Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Review
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 is a full-featured super zoom camera with an impressive feature set. The camera is fairly large, and made mostly of plastic (over a metal frame of some kind). While the camera definitely suffers from "button clutter", most of the buttons control just one function. The most important controls are always within easy reach of your fingers. The camera features the same 24X, 25 - 600 mm Leica lens as the cheaper DMC-FZ47, and it's definitely a quality piece of glass. If you crave even more zoom power, you can add an optional teleconverter lens, or use either of the FZ150's lossless digital zoom features. Speaking of options, the FZ150 supports an external flash, stereo microphone, remote shutter release, and more. Naturally, the FZ150 has optical image stabilization, which can be used for both still and video shooting. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display that can flip to the side and then rotate 270 degrees. The screen is plenty sharp, as you'd expect given its 460,000 pixels, and both outdoor and low light visibility are very good. The camera also has a small electronic viewfinder that you can also use to compose photos. The EVF isn't fantastic, as its resolution is relatively low, and it has a strong "rainbow effect" when you pan the camera around.
Like all of Panasonic's higher-end Lumix cameras, the DMC-FZ150 has features that will appeal to both beginners and enthusiasts. If you want arguably the best point-and-shoot experience out there, just put the mode dial in the Intelligent Auto position. In that mode, the camera will select a scene mode, detect any faces that may appear, brighten shadows, intelligently sharpen, and reduce the risk of blurry photos. If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. If you like manual controls, you'll love the DMC-FZ150. You've got the usual controls for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focus, plus WB fine-tuning and bracketing (you can bracket for exposure as well), a customizable button and spot on the mode dial, and support for the RAW image format. Two other features worth a mention include Intelligent Dynamic (brightens shadows but unfortunately does nothing for highlight clipping) and and Intelligent Resolution (a "smart" sharpening feature). The Intelligent Resolution feature can also be used to boost the focal range by a factor of 1.3, with a minimal degradation in image quality.
The FZ150 doesn't just record HD movies, or Full HD movies for that matter. It records Full HD Progressive video -- that's 1920 x 1080 at 60p -- until your memory card is full (except in Europe). It records Dolby Digital Stereo sound along with the video, with a resulting bit rate of 28 MBps. As you'd expect, the video quality is very good. Do keep in mind that not all software can edit these movies, and only Blu-ray players can play it back. There are several other resolutions available, including 1080/60i and 720/60p. You can record using the MPEG-4 codec, as well, though the frame rate and recording times will be lower. The FZ150 offers full use of the optical zoom, image stabilizer, and manual exposure controls in movie mode.
Camera performance is very good in nearly all areas. The FZ150 is up and ready to run in less than 1.5 seconds. Autofocus speeds range from smokin' fast in good light, to around average (~1 sec) in low light. Shot-to-shot delays are remarkably low, even if you're shooting RAW or using the flash. The FZ150's burst mode is excellent, with the ability to shoot as fast as 5.5 fps with continuous AF, or 12 fps with focus locked on the first shot. You can go even faster (up to 60 fps) if you don't mind lowering the resolution. The only real downside to the burst mode is the lengthy amount of time required to save the photos to a memory card -- sometimes up to thirty seconds -- especially when RAW images are involved. The FZ150's battery life is above average.
I didn't have high expectations for photo quality after seeing samples from the FZ150's predecessor (the FZ100), as they were quite noisy. Panasonic has done a good job of addressing this on the FZ150 -- in good part by lowering the resolution -- and the photo quality is very good for an ultra zoom. Exposure was generally spot-on, though the FZ150 clips highlights more often than I'd like. (It's too bad that Intelligent Dynamic does nothing to fix that problem.) Colors are nice and saturated, except in artificial light, where there tends to be a noticeable yellow color cast (an issue on many Panasonic cameras I've tested). The camera keeps noisy levels relatively low until you hit ISO 400 in low light and ISO 800 in good light. While shooting RAW and post-processing does produce better looking photos, the difference isn't as dramatic as on some cameras. Unlike the nearly identical FZ47, I had trouble with redeye on the FZ150 -- who knows why. Purple fringing levels were low in most situations.
In conclusion, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 is a very good super zoom camera, and one that should be high on your shopping list. If you're a beginner who wants something simple to take photos and movies with, it can do that with ease. Enthusiasts will be pleased too, thanks to the full manual controls, expandability, and RAW support. Negatives are few, and are mostly related to highlight clipping, color accuracy in artificial lighting, and what you'll find in the box. Despite those issues, the FZ150 is a super zoom powerhouse that will impress you with its still and video quality, which is why it earns my recommendation.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Monster 24X, 25 - 600 mm Leica lens
- Power OIS image stabilization, with "active" mode for movies
- 3-inch rotating LCD with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor/low light visibility
- Full manual controls with RAW support, numerous ways to adjust white balance, two types of bracketing, and a customizable button and spot on the mode dial
- Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and smart sharpening
- Robust performance, especially focusing and shot-to-shot speeds
- Lots of scene modes and special effects, with 3D still capability
- Intelligent Resolution sharpens photos,and gives you a 1.3x boost in zoom power with a minimal drop in image quality
- Super fast burst mode, with ability to shoot at 5.5 fps with continuous AF and 12 fps with single AF
- Intelligent Dynamic brightens shadows (though not in all situations -- and it does nothing for highlight clipping)
- Records movies at 1080/60p (!) with stereo sound and continuous autofocus using AVCHD or MPEG-4 codecs; full manual controls available; optical zoom and image stabilizer can be used while recording
- Support for external flash, external microphone, conversion lenses and filters, and a remote shutter release cable
- Above average battery life
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Tends to clip highlights
- Images have yellow/brownish cast in artificial light; still no fluorescent white balance option
- Some redeye; no removal tool in playback mode
- Long write times after a burst containing RAW photos is taken
- Rainbow effect on electronic viewfinder can be distracting
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- No composite A/V cable or Mac software included
- Full manual on CD-ROM (it's not very user-friendly, either)
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the FZ150's image quality looks!