Originally Posted: October 14, 2011
Last Updated: August 14, 2012
The Lumix DMC-FZ150 ($499) is Panasonic's flagship super zoom digital camera. It's the replacement to the FZ100, and the big brother to the DMC-FZ47 that I reviewed last month. Features include a 12.1 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, 24X optical zoom lens, 3-inch rotating LCD display, fast continuous shooting mode, plenty of manual controls, and Full HD 1080/60p video recording. Sounds good to me!
A family portrait showing the FZ47 and FZ150. Note the extra zoom lever on the side of the FZ150 at right.
I figured that I should probably show you what separates the FZ47 and FZ150, so you can decide whether it's worth spending the extra $120. Here you go:
As you can see, the major differences include AF performance, LCD rotation, continuous shooting, and video recording. The FZ150 is one of very few cameras that can record Full HD video at 60p using the new AVCHD Progressive format.
Is the FZ150 the ultimate super zoom camera? Find out now in our review!
Due to their similarities, portions of the DMC-FZ150 review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ150 has a pretty standard bundle for a point-and-shoot camera in the year 2011. Here's what you'll find inside the box:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ150 digital camera
- DMW-BMB9 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Lens hood
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 6.5 BD Edition and SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE
- 43 page basic manual (printed) + full manual (on CD-ROM)
Panasonic has built 70MB of memory into the DMC-FZ150. That'll hold four RAW or fifteen JPEGs at the highest quality setting -- enough for emergencies, but not daily use. Therefore, you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The FZ150, like all Panasonic cameras, supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card if you're mostly taking stills, and an 8GB or 16GB card if you'll be taking a lot of HD movies. A high speed (Class 6 or faster) card is highly recommended for best camera performance.
The DMC-FZ150 uses the same DMW-BMB9 lithium-ion battery as the DMC-FZ47. This battery holds 6.5 Wh of energy, which is fairly good for a camera in this class. The chart below shows how the FZ150 fares in terms of battery life compared to other super zooms:
The FZ150's battery life is about 13% above the group average, which is good news. Keep in mind that an extra battery for the FZ150 will set you back at least $43.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This charger, which plugs directly into the wall, requires 155 minutes to fully charge the DMW-BMB9.
As with the DMC-FZ47, Panasonic includes a handy lens hood with the FZ150, for shooting outdoors.
There are a boatload of accessories available for the FZ150, including:
That's quite a lis! And I left out the various 52mm filters that you can screw onto the front of the camera. One thing that's optional that shouldn't be is an A/V cable. If you plan on connecting to a regular television, you'll need to pony up for the $9 A/V cable.
Panasonic includes PhotoFunStudio 6.5 BD Edition software with the Lumix DMC-FZ150. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets tired quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos by folders, date, or by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Available editing features give you the ability to crop, rotate, or change the aspect ratio of your photos, as well as adjusting color, brightness, saturation, and more. You can apply special effects to photos, overlay text, or remove redeye. PhotoFunStudio can also be used to create panoramic images that you've taken on the camera.
PhotoFunStudio can also work with the movies produced by the FZ150. You can edit your video and then burn the results to a Blu-ray (or DVD) disc. You can also save the edited movie in MPEG-2 format. If you want to use something else to edit your videos, most modern Windows video editing suites can work with the AVCHD files produced by the FZ150. However, some of them may not support the AVCHD Progressive format, so check with your software manufacturer first. Mac users are in the same boat. You cannot currently edit AVCHD Progressive videos in either iMovie or Final Cut Pro. However, if you download the free Media Converter software (and its associated rewrap for QuickTime plug-in), you will be able to import them. The other movie sizes (as well as MPEG-4 videos) can be edited without issue.
Something PhotoFunStudio cannot do is edit RAW images. For that, Panasonic provides SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, for both Mac and Windows. SilkyPix isn't going to win any awards for its user interface or poorly translated menus, but it's still a very capable editing tool. If you'd like to use Photoshop instead, just be sure you're running version 6.5 of the Camera Raw plug-in.
The FZ150's documentation is split up into two parts, something I'm never a fan of. Inside the box is a thin "basic manual" to get you up and running. If you want more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals aren't great reading material, either -- they're not very user-friendly. Instructions for using the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
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.
Now let's take a look at how the FZ150 compares to other super zoom cameras in terms of size and weight:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing to see here, other than to point out the fact that the lens is at the full 24X (600mm) position.
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:
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
View Full Size Image
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
View Full Size Image
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:
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|Intelligent Zoom (780 mm)
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|Intelligent Zoom + Extra Optical Zoom (1250 mm)
View Full Size Image
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.
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.
Performance & Photo Quality
Overall, the Lumix DMC-FZ150 is a very responsive camera. The longest you'll probably have to wait is for the camera to turn on, and that's just about 1.4 seconds. For those details and more, check out the performance table below:
Like I said, pretty snappy!
