The bridge cameras just keep on coming from Panasonic, always with the same smattering of minor updates. True to form then, the only real difference between the FZ100 and this new FZ150 is the sensor, which is no longer Panasonic's 14-Megapixel MOS but a new 'high sensitivity' 12-Megapixel sensor, which looks very similar to the one used in certain Sony, Casio and Canon cameras. The FZ100 was a pleasant bridge camera that was let down by a sub-standard sensor, so will Panasonic have put things right with the FZ150?
HandlingThe Lumix FZ150 is almost exactly the same as the FZ100. Obviously, a few tiny details have changed though, such as the shape of the flash and a four-way controller that's now a single key rather than four separate buttons. There's now a zoom control on the lens barrel too, so you can zoom with the end of your left thumb rather than your index finger. This can also be used to control the manual focusing function.
Build quality is good and the FZ150 is pleasant to handle and use. Grip is excellent and the controls are simple and easy to find your way around. The only let-down is that the plastics aren't top quality, so the FZ150 doesn't have the same reassuringly sturdy feel as the Fuji HS20, for example.
The flip-out swivel screen is taken straight out of the FZ100 and has a decent resolution and good viewing angles. The onscreen image isn't entirely accurate though, as the excessive contrast over-lightens light greys and colour fidelity leaves something to be desired (deltaE 7.7).
On the whole, the FZ150 is everything you'd expect from a Panasonic bridge—it's pleasant and easy to use ... but has a low-resolution, low-contrast viewfinder that's still a bit on the small side and that's prone to rainbow effects. Every year, we see viewfinders get better and better in hybrid cameras and every year, the same bridge viewfinders look a little more pathetic in comparison.
ResponsivenessPanasonic keeps gradually improving the autofocus system in its cameras and the results certainly show in the FZ150, focusing in under a third of a second in good light and under a second even in very low light. It doesn't take long for the FZ150 to save a photo and get ready to take another shot even in RAW mode, although the buffer memory does soon fill up.
The burst mode is impressive, with the FZ150 taking 11 RAW shots in a second or 12 Jpeg pictures in 0.9 seconds! Obviously, you'll then need to wait a while for the shots to save onto your memory card (especially RAW photos), but the good news is that you can start a second burst of pictures without having to wait for all the shots from the first burst to save. Note though, that the second burst will be shorter as a result.
One thing that Panasonic does need to improve is the camera's start-up time, which is still hovering around two seconds. We're still waiting for the day we'll see a bridge camera start up almost instantly like some SLRs and compacts ... not to mention the late Panasonic FZ30/FZ50!
Picture QualityIf there's one field that'll be make or break for the FZ150 it's picture quality. The FZ100 had a decent lens but was let down by its disappointing sensor, which started smoothing out detail at settings as low as 400 ISO. The FZ150 therefore has everything to prove!
The new sensor has a lower resolution of 12 Megapixels and is a 'high sensitivity' MOS. In fact, we'd soon bet it was a BSI CMOS, as the results are similar to what we've seen with certain Canon and Sony cameras that use that kind of sensor. Noise does start to appear at 200 ISO, but it's kept in check well up to 800 ISO. The slight smoothing at 800 ISO certainly isn't problematic and an 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) print still looks impeccable. In fact, it's only at 1600 ISO that things start to get complicated. Canon does a slightly better job (with the SX230 HS, for example) but the quality is light years ahead of the FZ100 and is also better than the 'high speed' CCD used in Panasonic's FZ48.
The FZ150 has the same lens as the FZ100 and FZ48. At wide-angle settings the picture is sharp in the middle of the frame but a little softer towards the edges (no problem for 8" x 10" prints). At 200 mm quality gets more consistent and at the maximum zoom setting there's an excellent level of sharpness across the whole frame.
VideoOut of the box, the FZ150 films 1080i Full HD video at 50 fields per second. However, a 50 fps progressive scan HD mode is also available. This takes great-quality videos but requires a powerful computer for playback or editing.
Panasonic is usually pretty good at recording sound in cameras, but with the FZ150 we really noticed just what a long way rival manufacturers have come. The FZ150 still does a great job, recording better-quality sound than most compact cameras, but it's now equalled by the likes of the Sony HX100V and the Fuji HS20 EXR. All in all, we do have a slight preference for the video mode in Sony's bridge, but Panasonic has still done a great job here.