The Panasonic FZ100 is the company’s latest superzoom, offering a 24x optical zoom lens (25-600mm equivalent). But at over £400 is the FZ100 worth the cash? The What Digital Camera Panasonic FZ100 review...
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Features
Packing in a 25mm wideangle 24x optical zoom Leica lens means that the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 is capable of reaching the heady heights of a 600mm telephoto equivalent. Although it outdoes its younger Panasonic FZ38 sibling, its zoom range isn’t quite as wide-ranging as the Fujifilm HS10 – the latter with a 30x optical zoom lens capable of a 24-720mm equivalent. The Lumix FZ100 does also add optical image stabilisation (Power O.I.S.) to the stable which, thanks to its lens-based design can help to keep shots steady when framing, plus final captured results can counter for handshake too.
Whether capturing still images or HD video, the Panasonic FZ100 has you covered. As well as an 11 frames per second burst mode for stills capture, there’s also a Full HD 1080 50i movie mode that uses Panasonic’s AVCHD for optimum compression.
Alongside intelligent Auto (iA) mode’s point-and-shoot simplicity, the FZ100 also has a full remit of PSAM manual controls and an easy-to-use layout akin to a DSLR. A variety of scene modes for easy shooting, My Colour Mode for creative black and white, Vibrant, Nostalgic and many more, plus Motion Deblur (which raises the ISO and shutter speed depending on whether the subject shows signs of movement) also feature.
The rear 3in LCD screen is a high-resolution 460,000 dots and is mounted on a tilt-angle mechanism that allows the screen to turn through all conceivable angles – from front-facing, to vertically or horizontally adjacent to the camera which is ideal for use in unusual shooting scenarios. When shooting in bright light, for extra support or just personal preference, there’s also an electronic viewfinder (EVF) available.
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Design
The Panasonic Lumix FZ100 looks much like a small DSLR system though, of course, the lens here isn’t removable. With a 25-600mm range covering the majority of all conceivable shooting scenarios, prospective purchasers are unlikely to ever need a much greater range than is offered. The lens tie-in design is part and parcel of a superzoom or ‘bridge’ camera’s very benefit.
Although the Lumix FZ100 is fairly chunky, it’s actually quite small when considering the considerable lens in play. It never feels imposing in the hand and, actually, I felt like a bit of a taller body or grip would assist with extended use and stop my little finger curling around the camera’s base.
As well as a top jogwheel to access shooting modes, there’s a one-touch movie button to dive into capturing moving images and, next to this, another one-touch button for adjusting high speed shooting. The rear has a singular thumbwheel for cycling through settings and can ‘double up’ its use by being pressed to toggle between options – such as aperture and shutter control when in Manual mode.
Menu access is always appropriately proportioned to the mode that the top jogwheel is positioned to, meaning that only a few menu options need to be seen when in iA (intelligent Auto) mode, compared to all available options when in the Manual setting, for example. Quick-access options are also only ever a few button presses away thanks to the Q.Menu button on the rear, next to the standard D-pad which opens up ISO, exposure compensation, timer and user-assignable Function (Fn) settings.
There’s very little to complain about in terms of the FZ100’s design, bar the lack of an eye-level sensor to effortlessly toggle between using the LCD and EVF. Although not a major problem, this has been an ongoing feature omission in Panasonic’s otherwise excellent superzoom lineup. Toggling between using the viewfinder and previewing images on the LCD screen suffers from the same setback as button-pressing is required to see the image on screen (rather than in the EVF) after taking the shot.
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Performance
The Lumix FZ100 performs well in the majority of areas. Focusing is relatively nippy throughout the focal range, only occasionally failing to focus correctly. The 23-area focus tends to pick out the most ‘obvious’ areas of contrast for focus, which is fine for the majority of use. Should more specific focusing be desired then the AF Area option allows a cursor to be manually moved around the rear LCD screen to act as the focus point. There’s also a Subject Tracking AF mode that will follow a moving subject around in continuous focus or a Face Detection AF mode (now with Face Recognition technology to identify particular faces following repeated shooting). Don’t expect super-fast subjects to be kept up with by the Subject Tracking AF, but it’s certainly good for casual use where people are moving around a scene.
