel
The FZ100's controls are well spaced and easy to use, but its menus can get a bit confusing.

On top of everything I've mentioned, the camera is well designed and generally nice to use. There's an ample hand grip so you can comfortably handle its 1.2-pound weight. The grip houses a memory card and a large rechargeable battery CIPA-rated for up to 410 shots. That's great, but don't expect to hit that number if you're doing a lot of burst shooting, zooming, capturing movies, or a combination thereof. On top along with the shutter release/zoom lever, power switch, and Mode dial is a one-touch record button for movies and one for quickly setting a burst mode.

On back below the small but serviceable electronic viewfinder is a flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD. To its left are the main controls for menu navigation and shooting. They're all well spaced and easy to press, and there's a jog dial for quickly changing things like aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. However, because of the abundant feature set it's all too easy to get lost trying to find a setting in Panasonic's menu systems. It's not insurmountable, but if you frequently make changes it can quickly become frustrating.

It seems you get a lot of extras with the FZ100, too. The rotating LCD is nice, but there's also the hot shoe on top for adding different flash units. There are conversion lenses and filters available for it, and a mic/remote socket on the left allows you to add those accessories as well. Panasonic even includes a lens hood. All in all, it's just a solid package.

It's been difficult to find a full-size megazoom worth recommending this year--mostly because expectations seem to be different from one user to the next. Those most concerned about how the photos look directly from the camera at all ISOs, and less about shooting speed, should go with the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. But the most complete package is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100. It just takes a bit more effort to get very good photos from it above ISO 200.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
1.5 
0.9 
0.8 
0.4 
Nikon Coolpix P100
1.8 
1.4 
0.6 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
2 
1.4 
0.7 
0.4 
Fujifilm FinePix HS10
2.2 
2.4 
1.1 
0.7 
Kodak EasyShare Z981
2.5 
3.2 
0.8 
0.6 
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
1.8 
3.5 
0.8 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 7
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