Panasonic Lumix FZ72 Review
Panasonic Lumix FZ72 Review – Image Quality
Colour reproduction is largely a function of image processing, and Panasonic's well-proven Venus Engine is certainly up to the task. In the standard setting colours are bright and punchy, and just a little more saturated than they probably should be, but the result is a bright, eye-catching picture.
Switching to the Vivid setting produces even more saturation, but the Natural setting, as the name suggests, produces very neutral, natural-looking results. Automatic white balance copes well with a full range of daylight conditions, from early morning to late evening, and the various pre-sets are also very accurate. The camera lacks a fluorescent light setting, but the automatic setting coped well with all types of artificial light.
As with colour reproduction, exposure metering is pretty much flawless, coping well with most normal daylight conditions, including shooting into the sun and at a bright sky scene. The tonal range is excellent despite the limited dynamic range of the small sensor, although on very high contrast shots there were blown highlights and a lack of shadow detail.
The multi-zone average metering was so accurate we seldom needed to use the optional spot metering. However one problem we did notice was a purple bloom around very bright specular highlights. This is often mistaken for chromatic aberration, but is actually caused by charge leakage between adjacent photocells, a problem common to most small high-resolution sensors.
In terms of actual recorded detail, the FZ72 performs slightly less well than we had hoped. Although it's less than some current compact cameras, 16 megapixels is still a lot of resolution, but nevertheless the actual amount of fine detail is not that great.
The problem may be that the image is undergoing a lot of processing to eliminate noise and optical distortion, which removes some detail, but the culprit may also be the lens, which simply isn't as capable of resolving very fine detail as a less powerful zoom might be. Zoom lens design, especially one as radical as this one, is always a compromise between size and quality, and in this case quality has lost out.
While many modern compacts are capable of shooting at 12,800 ISO, Panasonic has limited the FZ72 is to 3200 ISO, and wisely so. As we've said many times, 1/2.3in sensors are very prone to image noise, especially in low light conditions, and this proves to be the case here.
There are obvious signs of noise reduction at 800 ISO, and the image quality at 3200 ISO is very poor. There's no obvious noise as such, but the noise reduction processing has removed so much fine detail and introduced so many artefacts that all fine detail is wiped out. It is possible to extend the sensitivity to 6400 ISO, but it's really not a good idea.
When it comes to the final evaluation of the FZ72, the crucial question is whether or not that huge lens is up to the job. The answer is a qualified yes, but only just. A lens like this is a jack-of-all-trades, but is unfortunately a master of none. Yes, it can shoot very wide angle scenes equivalent to a 20mm lens, but the processing engine is obviously correcting for a lot of optical distortion and chromatic aberration, which reduces final image quality.
Likewise it can shoot incredible telephoto shots, but images shot at this magnification lack contrast and colour depth, and show similar signs that chromatic aberration has been corrected in processing. The FZ72 is a great camera if you often need extremes of both wide angle and telephoto, but don't expect to see the kind of results you'd get by using a dedicated wide-angle lens, or a 600mm prime with a teleconverter.
Of course it is a lot cheaper than those two options, but when it comes to image quality you get what you pay for.