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 – 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.