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Panasonic Lumix FZ150 Gordon Laing, October 2011
 
   
 

Panasonic Lumix FZ150 verdict

The Panasonic Lumix FZ150 is one of the most powerful and satisfying super-zoom cameras around. I'll cut to the chase right now and say Panasonic has resolved most of the image quality issues of its predecessor, allowing the FZ150 to finally do justice to its compelling feature-set. So while the FZ150 may not actually sport many upgrades over its predecessor, Panasonic has sensibly concentrated on the aspects which really needed fixing.

That's the single paragraph report, so let's now go into more detail. The Lumix FZ150 shares a great deal with its predecessor: the all-important 24x zoom lens is unchanged and the body is essentially the same apart from a new zoom lever on the side of the lens barrel. You're also still getting a 3in articulated screen, flash hotshoe and 2.5mm microphone / remote control input, along with the choice of full manual control or one of the best automatic modes on the market. You also still get a wealth of continuous shooting options and thankfully still have the chance to record images in the RAW format. In these respects, the FZ150 is essentially the same as its predecessor, so what's new?

Externally speaking you have to look very close to spot any differences: there's the new zoom lever on the lens barrel (a minor, but welcome addition especially when filming), nano-coatings on the lens and updated Power OIS stabilisation which better combats wobbles when walking while filming.

   
 


The really significant difference between the FZ150 and its predecessor lies within the body: a new, lower resolution sensor. The FZ150 sticks with (C)MOS technology, but reduces the resolution from 14 to 12 Megapixels. Image quality was the Achilles' Heel of the earlier FZ100, and its testament to the otherwise excellent feature-set that owners would try every trick in the book to improve the output.

The problem was a very noisy sensor, which Panasonic combated by turning up the noise reduction, which in turn resulted in smeared details at every ISO. Enthusiasts simply turned down the noise reduction and bumped-up the sharpness, which certainly improved matters at the lowest ISO, but only accentuated noise at higher sensitivities.

I'm pleased to report the FZ150 lays these demons to rest. The smearing of the FZ100 has gone at low sensitivities and impressively the FZ150 actually delivers slightly better quality than its cheaper CCD-equipped sibling at the upper end of the range. It also looks a little better than the Sony HX100V at high ISOs in my tests too. Now don't get me wrong, it's no substitute for a big sensor camera and neither is it significantly better than its super-zoom rivals, but the crucial thing is unlike its predecessor, it's not significantly worse than its peer group. This is a big turnaround for Panasonic's premium super-zoom. See my FZ150 quality pages for a full report. Note I originally tested a sample running firmware v0.2 which Panasonic quoted as being fine for full evaluation. I have since updated the same FZ150 sample model to v1.0 and retested it for my noise results and sample images gallery. In my tests the quality didn't improve noticeably, but I was perfectly happy with it to start with.

The ability to record RAW files also remains an important advantage the FZ150 has over rival super-zooms, especially now Panasonic has removed it from the cheaper FZ47 / FZ48. In my tests I was impressed to find the FZ150's RAW files contained a decent degree of highlight headroom despite its small sensor. Areas which were irretrievably saturated on JPEGs could be recovered from RAW files with a surprising degree of success; you can see an example of this on my FZ150 RAW vs JPEG page (be sure to scroll down past the first set of results).

 
 

The new sensor also brings 1080/50p/60p video to the FZ150 at high bit rates of 28Mbit/s, along with fractionally quicker continuous shooting. The 1080 progressive video looks great, and like the existing interlaced and 720p modes, you can smoothly zoom or take (admittedly low resolution) stills while filming, while the camera does a great job at maintaining sharp focus even while you pan and zoom all over the place; I have several examples of this in the main review. While it's nice to have full PASM options for shooting video, I also found myself turning more and more to Intelligent Auto, which seamlessly switched between focusing and exposure modes to deliver pretty much the effects I was after. And speaking of effects, the FZ150, like the FZ47 / FZ48, now offers a selection of creative effects which can be applied to video, including the ubiquitous miniature tilt / shift option. You can even connect third party external microphones, albeit with a 2.5 to 3.5mm adapter. Bottom line: the FZ150 is a fantastic camera for video.

