DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Review

Design & Features

The Lumix DMC-FZ150 is a fairly large super zoom camera, with a body made of a durable plastic shell on top of a metal frame of some kind. The camera is well put together, with even the door over the battery/memory compartment feeling sturdy. Holding the FZ150 is easy, thanks to its sizeable right hand grip, which has a rubberized coating that gives you extra confidence. The FZ150 has more than its share of buttons, scattered over three areas of the body, though at least most of them serve just one function. The most important controls -- the zoom controller, shutter release and movie recording buttons, and the control wheel -- are all within easy rich of your fingers.

The Lumix DMC-FZ150 in the hand

Now let's take a look at how the FZ150 compares to other super zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS 4.8 x 3.6 x 4.2 in. 72.6 cu in. 557 g
Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR 5.1 x 3.6 x 5.0 in. 91.8 cu in. 636 g
Kodak EasyShare Max Z990 4.9 x 3.4 x 3.7 in. 61.6 cu in. 589 g
Nikon Coolpix P500 4.6 x 3.3 x 4.1 in. 62.2 cu in. 494 g
Olympus SP-810UZ 4.2 x 3.0 x 2.9 in. 36.5 cu in. 413 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 in. 58 cu in. 484 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.8 in. 65.2 cu in. 525 g

As you can see, the FZ150 falls right in the middle of the back for both bulk and weight. Unless you have very large pockets, you'll probably end up carrying the camera over your shoulder or in a bag.

Let's tour the DMC-FZ150 now, shall we?

Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

The FZ150 has the same F2.8-5.2, 24X optical zoom Leica lens as the FZ47. This lens has a focal range of 4.5 - 108 mm, which is equivalent to a whopping 25 - 600 mm. If you want even more zoom power, you can increase it using a conversion lens or via some digital effects on the camera itself. The only real change between this lens and the one that came on the FZ40 and FZ150 is a new nano surface coating, which helps reduce flare and ghosting.

Naturally, you'll need image stabilization on a big zoom camera like this, and Panasonic has deployed their Power OIS system on the FZ150. The IS system can be used to reduce the risk of blurry photos, and it can smooth out your videos, as well. A new "active mode" helps reduce severe camera shake while recording movies.

One big difference between the FZ47 and the FZ150 is that the former uses a CCD, while the latter uses a Live MOS sensor. There's actually a drop in resolution on the FZ150 compared to its predecessor (the FZ100), going from 14 to 12 Megapixels. The big advantages of the CMOS sensor over a CCD are continuous shooting speed and Full HD video recording capability. But more on both of those later.

Straight above the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 9.5 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 5.1 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which are very good numbers. If you want better flash exposures and a reduced likelihood of redeye, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment.

The only other item of note here is the AF-assist lamp, which is located right under the FZ150 logo. This lamp is also used as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

View of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's rotating LCD

Another big difference between the FZ47 and FZ150 can be seen here. The FZ150 features a flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display. Rotating LCDs are great for shooting over crowds, using a tripod (where the camera is below you), or taking self-portraits. The screen flips out 180 degrees to the side, and can then rotate a total of 270 degrees. It can also go in the traditional position (shown on the next tab), or closed entirely.

Back of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

Here's the 3-inch LCD in the position most folks are used to. This screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is excellent, assuming that you have the Auto Power LCD function turned on. Low light visibility is very good, as well.

Just above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder (EVF). This is a small LCD that you view as if it's an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, EVFs are rarely (if ever) as clear or bright as an optical viewfinder, but they're par for the course on super zoom cameras. The EVF here is 0.2" in size, which is a bit small, and has a resolution of 201,600 pixels, which is on the low side. Still, the EVF was perfectly usable, and its 100% coverage means that what you see is what you get when you take a photo. I did notice a pretty strong "rainbow effect" when I blinked or panned the camera around, which is due to the sequential field display technology used. The viewfinder protrudes far away enough from the back of the camera that your nose won't smudge the LCD. There's a diopter correction knob on its left side which helps focus the image on the screen.