The FZ150 excels at continuous shooting, too. The camera can take full resolution stills at up to 12 frames/second, and can go even faster if you don't mind lowering the resolution and using the electronic shutter instead. By lowering the resolution to 5 Megapixel, you can shoot at 40 frames/second (up to 50 shots). Drop down to 2.5 Megapixel and you can take 60 exposures in a single second. Also impressive is the fact that the camera can focus between each photo while shooting at 5.5 frames/second -- something not normally seen on a compact camera. Since I can't test the super-fast burst modes, I chose the 5.5 fps w/AF and 12 fps settings to see if they're as fast as Panasonic claims.
You'd expect to see smoke coming out of the FZ150 after a burst, but it stays nice and cool. And don't forget, you can shoot even faster at lower resolutions. My only real complaint is that it takes a long time for the camera to save all those stills to the memory card. For example, it took almost thirty seconds for the FZ150 to save 11 RAW+JPEG images to my Class 10 SDHC card! At some speeds, the camera will keep on shooting after you've reached the buffer limits (albeit at a slower rate). In some of the other modes the camera will just take the burst and stop.
Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we?
The photo of our macro test subject turned out quite nicely. Panasonic cameras always struggle with my studio lamps, so I tweaked the white balance a bit in the blue direction. Even with that, neutral colors still look a bit yellow to me. The blues and reds and nicely saturated, though. The subject is nice and sharp, with plenty of detail captured. You can see a bit of noise if you look closely, but it's not enough to concern me.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 1 cm at wide-angle an 1 m at full telephoto. Don't forget to flip the focus switch on the side of the camera to the Auto Macro position in order to take close-up shots.
The night shot looks good, except for the yellowish color cast that I mentioned above. For whatever reason, their cameras seem to really struggle under artificial lighting. Otherwise things look good, with sharp buildings, accurate exposure, and relatively minor highlight clipping. There is some noise here, but it's tolerable. There is some cyan and purple fringing visible as well, but again, not too bad.
Now we're going to use that same night scene to see how the FZ150 performs as its sensitivity increases:
There's a slight increase in noise as you go from ISO 100 to 200, but it's still manageable. Details start disappearing at ISO 400, but it's still usable for small and perhaps midsize prints. I would save ISO 800 for desperation only, and shoot RAW if you can (see demo below). The ISO 1600 shot has a strange reddish cast (hey, I didn't change anything) and lots of detail loss, and the ISO 3200 shot has far too much detail loss to be usable. I'd avoid both of those settings.
I just mentioned that shooting RAW could improve the quality of the ISO 800 night shot, so let's run it through Photoshop and see what we get!
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As you can see, the retouched RAW image isn't a whole lot better than the original JPEG. There's less detail smudging, but that's about it. It's probably still worth using RAW and post-processing at higher sensitivities -- just don't expect miracles.
We'll see how the FZ150 fared in normal lighting in a moment.
The DMC-FZ150 takes a two-pronged approach to reducing redeye. First, it'll fire the flash a few times (before the photo is taken) to shrink your subject's pupils, which sometimes works. If any redeye remains after the photo is taken, the camera will digitally remove it automatically. As you can see, there's still some redeye here. Don't take this test as gospel, though -- the FZ47 (essentially the same camera flash-wise) had less redeye than the FZ150 -- your mileage may vary.
There's remarkably little barrel distortion at the wide end of the 25 - 600 mm lens used by both the FZ150 and the FZ47. That's most likely thanks to the automatic distortion correction that the camera performs after you take a photo. You won't find dark or blurry corners in your photos, either.
Now it's time to see how the FZ150 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so view the full size images too. And with that, let's take a journey from ISO 100 to 3200:
There was so little difference between the first three crops that I had to check to make sure I didn't screw up and shoot them all at ISO 100. Thankfully, I didn't. At ISO 800 you start to see some detail loss, as well as as slight drop in color saturation. The same thing happens, but to a greater extent, at ISO 1600, so this is my recommended stopping point on the DMC-FZ150. The ISO 3200 shot has quite a bit of noise and detail loss, and is best passed over. For those wondering how the FZ150 compares to the cheaper FZ47 (test photos here), I'd say that the former does a better job at both low and high sensitivities.
We didn't see a huge improvement when shooting RAW back in the night test section. Let's see if we got better results in good light, here using the ISO 1600 test shot.
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
Unlike with the night shot, we can see a substantial improvement here. Not only do you get back detail, you also have more pleasing, saturated colors. If you're shooting at the higher ISOs on the FZ150, then I'd recommend shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing -- though it may not be worth it in very low light situations.
After reviewing the photos taken by the DMC-FZ150, I think that it's safe to say that Panasonic has overcome the noise problems that plagued the FZ100. Sure, there's still some noise in the photos, it's not really a problem until you get to around ISO 800. Panasonic has lightened up on the amount of noise reduction, as well. That's not to say that image quality is perfect, though. The FZ150 has issues with highlight clipping and color accuracy in artificial light. There's not much you can do about the highlight clipping, unfortunately, though shooting RAW and seeing if you can restore highlight detail may help some. As for the color issue, it's only going to be an issue a small percentage of the time -- in normal light colors look great. Subjects are fairly sharp, and I think they look even better if you turn Intelligent Resolution on. Purple fringing levels were low, as the camera removes this annoyance automatically when you take a photo.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and see if the FZ150's image quality meets your expectations!
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!