The continuous shooting speed may only be fractionally quicker than before, and to be honest I didn't notice any difference in focusing speed despite Panasonic's claims, but neither were exactly problematic on the FZ100. Given a subject of sufficient contrast, the FZ150 will snap-onto it almost instantly, even at the longest focal lengths, and it really can fire-off 12fps at the full resolution. One important caveat is the buffer, which only allows 12 frames at 12fps, thereby only actually shooting one second of action. To be fair though, similar limitations also apply to rival super-zooms, and Panasonic also offers slower options which can fire for longer. At 5.5fps I happily captured lots of action sequences.

So far it's a pretty glowing report, so what about the downsides? Well there's actually very few to mention. Probably the most obvious is the zoom which despite offering a massive 25-600mm equivalent range still falls comfortably behind its monstrous competition. Believe it or not, 24x is actually the shortest range of its rivals.

Unless you really need 800mm without adapters though, I don't think this is a serious issue. The FZ150's 25-600mm range still covers just about every eventuality, and I never wanted more when testing it. It's also important to note the FZ150, like all Panasonic models, automatically eliminates coloured fringing from its images, whereas Canon does not - at least for models up to and including the SX30 IS anyway (I've yet to test the SX40 HS).

As mentioned above, the fastest continuous shooting has a limited buffer size, and while the image quality has improved, you'll still notice some noise across the sensitivity range. But again both are common across modern super-zooms, so they're not criticisms unique to the FZ150. So before wrapping-up, how does it compare to rival models?

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 / FZ48

     
 
 
     
Last year Panasonic split its Lumix FZ series into two models: the standard super-zoom and a premium version with extra features. This year it's continued with this strategy, so alongside the high-end Lumix FZ150 is the simpler and more affordable Lumix FZ47 / FZ48.

As with their predecessors, both cameras share the same 24x (25-600mm equivalent) optical zoom packed into roughly the same body and with the same sensor resolution. As before, the major advantages of the FZ150 over the cheaper model are superior video, faster continuous shooting, a fully-articulated screen, microphone / remote control input, and the presence of a flash hotshoe.

Since the FZ150 effectively builds upon the FZ47 / FZ48, most of the benefits I'll mention here are inevitably in its favour. The FZ150's best quality video shoots 1080p (at 28Mbit/s) compared to 1080i (at 17Mbit/s) on the FZ47 / FZ48. Both cameras feature 3in / 460k screens, but the FZ150's is fully articulated and easier to see in direct sunlight. Continuous shooting is much quicker on the FZ150, with up to 12fps at the full resolution compared to 2.3fps (as measured on the FZ47 / FZ48). The FZ150 also enjoys a wealth of other shooting speeds including a 220fps slow motion video option. The FZ150 additionally offers a flash hotshoe and microphone input over the simpler model.

A new benefit to the FZ150 over the FZ47 / FZ48 is support for RAW recording. Last year both the FZ40 / FZ45 and FZ100 supported RAW, but now it's been removed from the cheaper model to further differentiate them.

Both cameras share the same 12 Megapixel resolution, interestingly two Megapixels fewer than their predecessors. As before though, each camera employs different sensor technologies: CCD on the FZ47 / FZ48 and MOS on the FZ150. MOS sensors have the advantage of quicker readout, allowing the FZ150 to support 1080p video and quicker continuous shooting, while also avoiding vertical streaks in video. In my tests the still image quality was similar at lower ISOs, but the FZ150 took a small lead at the highest sensitivities. The FZ150 also supports full resolution images in its composite Handheld Night Shot mode.

So ultimately the FZ150 takes the FZ47 / FZ48 and adds 1080p video, an articulated screen, flash hotshoe, RAW recording, faster continuous shooting, mic / remote input, higher 3200 ISO sensitivity at the full resolution, and a new side-mounted zoom lever in addition to the main one at the top. All are desirable features for enthusiasts, but if you don't need them, the FZ47 / FZ48 gives you the same zoom in the same body with a very respectable 1080i video mode at a lower price. It's a clever two-pronged strategy which means Panasonic won't be beaten on price or features.

