Superzoom with super-fast focus - is the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 the ultimate 24x superzoom? What Digital Camera puts the Lumix FZ150 on test...
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Features
The FZ150’s 12.1MP sensor is a lower resolution than its predecessor in order to produce images without compromising quality. The sensor also features an increased output – now with two transfer lines for double the readout speed. This opens the door for the FZ150’s Full HD 1080p (not interlaced) movie mode. At 50fps (25fps output from sensor) and with a 20Mbps data rate these are similar specs to that of a camcorder. That extra sensor speed also means up to 12 frames per second continuous shooting.
Sensitivity from ISO 100-3200 adds an extra stop of sensitivity over the FZ100 but more significantly the FZ150 can also shoot Raw files.
Earning its bridge camera title the FZ150 has a 0.2in, 201k-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) to complement its 3in, 460k-dot vari-angle LCD screen. There’s even a standard hotshoe to attach additional accessories.
The 24x zoom range remains unchanged from some older Lumix models. While a new Nano Surface Coating promises to cut back on ghosting and flare, the 25-600mm range may no longer be as standout as some of the competition. However, the excellent Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) does assist in holding shots steady.
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Design
While the FZ150 may look mightily similar to its FZ100 predecessor, there is one notable tweak: an added zoom lever on the side of the lens provides an additional zoom control method. Its placement is ideal for shooting video as it lends well to holding the camera steady while zooming.
The camera’s overall size is fairly chunky, akin to much of the competition, while the camera feels solid in the hand and the rubberised grip makes for an extra sturdy hold.
Menus are well laid out: the top provides a main mode dial and one touch movie button; while a control thumbwheel, variety of menu and quick menu controls reside on the rear. The quick menu brings up the main options on screen that can be rapidly cycled through using the d-pad. Toggling between LCD and viewfinder activation requires the pressing of a switch rather than an automated eye sensor, but otherwise everything feels as though it’s in its right place.
One standout design feature is the vari-angle 3in screen. It’s mounted on a bracket that allows for rotation in almost any angle. It’s easy enough to grip hold of and remains rigid throughout its positions.
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Performance
The FZ150, like the FZ48 released earlier this year, sees a big push towards improved autofocus. Taking a leaf out of the latest Lumix G-series’ books, the FZ150’s autofocus is far nippier than previous generation models, as the ‘Sonic Speed AF’ namesake would suggest. At the wideangle end of the zoom subjects will zip into focus, though this speed does decrease as focal length is increased.
There are four main focus types: 1-Area for a single point that can be moved around the screen by using the ‘Focus’ button to the side of the lens; 23-Area where the camera auto-selects from the available focus areas; AF Tracking is able to select a centrally-positioned target and maintain focus even when the subject moves; while Face Detection will identify faces and adjust focus as shown by squares surrounding faces. The level of control is good, with the 1-Area mode only limited by a slight border to the edge of the screen where focus isn’t possible, plus the AF Tracking mode can only select the centre point. In the future a touchscreen addition with a more comprehensive tracking mode would see the FZ150 (or next generation FZ-model) step yet further ahead.
From speedy focusing to burst shooting: the FZ150 provides full resolution shooting at 2 or 5.5fps with continuous autofocus or at 12fps where the focal plane remains fixed. Electronic shutter options of 40 and 60fps are also available at 5MP and 2.5MP respectively. The 12fps mode maxes out at 12 frames, or 11 if you’re shooting Raw files – but that’s still mightily impressive and it takes less than 30seconds to clear the camera’s buffer for the next round of shooting. Even the slower options with continuous autofocus are a success – we’re not talking pro-spec levels here, but accompanied with the fast autofocus the FZ150 does a better job than any other superzoom out there, making it ideal for long-zoom action shots.
The lens itself moves steadily through the zoom range, as controlled by either the zoom toggle around the shutter or new zoom switch to the side of the barrel. The latter can be used to extend the zoom quickly or at a slower pace for more precise zoom adjustments. There’s also an AF/Macro/MF switch to switch between focusing modes, and a Focus button right below this to adjust the focal area (in 1-Area AF). The location of buttons takes a little getting used to, but it works to the camera’s benefit overall.