Other items of note here include buttons for switching between the EVF and LCD (there's no eye sensor), a control dial (used for adjusting exposure compensation and manual controls), the four-way controller, and the Quick Menu button. The four-way controller handles a number of direct functions -- as well as menu navigation -- and the "down" direction can be assigned to (almost) whatever you'd like. The Quick Menu is a shortcut menu which allows you to adjust common camera settings. I'll tell about some of them after the tour.

Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

The first three things to see on the top of the FZ150 are the speaker, stereo microphones, and hot shoe. The hot shoe works best with the Panasonic flashes I mentioned back in the accessory section, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. If you're using a non-Panasonic flash, you'll probably have to set both the exposure on both the camera and the flash yourself. Panasonic doesn't say if the FZ150 supports high speed flash sync. I should add that the hot shoe is also where you'll attach the optional stereo microphone.

Next up we have an action-packed mode dial, the power switch, zoom controller, and the shutter release, movie recording, and burst mode buttons. I'll tell you about some of those mode dial options after the tour, while the burst mode tests will be on the next page.

I will tell you right now that the zoom lens moves at two speeds, depending on how fast you press the controller. At full speed, the camera goes from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.5 seconds. I counted well over fifty steps in the FZ150's 24X zoom range.

Left side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

Here you can see one of the features that separates the FZ150 from the FZ47: the secondary zoom controller on its left side. This comes in especially handy when recording movies. You can also set up this controller to handle manual focusing, if you'd like.

Speaking of focusing, you can see the focus mode selection switch right next to the zoom controller. The AF and AF macro modes are similar, with the latter focusing at shorter distances In manual focus mode you use the scroll dial to set the focus distance. A portion of the frame is enlarged, and the camera displays a distance guide on the LCD/EVF. The focus button will let you select a focus point or a target for subject tracking. You can also press it when manually focusing to have the AF system give you a little help.

On the right are the camera's I/O ports, which are under rubber covers. The top one is for plugging in the optional remote or stereo mic, while the larger one on the bottom houses USB + A/V and HDMI output.

The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Right side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

Nothing to see here, other than to point out the fact that the lens is at the full 24X (600mm) position.

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On the bottom of the FZ150 is a metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door is pretty solid by my standards, though you won't be able to open it while the camera is on a tripod.

The included DMW-BLB9 battery can be seen at right.

Let's start our discussion of features by talking about the items found on the FZ150's mode dial:

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection, face detection, subject tracking, intelligent sharpening, dynamic range improvement, and more. Many menu items are locked up.
Program mode Automatic, with full menu access; a Program Shift option lets you use the rear dial to move through sets of aperture/shutter speed values.
Aperture Priority mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The aperture range on the FZ150 is F2.8 - F8.0.
Shutter Priority mode You pick the shutter speed, and the camera selects the matching aperture. The shutter speed range is 8 - 1/2000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. The aperture choices remain the same, and the shutter speed range opens up to 15 - 1/2000 sec.
Creative Motion Picture mode While you can take a movie in any shooting mode by using the dedicated button, in this mode you can adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed.
Custom mode You can store up to three sets of your favorite camera settings to this spot on the mode dial.
Scene mode You pick the scene and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from panorama assist, party, candle light, baby 1/2, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, flash burst, panning, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo, photo frame, high speed video, and 3D photo mode.
Night portrait mode These commonly used scene modes have several options to choose from, allowing you to pick the exact situation you're in.
Close-up mode
Sports mode
Scenery mode
Portrait mode
Creative Control mode Similar to Art Filters on Olympus cameras, here you can quickly turn on special shooting effects, which include expressive, retro, high key, sepia, high dynamic, pin hole, film grain, and miniature effect. These work for both stills and videos.