See my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 / FZ48 review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V

     
 
 
     
Sony's flagship super-zoom, the Cyber-shot HX100V, is a major rival for the Lumix FZ150, and in typical Sony style it doesn't pull any punches in the features department.

Interestingly both cameras share a lot in common, including CMOS sensors, articulated 3in screens, 1080p video and fast continuous shooting. You only have to scratch the surface though to see many key differences to weigh-up.

Looking at the shared features in more detail though, the Sony features a higher resolution of 16 Megapixels to the Panasonic's 12. In my tests the Sony captured fractionally more detail at 100 ISO, but the Panasonic enjoyed fractionally lower noise at higher sensitivities; to be honest though the difference isn't sufficient to sway you in either direction.

In terms of their screens, both are 3in, but the Sony enjoys the advantage of a more detailed 920k panel compared to 460k on the Panasonic. It certainly looks a little sharper, but I'd trade that for the fully-articulated mount of the FZ150 compared to the Sony screen which can only tilt vertically.

As far as video and continuous shooting are concerned, they're both very close. The FZ150 has the advantage of an external microphone input for its movies and full manual control over exposures, but if you're happy to use the built-in mics and auto exposures, it's essentially neck-in-neck. Similarly while the FZ150 is fractionally quicker in its continuous shooting, I wouldn't let it influence your decision as both full their buffers in one second at their top speeds.

The biggest physical difference between them is the zoom range, with the Sony HX100V boasting a longer 30x lens, and while its widest equivalent focal length of 27mm isn't quite as broad as the 25mm of the Panasonic, at the other end, the maximum 810mm telephoto comfortably out-reaches the 600mm on the FZ150. I additionally preferred the feel of the HX100V in my hands, although this is a personal choice.

Sony also wins on gadgetry: both cameras can generate 3D images, but the Sony additionally allows high resolution panoramas to be created with its innovative Sweep Panorama feature. The HX100V also boasts a built-in GPS to tag images with location details. Interestingly Panasonic has resisted the temptation to equip an FZ-series with GPS despite pioneering it in the TZ-series.

In the FZ150's favour are a flash hotshoe, a microphone input which doubles-up as a remote control / intervalometer socket, greater manual control in movies, fully articulated screen and the ability to record stills in RAW. The latter is a critical advantage to the FZ150 when it comes to making the most of the image quality, and in particular retrieving blown highlight detail.

While both cameras will delight anyone shopping for a super-zoom, the Lumix FZ150 will appeal more to demanding enthusiasts, while the Cyber-shot HX100V will tick the boxes of those who love gadgets and having a longer zoom range. The HX100V is certainly a highly compelling super-zoom camera and one you should certainly consider very carefully.

Check out our Sony Cyber-shot HX100V review for more details on one of the most feature-packed super-zoom cameras around right now.

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX40 HS

     
 
 
     

The other major rival for the Lumix FZ150 is of course Canon's PowerShot SX40 HS. Like the Sony HX100V, both cameras share a number of key features in common. Both employ 12 Megapixel CMOS sensors with 1080p video capabilities and fast continuous shooting, along with articulated screens and flash hotshoes. Once again though it's important to look more closely.

In terms of video, both cameras can shoot 1080p, although Panasonic has opted for 50p or 60p depending on region, while Canon has gone for 24p. Film makers always appreciate native 24p options, but the FZ150 has the advantage of shooting at faster frame rates, allowing slow motion playback in 24 or 25p projects. Sticking with slow motion, both cameras offer proper slow motion video modes at lower resolutions with 220 / 240fps at QVGA, but the Canon also adds a higher resolution VGA option, albeit at 120fps. That and the Movie Digest are nice extras for the SX40 HS, but overall the FZ150 is a more sophisticated camera for video. It boasts a microphone input for much improved sound quality (albeit lacking the manual levels option of the Canon), its miniature mode can be applied to 1080p video (the Canon can't go above 720p with this effect), it can keep recording long clips until you run out of memory (apart from European models which stop at 29:59), and in use, the continuous autofocus felt much more confident and responsive.

