Isn't it always the way when a manufacturer whets your appetite with one camera, they come blazing out of the blocks with a bigger, bolder and better camera to increase your drool-factor?
That's exactly what's happened with the FZ100, the successor to one of the best superzoom cameras we've seen here at CNET Australia, the FZ35. Characterised by its whopping 24x optical zoom lens (admittedly not the biggest on the market, but a step-up for Panasonic), the FZ100 takes all the best bits from its predecessor and adds pretty much every feature we could want in a camera of this class.
Design and features
The FZ100 definitely improves on the older camera in the looks department, with its smooth finish, slightly heavier feel and new buttons that borrow more from the G-series of Panasonic Lumix cameras than any of the superzooms. Indeed, the mode dial is almost a direct lift of that found on the G2.
So too is the 3-inch rotating, flip-out LCD screen that's packed with 460,000 dots. There's an electronic viewfinder up top as well.
The rear of the FZ100 shares a lot in common with the G-series cameras. (Credit: Panasonic)
For all the exterior developments, it's inside where some of the biggest changes have been made. There's a new 14.1-megapixel MOS sensor, like those used on the G-series. Without getting too technical, the new sensor has a micro-light tube structure that helps it pick up light more effectively. It is, however, the same physical size as the traditional CCD sensors usually put into these sorts of cameras.
On top is the addition of a hotshoe, a stereo microphone and a 2.5mm jack to allow an external microphone to be fitted to the camera. All very good things considering the FZ100 can now shoot in full 1080i HD video in AVCHD. Rather curiously, the FZ100 can only take its full 14-megapixel images when in intelligent auto mode — not in any of the other scene or manual exposure modes.
Different continuous shooting modes are accessible from the button at the top of the camera. These allow the FZ100 to shoot at 2 or 5 frames per second (12.5-megapixel resolution with single autofocus or continuous autofocus), 11fps (12.5-megapixel resolution with single autofocus), 40fps (4.5-megapixel resolution with single autofocus and electronic shutter) or 60fps (3-megapixel resolution with single autofocus and electronic shutter).
Lens specifications are a Leica-branded DC Vario-Elmarit lens, with an aperture range of f/2.8-5.2 depending on focal length. It's also equipped with Panasonic's Power OIS (optical image stabiliser) technology. On the side is HDMI and digital output for connecting to a TV or computer.
|Canon PowerShot SX30 IS||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100||Nikon Coolpix P100|
|14.1-megapixel CCD sensor||14.1-megapixel MOS sensor||10.3-megapixel CMOS sensor|
|2.7-inch, 230,000-dot articulating LCD||3-inch, 460,000-dot articulating LCD||3-inch, 460,000-dot fixed LCD|
|35x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||24x optical zoom, 25mm wide-angle||26x optical zoom, 26mm wide-angle|
|HD video (H.264, 720p, 30fps)||HD video (AVCHD, 1080i, 30fps)||HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash, hotshoe||Pop-up flash, hotshoe||Pop-up flash|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- Shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Panasonic Lumix FZ1002.30.80.4
- Canon PowerShot SX302.33.50.5
- Nikon P1001.81.40.4
- Olympus SP-590 UZ1.620.6
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic Lumix FZ1005
- Canon PowerShot SX301.2
- Nikon P10011.3
- Olympus SP-590 UZ1
While the FZ100 offers plenty of improvements on paper, everyone knows that it's the image quality that really makes or breaks a camera of this class. A similar superzoom, the Nikon Coolpix P100 faltered on this mark, so does the FZ100 come up to scratch?
Fortunately, for the most part it does. There are issues with higher ISO levels, indeed anything over ISO 400 shows a high level of digital artefacts. Colours though are very nice and punchy without being oversaturated in JPEG compression.
There's a fair amount of lens distortion at the wide end and naturally, given the focal length of the lens, if you are shooting at the full 24x extension handheld, then images aren't all that sharp. All the image stabilisation in the world can't make up for magnified shaky hands. Fringing is again an issue at full magnification, like it was on the FZ35, but that is to be expected from any superzoom camera.
Below is a comparison of RAW and JPEG processing. RAW images were taken on the FZ100 and converted to DNG files using Adobe DNG Converter.
Video quality is reasonably good in terms of colour reproduction and sound captured via the built-in microphone, but there is some obvious interlacing when watching moving subjects pan across the plane.
Panasonic has also provided a number of tools for in-camera editing, including video divide, extracting a still image from footage and full manual controls during filming. You can also use the full 24x optical zoom when recording.
Click each image below for JPEGs straight from the FT10. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/100, f/4.2, ISO 250, black-and-white filter
Exposure: 1/13, f/3.2, ISO 400, macro mode
Exposure: 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/50, f/3.2, ISO 400
It may be edging into the price range of beginner digital-SLR territory, but the FZ100 presents a good value-for-money proposition for photographers who don't need the ability to change lenses. As with all superzooms, image quality does degrade at ISO levels over 400 and video rendition is still not as good as a dedicated camcorder. Still, the do-it-all mentality of the FZ100 will suit plenty of photographers to a tee.