With a wealth of superzooms on the market, how does the Panasonic shape up?
Superzoom cameras are an attractive choice for those looking for a smaller, cheaper option than a DSLR, and in many cases they offer a decent alternative.
There’s been a flood of them recently with most of the major manufacturers releasing new models. With so much competition, though, each new superzoom needs to offer something unique, and while they all share many commonalities, they also boast their own unique special features to satisfy a particular niche.
Panasonic’s Lumix range has made quite a splash in the compact market, with the FZ range catering for the superzoom enthusiast. The latest FZ28 does so in bucketloads; it retains the same 18x optical zoom as its FZ18 predecessor, but with a slightly larger sensor its focal length starts at 27mm and culminates at 486mm. The lens is paired with Panasonic’s long-standing optical image-stabilisation system, while a boost to the sensor over the FZ18 now sees the camera output an effective 10.1MP resolution.
A full complement of manual controls are offered alongside an Intelligent Auto mode and 22 scene modes, while a further two options on the mode dial allow for custom-defined settings to be easily accessed. Alongside manual exposure options the camera can also be set to manually focus, while both JPEG and Raw files may be captured either on their own or simultaneously.
A common theme running through the camera’s specifications is the extendability of each function. A High Sensitivity mode expands the standard 100-1600 ISO range up to a maximum of ISO 6400, while an Extra Optical Zoom function allows an effective focal range of 866mm. In both cases, the camera can only do so at a reduced 3MP resolution.
The Venus IV processing engine lets the FZ28 fire at a maximum rate of 13fps, though again at a reduced resolution. Focusing, meanwhile, offers the standard single- and multi-point options, also adding face detection and continuous AF tracking. Sports or wildlife photographers utilising the full zoom range will no doubt find this a useful addition.
Around the back, a 2.7in LCD screen is joined by an electronic viewfinder and a range of controls, including a Q Menu button that bypasses the main menu to access key settings, and buttons for toggling display options.
Design-wise, the FZ28 follows the same principles as the model it replaces. The grip and thumb-rest are both clearly defined and textured, with the latter featuring a dedicated button for switching between shooting and reviewing. Unfortunately though, the FZ28 can’t quite match the refined build quality of its competitors, with its light, plastic body making it feel a little cheap.
Aside from that, the FZ28 displays an impressive performance. Focusing is well-paced and, despite the lack of the Lumix Easy Zoom button, the lens travels promptly and efficiently from the wideangle end of the zoom to the telephoto. The menu system is clearly labelled, but options within options – such as with the focusing modes – are sometimes only defined by a small icon, making a little manual-reading necessary. Having said this, the simplified menu set available in the Intelligent Auto and Scene modes means that it’s only in the manual modes where you’re likely to get a little lost.
Noise has been the bane of past Lumix models and the FZ28 is no exception. Images captured on even the lowest sensitivities in good light have a slight texture to them and while high-ISO images are noisy, it’s more the effects of noise reduction that seems to mar them. Exposures are generally fine and balanced, though the camera occassionally underexposes the odd image. A good dose of green and purple fringing can also be seen through images, though the lens exhibits very little distortion at the wide end, only creeping in when shooting particularly close up.
In terms of sharpness, we achieved both acceptably sharp and not-so-sharp images at the tele end of the zoom, suggesting it may be taxing the stabilisation system at long focal lengths. JPEG quality in comparison with Raw files is generally good, too, with the processing removing fringing very effectively and sharpening up images a touch. Even so, working on Raw files with the supplied third-party software is recommended for optimum results.
Although it doesn’t boast the finest handling, isn’t the most solidly constructed and is a little expensive, the FZ28 is capable of nice images. Raw capture, fast focusing and an abundance of features make it a good all-round option.