Both cameras feature fully articulated screens, but the FZ150 wins the panel specification with 3in / 460k vs 2.7in / 230k; Canon's really falling behind in this respect. Both cameras also feature quick continuous shooting, and while the top specs of 12fps for 12 frames on the FZ150 and eight frames at 10.3fps on the SX40 HS means both cameras will only be shooting for about one second, the FZ150 offers many additional speeds, including a useful 5.5fps mode with AF and much faster speeds at reduced resolutions.

The biggest advantage of the Canon SX40 HS over the FZ150 is its enormous 35x optical zoom range, which may be the same as the SX30 IS before it, but remains very impressive. It delivers an equivalent range of 24-840mm, essentially matching the FZ150 at the wide-end, but significantly out-reaching it in the telephoto stakes by over a third. This alone will swing the decision for those who want to get really close to distant action.

But in its favour, the FZ150 boasts RAW recording, manual control over movie exposures, and again the microphone input which doubles-up as a remote control / intervalometer socket, and bigger, more detailed screen mentioned earlier. The FZ150 also felt more responsive in use, particularly in terms of autofocus. In terms of image quality, there's essentially nothing between their in-camera JPEGs, although again the FZ150 has the edge with support for RAW if you're happy to process these later.

Like the comparison with the Sony above, the FZ150 will therefore appeal more to higher-end photographers and videographers, whereas the SX40 HS is more aimed at general photographers who love the idea of having one of the biggest zooms around.

For more details see my Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review.

 

Also consider Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR

     
 
 
     
Fujifilm's HS20 EXR is another powerful super-zoom aimed at enthusiasts, and is also one of the few to offer RAW recording. It's also the only one I can think of which employs a manually-operated zoom, which can be great for stills, although not so good if you want to smoothly zoom while filming. Finally, there's the HS20's clever EXR modes which reconfigure the sensor pixels to improve noise or dynamic range - albeit with a drop in resolution to 8 Megapixels.

See our Fujifilm HS20 EXR review for more details.

 

Panasonic Lumix FZ150 final verdict

The Panasonic Lumix FZ150 is one of the most satisfying all-round super-zoom cameras I've tested, and all it took was a sensor upgrade over the previous model. Last year's Lumix FZ100 was already packed to the hilt with features to delight enthusiasts, but the image quality was disappointing. Now by simply fitting a lower resolution sensor with better processing, the FZ150 finally shows us what this powerful chassis is capable of.

With the FZ150 you get a very usable 25-600mm lens range with great stabilisation, snappy autofocus and effective tracking. You get also get very fast continuous shooting and the choice of full manual or fuss-free automatic exposures, along with the ability to shoot in RAW, which really does record greater tonal detail than in-camera JPEGs. There's great quality 1080p video, complete with full manual control, a microphone input which works with third party mics (via an adapter) and doubles-up as a remote control / intervalometer socket, a selection of special effects and the ability to zoom or take stills while filming. Then there's the detailed 3in fully-articulated screen and flash hotshoe. To be fair, if you swapped 1080p for 1080i and lost the special effects, you'd pretty much have the earlier FZ100's feature-set, but again the crucial difference this time round is Panasonic has fixed the image quality to be as good as, and in some cases slightly better than its rivals.

What's not to like? Well those influenced by numbers may be drawn by the bigger zoom ranges of the competition, and also be tempted by the gadgetry of models like the Sony HX100V with its built-in GPS and undeniably impressive sweep panorama mode. But as the only super-zoom to feature the killer combination of RAW recording, a large and detailed fully articulated screen, microphone / remote input and flash hotshoe, the FZ150 ticks a lot of boxes for enthusiasts. For this reason it earns our Highly Recommended award and becomes our choice of super-zoom for enthusiasts.

 


Good points
Great quality 24x lens. Can zoom while filming.
Good quality images and RAW capabilities.
1080/50p/60p video with PASM and mic input.
Fully articulated screen and flash hotshoe.
Fast continuous shooting options and snappy AF.
Mic input doubles as remote / intervalometer socket.

Bad points
Buffer at 12fps only lasts for one second of action.
Lens range actually the shortest of peer group.
No built-in GPS and can't assemble its own panoramas.
Mic input is 2.5mm so requires adapter for third party mics.




Scores

(relative to 2011 super-zooms)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20

87%

   

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