A real star of the show is the Power O.I.S. image stabilisation technology. As this is an optical lens-shift technology, the LCD or EVF preview benefits from the steadying of the image prior to it even being shot. This is particularly useful for long telephoto lengths, as keeping steady hands at 600mm is nigh-on impossible and makes framing tricky, which is somewhat alleviated here. A 600mm equivalent should be shot no slower than 1/600th of a second where possible, 500mm at 1/500th and so forth – so it’s good to know that the FZ100’s top-end shutter speed is a fairly fast 1/2000th of a second (professional DSLR cameras top-out at around 1/8000th second).
The HD movie mode, which will be a clincher for some prospective purchasers, is also well-equipped. As well as 1080i capture at 50 fields per second (25 full frames per second equivalent), it’s possible to zoom in and out during recording, with continuous AF maintaining good focus throughout. PAL models have a 25fps output, while NTSC models keep the country-corresponding 30fps. It’s small touches like this ensure that best quality will be attainable wherever you’re based in the world).
Other quirky little features include an option where the lens position is memorised and re-acquired when the camera is turned back on. A similar menu-based option also features to ensure less menu digging to re-locate modes that have just been adjusted.
Layout, button positioning and the abundance of quick menus and one-touch buttons makes for a very easy, user-assignable use that’s hard to fault. There’s even an AF/AF Macro/MF focus switch on the side of the lens for quickly toggling between focus types without so much as having to delve into a menu (though no focus ring means manual focus has some speed of use limitations).
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Image quality
As well as shooting JPEG images, the Lumix FZ100 also provides the option to shoot Raw (RW2) files or both Raw + JPEG simultaneously.
Shooting fine quality JPEGs provides reasonable image quality, though granular-like image noise is visible throughout the entirety of the ISO100-1600 range. It’s not problematic through from ISO100-400, but ISO 800-1600 does begin to suffer noticeably. Although the manual states that a top-end ISO 6400 is available, this is strictly limited to a specific scene mode and, as such, has fairly limited use.
Sharpness is good throughout the majority of the zoom range, though some sharpness fall-off does begin to show when at the fullest extent of the zoom. Not to the level where images look out of focus, but there’s a subtle and visible lack of sharpness when compared to wider angle shots (even at the maximum 1/2000th second shutter speed, which is more than ample for a 600mm equivalent shot).
The new 14.1MP sensor is more populated than the majority of 12.1MP versions that Panasonic has been using in other recent models, so it’s debatable whether this increase in resolution was entirely necessary. Although it’s not been to the detriment of image quality, a greater focus on polishing-up the overall image quality and processing would have been preferable.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Value
The Panasonic FZ100 certainly doesn’t come cheap. A variety of online retailers offer it for £420, though many others are asking as much as £480 – easily enough to purchase an entry-level DSLR, Micro System Camera or other such set up. Of course the FZ100 benefits from its significant zoom range, though competitor cameras can be found for around £60-100 less for a similar-spec. Time may allow for this price-point to dip and should this be the case then value will be better aligned.
Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review – Verdict:
The Panasonic Lumix FZ100 is a great superzoom camera only marginally let down by its fairly hefty price tag. Brushing that issue to one side for the moment, however, and what you’re left with is a highly capable superzoom with a wide-ranging zoom that allows for creative shots through from 25mm wideangle, to close-up macro, portraits, mid-telephoto and all the way up to super telephoto 600mm for candidly picking off subjects from afar.
Thanks to a combination of highly effective optical image stabilisation (Panasonic’s Power O.I.S.) and the additional steady framing offered by using the electronic viewfinder (EVF), shots can be captured sharply throughout the full zoom range.
Point-and-shoot first timers or creative photographers demanding manual controls are fully catered for and a variety of in-camera My Color Mode options provide an extra lick of creative fun.
Image quality is reasonable though a little grainy throughout the entire ISO range, but not significantly problematic for day-to-day shooting, while Full HD movie is of a good quality.
It’s the price that’s the sticking point as for less money the similar-spec (albeit lesser 18x optical zoom) Panasonic FZ38 is a viable alternative with much the same resulting image quality. However, if the price isn’t an issue, then you’d certainly be hard pressed to find a better 24x superzoom camera than the FZ100.