There was one thing that kept the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 from earning a CNET Editors' Choice Award: photo quality. So when Panasonic announced that its successor, the FZ150, had a new imaging sensor and processor, I had high hopes for it.
The main problem with the FZ100 was Panasonic's JPEG processing of photos taken above ISO 200, which produced soft smeary details and yellow blotching caused by noise. It's not great when any camera does this, but it's especially disappointing in a $500 one. The FZ150 gets a new 12-megapixel MOS sensor (dropping from 14 megapixels), which Panasonic claims improves its signal-to-noise ratio, and new noise reduction more evenly suppresses noise in dark and light areas of photos as well. The end result should be better photos at higher ISOs with less noise. And, in fact, it does produce better low-light photos.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.9x3.2x3.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||1.2 pounds|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch MOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 460K dots/electronic|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||24x, f2.8-5.2, 25-600mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG, raw (.RW2)/AVCHD (.MTS), H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 60fps (progressive, 28Mbps)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 410 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; wall adapter supplied|
|Bundled software||PhotofunStudio 6.5 BD Edition (Windows), Silkypix Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Windows, Mac)|
However, it seems to have cost the FZ150 some quality at its lower ISOs. Though noise levels are better, it looks like Panasonic is overprocessing the JPEGs. It makes subjects look crunchy when viewed at larger sizes or when heavily cropped. On the other hand, if you don't regularly enlarge or crop photos for large prints, the photos straight from the camera might be perfectly fine. You can also choose to shoot in raw or raw plus JPEG, giving you the ability to process images yourself.
Color performance is probably my biggest issue with the FZ150's JPEGs, though. While it was pretty consistent up to ISO 800, subjects look oversaturated. The good thing is that in several modes you can adjust color saturation, just not in the fully automatic ones. Exposure seemed a bit inconsistent, but erred toward underexposing subjects, which is easier to fix. The white-balance presets are OK for the most part; however, the auto white balance is not good except under natural light. But again, you're stuck with it 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 25mm-equivalent ultrawide-angle lens. There's also no sign of pincushion distortion when extended. The lens of my review sample is consistent edge to edge, with the exception of a slight bit of softness in the very corners. Fringing is under control for the most part, too, but I did see some in very high-contrast areas of photos, such as around tree leaves against a white sky.
One of the big selling points of the FZ150 is its movie capabilities. It can record AVCHD-format clips at 1080/60p that are sharp and smooth with good exposure and color. The camera also records in MP4 format at resolutions up to 1080/30p (20Mbps) for easier editing and uploading to the Web. 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. If you're looking for a compact camera for both photos and videos, this is a good choice.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom (2), White Balance Adjustment|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Creative Video, Creative Control, 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, High Key, Sepia, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Pin Hole, Film Grain, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||12 shots|
The FZ150 is one of the most full-featured compact cameras available. To go into all of its shooting options would take many paragraphs and I'd still probably miss some things. It has plenty of automatic and scene modes, but even a handful of its scene modes have advanced options for fine-tuning the camera for what you're shooting. It really is a camera for those who want more control over final results in addition to using Panasonic's "Intelligent" technologies for improving photo and video quality and shooting performance. However, this vast feature set also makes the FZ150 a good choice as a family camera, as some people sharing it might want more control and others might simply want to point and shoot without worrying too much about settings.
The mode dial has no fewer than 14 options--from full manual for both photos and movies to creative modes with different effects to plain fully automatic. There's also a Custom mode for storing up to three sets of settings. Then, in addition to the five advanced scene modes on the dial, there are 17 scene types listed under the SCN mode, which includes a 3D photo option for viewing on a 3D TV and a high-speed movie record option for capturing small, slow-motion clips at 220 frames per second.
For those who want control over shutter speed and aperture, there are priority modes for each as well as a manual mode letting you control both. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second (a Starry Sky scene mode can be set for 30 seconds). Apertures go from f2.8 to f8 at the wide end with a total of 10 stops and the telephoto apertures go from f5.2 to f8 with a total of five stops. However, you can control much more in these modes and Program mode than shutter speed and aperture. There are six color types and a custom color type, for example, each with five-step sliders for changing contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction that can then be stored in memory. Basically, if you don't like the way the photos are coming out, you can tweak a lot of things, including white balance, focus, and ISO, to get the camera performing the way you want. (For more on all of the camera's settings and shooting options, check out Panasonic's global site.)
If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, namely children, pets, and sports, the FZ150'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 fps--are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to 12 shots at 12fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5.5fps options with autofocus, so you're able to get a moderately fast-moving subject in focus and properly exposed. Plus, these are available when shooting in raw plus JPEG. The camera's high-speed shooting also provides bracketing options for flash intensities and exposures.
Other aspects of the FZ150's shooting performance are excellent as well. Shutter lag is low at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in dim, low-contrast lighting. From shot to shot without the flash you're waiting only 1 second (1.3 seconds if you're shooting in raw); adding the flash extends that time to 3 seconds. The time from off to first shot is 1.9 seconds, which is a little long, but not uncommon for this camera class.
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 that's CIPA-rated for up to 410 shots. On top along with the shutter release/zoom lever, power switch, and Mode dial are a one-touch record button for movies and one for quickly setting a burst mode.
On the 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 details 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 system. As a challenge it's not insurmountable, but if you frequently make changes it can quickly become frustrating. However, there is a programmable function button and there's a button for direct access to ISO.
It seems you get a lot of extras with the FZ150, 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.
If you're looking for a bridge camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 is one of the best you're going to find. The photo quality, while improved from its predecessor, still isn't quite good enough to earn this camera an Editors' Choice. But because of its great feature set, fast shooting performance, and many ways to improve its results, we'd definitely still recommend it.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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