By launching the FZ100, Panasonic is hoping to find a winning successor to its popular FZ38.
The new camera's tech spec is attractive to say the very least, with a great 24x optical zoom (25-600 mm with Power OIS optical stabilisation), a 1080i HD video mode with a 30 fps framerate and a new MOS sensor that can take both JPeg and RAW photos. The attractive 460 000 pixel LCD screen is mounted on a hinge to flip it out. So does the FZ100 deliver as much as it promises?
HandlingOur first impressions of the FZ100 were somewhat mixed, and we found the finish somewhat lightweight for a camera that costs this much, though it's not off-putting. The handle has been well designed and it's easy to get a steady grip on the camera. You'll spot several changes in the interface, not all of which are for the better: the video control has moved to the back of the camera, and the ever-useful Q.Menu joystick has been replaced by a basic button at the bottom.
A quick glance through the electronic viewfinder reveals that it's the same very ordinary component used on the FZ38; Panasonic hasn't made any improvements in this area. That's certainly disappointing, but we would also would have liked to see a presence detector to switch between the LCD screen and the viewfinder and vice versa automatically. The graphical interface is as simple and easy as ever, and we still like the Q.Menu feature which gives fast access to the most commonly-used settings.
One of the most interesting features is the rotating LCD screen, which can display 460 000 pixels but didn't strike us as being particularly bright. It's fluid when light levels are good, but quickly becomes jerky when things get darker. You don't see much noise in the shadows, but they do run. Another advantage that the FZ100 has is its 24x zoom, which has two modes (slow and fast) for photo and two others for video (slow and gradual).
A whole host of settings are available on this bridge camera. Alongside the now ubiquitous iAuto mode, which controls everything from the scene mode to ISO sensitivity, you also find PSAM, scene modes, 'result' modes, manual video and a mode you customise yourself. During our tests, the iA mode worked well and usually chose the right settings quickly in most cases (landscapes, macro, portrait ...)
ResponsivenessDespite the presence of such a big zoom, the autofocus works pretty well across the whole focal range, with focusing taking under one second on average. Even at the furthest tele-photo (f/5.6), performance is still acceptable. Better still, a red assistance lamp is available to help the FZ100 out in the dark. Powering it up, on the other hand, is a little slow, as the various components of the zoom lens need time to move into place.
Panasonic claims its new MOS sensor is very fast, meaning the FZ100 should be capable of capturing bursts of 11 frames per second at its maximum resolution of 14 Megapixels, and in RAW mode too. In reality, this remarkable speed was only attained at the lowest sensitivity (100 ISO)--so you won't get as fast that very often. Even at 200 ISO, the burst mode 'slows down' to 5 fps, which is a long way from the promised 11 fps. The one second gap between saving two separate photos is acceptable but no better than that.
Image QualityDespite all of the hype, the new 14.1 Megapixel MOS sensor is a disappointment. Looking at electronic noise, for instance, grain is visible at the lowest ISO sensitivity and quickly takes over as you increase sensitivity. Beyond 400 ISO, details are lost in noticeable blur, and we don't suggest you attempt 1600 ISO, unless you were hoping to ape the Impressionists ...
The zoom lens works pretty well, and is sharp in the centre of the frame and at wide-angle. As ever, the corners have a little less detail, and you'll have to zoom in a little further than you would to get an even effect across the whole photo. We noticed a few traces of chromatic aberration in wide-angle, but nothing too bad and the phenomenon also disappears as you lengthen the zoom. The 1 cm macro mode is a welcome addition, but it's easy to spot the deformation. The optical stabilisation is very powerful, and our portrait test shot was sharp at just 1/3 s, which isn't at all bad.
Compare the Panasonic FZ100 to other digital cameras in our Product Face-Off
VideoThe interlaced 1080i HD video mode is good, and the FZ100 films in AVCHD (.MTS H.264 with two reference frames) and AC3 stereo sound. Its two mics are along the top of the camera and are far enough apart to really capture a sound scape. It's a noticeable step up from what you'll find on a compact camera. Better still, you can use you own stereo mic connected to a line in.
We were impressed by video taken in bright sunlight, but as is often the case, the clips we shot indoors soon suffered from blurriness in darker areas. You can still use the zoom while recording video, and you can also extract still photos on the fly at a resolution of 3.5 Megapixels. The icing on the cake has to be the fact you can use A, S and M priority modes while shooting video. To enjoy your handiwork, you can connect your FZ100 straight to a TV using its mini-HDMI output.