The Panasonic FZ48 adds super-fast autofocus to the already impressive FZ-series feature set. How does the latest 24x Lumix superzoom perform? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review...
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review – Features
The Panasonic FZ48 has a 24x optical zoom lens that equates to a wideangle 25mm through to a long-reaching 600mm equivalent. As well as POWER OIS image stabilisation to reduce camera shake, Panasonic’s latest Nano Surface Coating covers the front glass to reduce reflective qualities and therefore produce pictures with less ghosting and flare.
Behind the scenes is a 12.1MP CCD sensor, which is a lower resolution than the previous FZ45 model’s 14.1MP version. It would seem that Panasonic is taking note of the current limitations of imaging sensors and not overpopulating the sensor with unneeded pixels in a bid to improve final image quality that’s still of a significant enough output size for the purpose of enlargement. The latest sensor has a higher transfer processing speed and this makes Full HD 1080i movie capture possible at 50 fields per second.
As well as intelligent Auto (iA) there are full manual controls, a 3D mode and a variety of scene options, including picture-enhancing modes under the ‘Photo Style’ guise.
Elsewhere the FZ48 may look like a carbon copy of the previous FZ45 model, but there are some notable updates: The FZ48’s 3in LCD screen now sports a 460k-dot resolution, outing the previous lower resolution 230k-dot version. The same 0.2in, 201k-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) also features, an essential for a superzoom camera of this type.
Perhaps the FZ48’s biggest overhaul is the introduction of a ‘Sonic Speed’ autofocus system that takes a leaf out of the latest Lumix G-series models’ book and promises far quicker focusing than before.
A new ‘Miniature’ mode also features to act as a fake tilt/shift effect that gives the impression of miniaturising scenes.
However the FZ48’s lack of a Raw shooting function – a feature the previous FZ45 possessed – does seem a backwards step. Why this has been omitted in this latest release is unknown.
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review – Design
The Lumix FZ48 is near identical to its predecessor, bar for a slight alteration to elongating the stereo microphone on top of the camera. The camera looks much like a small DSLR system though, of course, the 24x lens isn’t removable. Considering the ample 25-600mm equivalent focal range the FZ48 is relatively compact by superzoom standards.
The design is also well laid out: The camera’s top encompasses a mode dial for quick mode selection and a one-touch movie button to jump straight into motion recording; the rear has a four-way d-pad control, a thumbwheel to cycle through settings, a Q.Menu for accessing the all important options and a variety of other buttons including an AF/AE lock and AF/MF adjust.
The FZ48’s build quality feels sturdy, the lens remains rigid throughout its range and the camera’s pronounced hand grip has a rubberised finish for extra hold.
There’s very little to complain about in terms of the FZ48’s design, though the ongoing lack of an eye-level sensor to effortlessly toggle between using the LCD and EVF could be one future improvement (for now it’s an EVF/LCD button that has to be pressed manually).
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review – Performance
Switch the FZ48 on and it’s ready to go in little time. The Sonic Speed AF keeps the onus on speed and delivers on its super-fast focusing promise when shooting at the wideangle end. Zoom in further, however, and there’s a noticeable slow down in achieving focus, though it’s still very swift. So long as you don’t anticipate the same top-speed focusing from front to back of the zoom range you’ll be pleased with the results overall.
There are four main focus types: 1-Area for a single point that can be moved around the screen by using the ‘Focus’ button and d-pad; 23-Area where the camera auto-selects from the 23 available focus areas; AF Tracking that can select a target on screen and maintain focus even when the subject moves (it’s only possible to select from the centre point of the screen however); and Face Detection for identifying faces and adjusting focus accordingly. The level of user control is good, only slightly let down by the inability to move the AF Tracking area around the centre initiation point and a small bordered-off area to the screen’s edge when using the 1-Area focus mode. Saying that, these aren’t Panasonic-exclusive restrictions and, compared to much of the competition, the FZ48 provides a faster and more accessible focusing system overall.
