Although it shares a similar aesthetic to many superzoom cameras currently on the market (like Canon's PowerShot SX1 IS and Nikon's Coolpix P90), Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ28 is a little on the conservative side. On the outside is a rather cheap feeling plastic, along with silver tipped buttons on the top and plain black on the rear.
At the top sits a pop-up flash, but much to our chagrin, a hotshoe is not included. At the back, nothing deviates from the configuration that was laid out on its predecessor the FZ18. There's a 2.7-inch LCD screen, and a curious joystick-like dial which twiddles on a rotating axis.
With 18x optical zoom, everyone will be happy to see you.
What does deviate from the standard is the general look, feel and build quality of the unit. It's not coated in the usual high-quality textured plastic we're used to: instead we are (treated or subjected, take your pick) to a lightweight, flimsy black casing that feels incredibly fragile. Buttons too seem to have taken a leaf out of the cheapskate book and, while responsive, seem as if they could break at any moment.
In terms of size, the FZ28 is almost identical to the Lumix G1. Indeed, it's difficult to tell the two apart looking at them from top down, with the notable exception of the FZ28 having no hotshoe. All the standard manual controls are available via the mode dial, and while the power switch is located within easy reach just next door, it is still a little fiddly to turn on and off given its position.
The camera is weighted nicely so the bulk of the lens is offset by the battery and the right-hand grip, providing a nice even feel for one-handed operation. That said it still is a lot lighter to handle than many of the other superzoom cameras we've tested, at 370 grams without a battery. As a result, it's nice and portable for travellers and those who don't want to carry around a large bulky camera, but we can't help feeling like it's a little fragile because of this lightness.
The main drawcard here is the 18x optical zoom lens. In the current climate, 18x might not seem like all that much, especially considering other cameras like the Nikon P90 reach 24x, and even last year 20x was seemingly standard on the Canon SX1 IS and SX10 IS. Also, unlike the other cameras, the FZ28 doesn't have that sought-after variable angle LCD screen.
Panasonic is banking on the rest of the specifications on the FZ28 to make its case for the superzoom throne. A 10.1-megapixel sensor and a 27mm wide-angle Leica lens, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 are the other major features here. RAW and JPEG shooting are standard as well, and HD video recording is available (on the FZ28 it's 720p like on a myriad of other Panasonic cameras). As this model is now a bit older in relation to the new Panasonic range, there is no support for AVCHD Lite, the new format which the company is touting from now on.
Unlike the SX1 and SX10, the FZ28 doesn't use AA batteries but a rechargeable Li-ion.
Performance and image quality
Overall, the FZ28's colour rendition was mostly accurate, without over-saturating, and provided a more naturalistic image than we had expected. Compared to Canon's SX10, we found the FZ28 delivered images with less punch to them, but they were closer to the actual scene. The Canon also over-saturated reds a lot more than the Panasonic.
When it came to noise, we found the FZ28 wasn't as competent as the SX10 or SX1, especially at ISO 800 and above. ISO 1600, as indicated by our noise chart below, was for the most part unusable even at reduced magnification.
Images up to ISO 800 were relatively noise-free. Click on image to enlarge. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
In terms of chromatic aberration, the FZ28 coped pretty well, with little to no visible fringing on our shots, which is a surprise given the wide-angle optics.
Thanks to its 27mm wide-angle lens, the FZ28 had no trouble capturing this man dressed as a flowery clown... We don't quite understand either.
(Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CBS Interactive)
Performance-wise, the electronic viewfinder was a real disappointment and proved to be no match for the LCD screen. It couldn't keep up with most scenes, especially if we moved the camera body a little too fast. It also washed out colours. Bear in mind that we are, naturally, comparing it to the more refined, higher resolution viewfinder to be found on the G1.
We did like how the lens unit itself was quiet when extending and retracting. Furthermore, achieving a comparable zoom rate on the G1 would involve a considerable investment in additional lenses (and perhaps more importantly, the lenses to achieve such a focal length aren't being manufactured by Panasonic just yet).
The pop-up flash coped reasonably well with illuminating scenes without over-blowing highlights or washing out subjects, however, we still would have liked to see the additional flexibility of an external hotshoe.
Unfortunately, the movie implementation wasn't as good as we had hoped, mostly due to the tiny microphone located next to the lens. Audio was muffled and distorted, and while the image quality was for the most part excellent, the FZ28 struggled to focus when we zoomed in and out of the scene during shooting.
The FZ28 produces some very nice images for a superzoom, thanks to its superior optics. There are a few problems — notably with build quality and noise over certain levels, but for the most part this is a competent camera that can sit up there with its competitors from Canon and Nikon, despite its slightly shorter zoom length.