Also excellent is the Power OIS (optical image stabilisation) system. It’s excellent both during use and in its stabilising effectiveness on the final images. As the system is optical it helps steady images during composition, i.e. on the rear LCD or in the EVF – a far better system than some competitors’ sensor-based stabilisation that doesn’t offer any compositional benefit.
Close-focusing distances are also decent, with a macro mode able to focus as close as 1cm from the lens at its widest setting. This increases to 1m from lens when at the full 600mm telephoto setting, but is still an ample distance for close-up shots in relation to subject distance.
The FZ150’s 0.2in viewfinder is a standard offering for a camera of this type, and works well in good light, but can become riddled with image noise and a blurred image lag in darker conditions. The magnified area is ample and feels closer to the eye than some ‘tunnel vision’ viewfinders that can be found on other compact cameras. The 100% field of view also means that what you see is what you get, the same is reflected by the 3in, vari-angle LCD screen. The screen’s 460k-dot resolution is ample, though we’d prefer a higher resolution one. It’s a shame that switching between LCD and EVF requires the press of a button – the inclusion of an auto detector would mean quicker shooting and the ability to quickly view images on the LCD after using the viewfinder.
Then, of course, there’s the FZ150’s movie mode. The sensor improvements mean that this is now a top spec offering, able to capture progressive 1920×1080 files using the AVCHD carrier or directly output as MP4 files for immediate use with all manner of computer programmes. The frame rate is 50p in the UK (PAL) or 60p in the US (NTSC), though as the AVCHD carrier isn’t able to render 50p at present the sensor still outputs 25p files. Movie quality, at its highest setting, is of a good quality thanks to the 20Mbps data rate and high frame rate, plus it’s possible to use the zoom while recording and the stereo microphone atop the camera produces decent sound. What’s rather special, however, is the inclusion of a 2.5mm microphone jack to the side of the camera – it’s possible to use an external microphone while recording for even more control, something by and large reserved for higher-spec cameras.
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Image Quality
The FZ150’s images look good for the most part. The decision to dip the megapixel count from the FZ100’s 14.2MP sensor to a new 12.1MP sensor makes sense in theory, as each pixel is slightly larger across the sensor area and therefore can receive a better signal which should produce better quality pictures overall. The FZ150’s results aren’t going to rival DSLR quality by any means, as the camera’s level of processing when viewing the files at actual size does reveal notable processing artefacts and loss of detail in more complex, textured areas even at the lower ISO settings.
ISO 100-200 are the most stable settings, and thereafter there’s a dip in sharpness that continues to ISO 800. Thereafter, from ISO 1600-3200, it’s not only softness but lack of edge definition and image noise that render shots average rather than good. So the FZ150 isn’t going to be the ideal low light partner, but will prove its worth in better lit situations. As per the FZ48, real world images up to ISO 800 translate to decent enough shots with relatively few problems. Where the FZ150 scores extra points is with the inclusion of a Raw shooting option. Not many other superzoom cameras can lay claim to providing such an option, and for those looking to get the utmost out of the camera, including far more noise reduction control, this is the mode to run with.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Value
The recommended retail price of £449 makes the Lumix FZ150 an expensive purchase, but there are pre-orders on a number of online stores for as low as £369. If the latter price tag holds then, considering its impending October launch date making it the most up to date superzoom on the market, the FZ150 is competitively priced when considering the likes of the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS (£350) and Sony Cyber-shot HX100V (£385). There are far cheaper options out there however, including the Nikon Coolpix P500 (£300) and Fujifilm FinePix HS20 (£285), though neither of the latter models offer lens-based image stabilisation and the FZ150 has faster focusing than all these listed competitors which undoubtedly adds further value.
Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review – Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix FZ150 is among the best superzoom cameras available on the market. It may not have the very best picture quality, nor is its 24x optical zoom lens the grandest out there. But what the FZ150 does get right you’ll more than know about: the autofocus speed is superb, the burst mode super-fast, Raw shooting is a very big tick in the box and the lens-based Power OIS stabilisation is excellent. If money is no object and you’re after an ‘all rounder’ superzoom camera then there’s little better than the Lumix FZ150.