The FZ48’s lens is smooth in use and presents the magnification (2x, 3x, etc) at the base of the screen while zooming. Minimum focus starts at 30cms from lens (at 25mm), dipping to 2m from 10x (250mm) and beyond. Flip the camera into Macro mode, however, and this is turned on its head – at the wideangle setting the lens can touch the subject and still focus, decreasing to 1m at the telephoto end. An additional ‘AF Macro Zoom’ mode retracts the lens back to its widest-angle setting and utilises a 3x digital zoom for getting extra close into subjects – though the quality diminishes and it’s not a mode that we’d recommend. Add the highly effective POWER OIS optical image stabilisation system and the FZ48’s ideal for snapping telephoto shots.
The new screen with its 460k-dot resolution looks detailed in playback and has a very good angle of view that allows for viewing angles far steeper than the direct line of sight. Couple this with the 0.2in, 201k-dot electronic viewfinder and there are always options to shoot even if sunlight causes issues viewing the rear LCD. The viewfinder isn’t especially large, but it’s good enough to do the job and has further use to add extra stability when shooting at the telephoto end of the zoom.
The FZ48 also sports a 1080i movie mode that captures motion at 50 fields per second (50i PAL/60i NTSC). This ups the resolution over the previous generation model and also provides a 17Mbps data rate – that’s high up the quality scale for a compact camera. It’s also possible to zoom in and out during recording, with continuous autofocus maintaining good focus throughout.
The battery also sees improvements to maintain power for longer, with the quoted 410 shots per charge quite proving reasonable. However leaving the camera on for prolonged periods and shooting movie clips will cut that figure down. Weigh this battery up against the latest Lumix Compact System Camera, the GF3, and the FZ48 offers some 30% more shooting per charge.
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 – Image Quality
The FZ48’s images are well-exposed and vibrant in colour. The Auto White Balance can slip between colour casts rather quickly, however, even when shooting the same scene under subtly changing light.
Detail is reasonable at low ISO settings but the level of processing does give pronounced texture to edges and details can appear over-compressed even at the lowest ISO 100 setting. This isn’t surprising for a sensor of this size, though the downscaled 12.1MP sensor (the FZ45’s 14.1MP sensor has more pixels) hasn’t had as huge an impact on final quality as could be expected.
Exceed ISO 200 and there’s a notable increase in softness; ISO 800 becomes considerably soft, edges lost definition and detail is diminished; while ISO 1600 is particularly noisy and lacks detail. In real world images using up to ISO 800 translates to decent enough images with relatively few problems, however.
The biggest qualm with image quality is the omission of a Raw shooting function. Although a rarity for superzoom cameras the previous generation Lumix FZ45 had this very feature and that made it stand out of the crowd. The FZ48’s lacking here means limitations to fine-tuning pictures, although the Photo Style modes do provide +/-2 adjustments for noise reduction processing, colour saturation, sharpness and contrast.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review – Value
The first FZ48 shipment is retailing for around £320 in a number of online stores, positioning the model at a similar or more affordable level to much of the competition. The Nikon P500 and Fuji HS20 are both available for a similar sum, while the Canon SX30 IS and Sony HX100V are available somewhere inside the £350-400 range.
The Panasonic may not offer as long a zoom as those other models, yet its fast autofocus system provides an alternative value.
Panasonic Lumix FZ48 review – Verdict
The Lumix FZ48’s fast autofocus is its premier feature, capable of attaining focus in little time. Other features are equally impressive – the LCD screen looks great in playback and has a wide angle of view, plus the movie mode allows for a good level of recording control.
However the lack of Raw shooting does axe one of the top features from the previous FZ45 model, and the FZ48’s final image quality, although well exposed and supported by an excellent image stabilisation system, isn’t quite able to quite match up to the finer detail from the likes of the Fuji HS20. For images used at less than full size this will go largely unnoticed in most instances.
For a compact superzoom with a long-reaching zoom the FZ48 has plenty on offer and is competitively prices. It’s easy to use whatever your level, has an effective layout and an autofocus system that puts the majority of the competition to shame.