Time to list some of the highlights from the mode dial:

  • Intelligent Auto mode: really is the best auto mode in the business -- it does everything for you, all with the push of a button
  • Shutter speed controls: I noticed that the FZ150 tops out at 15 seconds, unlike the FZ47, which goes to 60 seconds; I'm thinking that noise has a lot to do with this
  • Flash burst mode: takes five flash photos in rapid succession, though resolution is set to 3MP or below, and ISO sensitivity may be boosted to undesirable levels
  • High speed video: records silent movies at 220 fps, which are played back normal speed, giving the impression of slow motion; resolution is lowered to 320 x 240
  • 3D photo mode: pan the camera from left to right and the camera will create a 3D photo in MPO format
  • Advanced scene modes: instead of just a regular night scene mode, the FZ150 gives you a choice of portrait, scenery, handheld, or illuminations (holiday lights); the other modes offer similar choices
  • Creative Control: think Art Filters, Panasonic style. I'm always a fan of the film grain effect
  • Handheld nite: only available in iAuto and the night scene mode, this will combine several exposures into a single image, with the hope of producing a blur-free photo
Record menu Adjusting sharpness in the Photo Style menu

Let's talk about the interesting items from the FZ150's menu system now. Before I list them, I should tell you that the menus are attractive, and easy to navigate. About the only thing that's missing are help screens. And with that, here are the notable menu items:

  • Bracketing: the camera can bracket for both exposure and white balance; you'll adjust the former by pressing "up" on the four-way controller
  • Photo Style: a style contains parameters related to contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction; there are several presets (standard, vivid, monochrome, etc) plus a custom option -- all of which can be adjusted to your heart's content
  • Quality: choose from normal or fine quality JPEGs, plus RAW or RAW+JPEG; a RAW file weighs in at approximately 15MB, while a fine quality JPEG is more like 5.3 MB
  • ISO control: the camera can boost the ISO based on brightness (normal Auto ISO) or based on subject movement (Intelligent ISO); don't forget to set the maximum sensitivity that the camera will use, to keep noise at bay
  • White balance: you've got the usual presets (except for fluorescent), two custom spots (for using a white or gray card, and the ability to set WB by color temperature; you can also fine-tune white balance in amber-blue and green-magenta directions; and, as I mentioned above, you can bracket for white balance, too
  • AF modes: choose from face detection, subject tracking, 23-area auto, and 1-area modes; for the last item, you can select both the position and size of the focus point; the camera can learn to recognize faces (which can have a name and birthday assigned to them), and those people will be given focus priority when they appear in the scene
  • Intelligent Dynamic: attempts to improve overall image contrast by reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows; examples below
  • Intelligent Resolution: actually two features in one; when set to "on" it intelligently sharpens your photos; the Intelligent Zoom options gives you a 1.3X focal length boost with a minimal reduction in image quality; see examples below
  • Extra optical zoom: by lowering the resolution of your photos, you can get extra zoom power; for example, dropping down to 5 Megapixel gives you 37.5X of total zoom power; this can also be combined with Intelligent Zoom, so you'd top out at a whopping 50X if you used both; bring your tripod!
  • Redeye removal: in addition to using pre-flashes to shrink your subject's pupils, the FZ150 can digitally remove redeye after a photo is taken; we'll see if it works later in the review

I want to write a bit more about some of those options. Let's begin with Intelligent Dynamic, which brightens shadows and is supposed to help with highlight clipping, as well. This feature is always on in Intelligent Auto mode, while in the manual modes it's off by default. There are three levels of Intelligent Exposure to choose from (in the manual shooting modes): low, standard, and high. Here's an example (and yes, it looks just like the one I took with the FZ47, but trust me, it's different):

I. Dynamic off
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I. Dynamic low
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I. Dynamic standard
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I. Dynamic high
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As you can see, the Intelligent Dynamic feature did a nice job of brightening up the dark hallway. What it didn't do is get back any highlight detail, which is pretty much how my past experiences with this feature have been.

Next up is the Intelligent Resolution system, which has two components. First is intelligent sharpening, which is a fancy way of saying that the camera selectively sharpens objects that need it (edges, trees), and leaves alone things that don't (skin or the sky). While some previous Panasonic cameras let you select how much I.R. is applied to a photo, it's just on or off on the FZ150. Below are downsized crops from a pair of photos that illustrate the Intelligent Resolution feature:

Intelligent Resolution off
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Intelligent Resolution on
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Pretty subtle, eh? The best place to look to see the increased sharpness are on edges, trees, and the white building at the top of the hill. I find photos taken with Intelligent Resolution to be more appealing, and since there's no major downsides, leaving it turned on makes sense to me.

