The 10-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28's 18x (27-486mm equivalent) zoom may seen modest compared with some of the other megazooms on the market, such as the 26x zoom Olympus SP-590. But the FZ28 makes up for these possible perceived shortcomings with a solid feature set, including manual exposure controls, Panasonic's excellent MEGA OIS (optical image stabilization), and a relatively effective Intelligent Auto Mode. And if you're enticed by the higher megapixel count of other superzoom models, you don't necessarily have to be. Ten megapixels can be more than enough resolution to turn out some really nice-size prints.
Like its predecessor, the FZ18, the FZ28 has the standard megazoom look and feel of a digital SLR, but without an interchangeable lens. At 14.6 ounces, the FZ28 is about half the weight of the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS and is light enough to carry around all day without any strain or pain. It measures 3 inches high by 4.6 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep, so you won't be able to stash it even in the largest of pockets, but a small camera bag or midsize purse can easily hold the camera.
A new, 2.7-inch LCD, only slightly larger than the FZ18's 2.5-inch monitor but of higher resolution, works well under most lighting conditions and can be adjusted via three brightness options. The first, Auto Power, automatically adjusts to the surrounding lighting conditions; Power LCD increases the brightness; and High Angle really pumps up the brightness so you can easily see the screen even when the camera is held over your head.
The electronic viewfinder is relatively bright and large enough to be useful. It also gains up under low light, but we noticed some distortion around the perimeter of the EVF. Also, as with all EVFs, the refresh rate slows in low light. Still, the EVF is quite usable.
There's no hotshoe, but the onboard flash extends far enough to light a subject almost 18 feet away (using telephoto and auto ISO). A feature I always like is the ability to adjust the flash output, and the FZ28 allows up to +/- 2 adjustment in 1/3 steps.
While snapshooters might experience a learning curve when stepping up to the FZ28 from a point-and-shoot camera (except when they're using the Intelligent Auto, Program AE, or Scene modes), more-experienced users will be able to easily transition to the FZ28. Outfitted with plenty of dedicated controls, buttons and dials are logically arranged along the surface of the well-designed and comfortable grip, and on the camera's rear panel.
Atop the grip you'll find the mode dial, AF macro focus, and AF/MF buttons as well as the power switch and the shutter /zoom lever combo. The silver mode dial looks nice and is packed with options from iA (Intelligent Auto), Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, Manual, two Custom settings, Movie, Scene (which provides access to the Scene menu), and several scene modes including Night Portrait, Sports, Scenery, and Macro. The latter individual scene modes also offer multiple options within the settings. Under Macro, for example, you can choose from Flower, Food, Objects, or Creative.
While the silver mode dial is attractive, it's highly reflective, and under sunlight, the individual icons are difficult to see. Fortunately, the modes are visible on the LCD as you cycle through the options.
The rear of the camera is well-organized with an EVF/LCD switch, flash open button, AF/AE lock, and a new, helpful record/playback switch. A joystick calls up a quick menu for easy access to most-often changed settings.
The four-way controller with a center set button has a little more depth to it than most. The up arrow, when pressed multiple times, provides access to exposure compensation, bracketing options, and flash output adjustments. To change flash settings, press the right arrow when the flash is popped up. The down arrow can be customized to access ISO, white balance, metering mode, AF mode, intelligent exposure, or as a review button. The left arrow accesses the self-timer that includes a 10-second/three-picture option. The center Set button also calls up the easy-to-navigate main menu.
Notable features include 30fps 720p movie recording, in clips up to 2GB, which it saves using the Motion JPEG codec as a QuickTime MOV file. You can zoom during capture, as well as use the OIS. It also offers two custom white balance settings, a Kelvin temperature WB option, and the ability to tweak the white balance by adjusting amber, blue, green, and magenta points. Always a plus is having the option to set a maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed, which earns the FZ28 a few extra points.
Although not the fastest camera on the market, the FZ28 is fairly zippy for a megazoom and can certainly hold its own against the competition. It powers on and shoots in 2.3 seconds, and focuses and shoots relatively quickly under good and low-contrast conditions--0.6 second and 0.8 second, respectively. Its 1.8 seconds between shots is pretty good, and the 2.4-second flash shot-to-shot time is pretty typical for this class. While its burst performance may seem fast, it's limited to three shots at full resolution and quality, which makes it less than useful. In its infinite burst mode we expect performance to be about the same as everyone else's. But I never felt that the FZ28 was sluggish, and autofocus felt very responsive in bright light.
The camera's new AF tracking feature worked relatively well, as long as the subject was well illuminated and didn't move too quickly. And, of course, Panasonic's optical image stabilization did a good job when shooting at slower shutter speeds.
Image quality is solid but not outstanding. It produces natural-looking colors (shoot in RAW or RAW + JPEG or use the saturation adjustment to pump up vibrancy if the colors aren't vivid enough for your taste). And exposures are generally even and accurate, especially outdoors. As is typical, macro shots are especially sharp, as were those from wide to about the midrange of the zoom. Telephoto shots were a little soft, even at lower ISOs. However, as with many Panasonic cameras, you can see noise artifacts even at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100, particularly in shadowed areas. In part, this seems to stem from more poorly executed noise suppression in the blue channel than most. There's visible softening as low as ISO 200, and by ISO 800 you lose a significant amount of detail. Sensitivity is best kept at ISO 400 or below, but you'll be able to get decent prints above that setting. Just try to keep the noise reduction set low in order to avoid softer images.
Panasonic delivers a solid megazoom in the Lumix DMC-FZ28. Though it's not particularly outstanding in any particular area--its image quality is its weakest link--a well-thought-out and robust feature set plus above average performance help it rise above much of the competition.