The other part of the Intelligent Resolution system is Intelligent Zoom. This gives you a 1.3X boost in zoom power with a minimal loss in image quality (unlike traditional digital zoom). Thus, you now have 780 mm worth of zoom power. The camera also has the Extra Optical Zoom feature, which boosts the focal length when you lower the resolution. The lower the resolution, the more zoom power you get. You can combine these two features, too, so at 5 Megapixel you get 50X total zoom power -- that's 1250 mm! Below is an example of the distances you can cover using these features:

Wide-angle (25mm)
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Telephoto (600mm)
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Intelligent Zoom (780 mm)
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Intelligent Zoom + Extra Optical Zoom (1250 mm)
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Now that's a lot of zoom power!

Let's talk about movies now. The FZ150 doesn't just record Full HD video -- it records Full HD Progressive video, which is to say 1920 x 1080 at 60p. The bit rate is a whopping 28 MBps at this setting, so you'll want a large (not to mention fast) memory card if you're using this mode. Don't need something that high quality? You can also select 1080/60i or 720/60p resolutions, too. Naturally, you get Dolby Digital Stereo sound along with the high res video. The FZ150 has a zoom microphone, so your subjects, even when they're distant. The beauty of AVCHD is that you can record until your memory card fills up (except in Europe, where recording stops when the time elapsed reaches 30 minutes), and that it can be easily viewed on HDTVs. Do note that not all devices can playback 1080/60p video.

If you want to avoid AVCHD entirely -- which you might, since it's difficult to edit and share -- then you can also use MPEG-4 (a step up from Motion JPEG used on previous models). You can record video at 1080/30p, 720p, and 640 x 480, all at 30 frames/second. MPEG-4 video is much easier to work with on your computer, though note that recording stops when the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 23 minutes at the 1080/30p setting.

For those who skipped over the previous section, you can also record high speed video at 220 fps which, when played back at normal speed, appear to be slow-motion.

Being a "hybrid" camera, it should come as no surprise that you can operate the optical zoom lens while you're recording a movie. The side zoom controller makes zooming in and out especially easy. The optical image stabilization system works, as well, with an "active" mode that helps suppress severe camera shake. The camera can focus continuously while recording a movie, to help keep your subjects in focus, wherever they are.

Movie recording can be a totally point-and-shoot experience, or you can adjust the exposure manually. To do the latter, just put the camera into Creative Motion Picture mode, where you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A wind cut filter is available for shooting outdoors.

Still photos can be taken while recording a movie, though the resolution will be 3.5 Megapixel.

I went a little movie crazy with the FZ150, and have three samples to show you. All of these were taken at the 1080/60p setting, and I used Media Converter to turn them into QuickTime files (Final Cut Pro X cannot read 60p AVCHD files). I've also made the original MTS files available for use with your viewer of choice.


Click to play converted movie (1920 x 1080, 60 fps, 46.3 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Download original AVCHD file (43.4 MB, 1920 x 1080, 60 fps, MTS format)


Click to play converted movie (1920 x 1080, 60 fps, 53.6 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Download original AVCHD file (53.8 MB, 1920 x 1080, 60 fps, MTS format)


Click to play converted movie (1920 x 1080, 60 fps, 21.4 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Download original AVCHD file (21.6 MB, 1920 x 1080, 60 fps, MTS format)

The DMC-FZ150 has a pretty nice playback mode that should look familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic cameras in recent years. The notable features here include:

  • Mode play: view only still photos, 3D photos, or videos
  • Category play: jump to photos taken in certain scene modes
  • Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
  • Title edit / text stamp: print the date and time, location, names of recognized subjects, and more on your photos
  • Resize/cropping: always handy
  • Leveling: for people like me who can't get their horizons level
  • Video divide: pick a spot in your video and split it two

The FZ150 doesn't tell you much about your photos by default. However, if you press the Display button, you'll get a bit more including a histogram. The camera moves between photos without delay.

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