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Panasonic FZ100 Review

Reviewed by Greg Scoblete, Dave Etchells, Shawn Barnett and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 12/06/2010

The specs of the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 are impressive, with a newly developed Leica DC Vario-Elmarit-branded 24x optical zoom lens that covers a generous 25mm wide-angle to a powerful 600mm telephoto. However, we'll tell you right up front that despite great technological effort, the Panasonic FZ100 has a problem with sensor noise that muddies the picture, quite literally.

The Panasonic FZ100's lens has a maximum aperture that varies from f/2.8 to f/5.2 across the zoom range. Minimum aperture is f/8 in still mode, f/11 in movie mode. Behind the lens sits the FZ100's image sensor -- also a new development. With a 14.1-megapixel resolution, this 1/2.33-inch RGB MOS image sensor is designed to reduce image noise when compared to other MOS sensors at this size, according to Panasonic.

The Lumix FZ100 also includes the latest generation of Venus image processing technology, incorporating three processing cores, and bearing the name "Venus Full HD," a nod to its HDTV processing prowess.

The standout feature of the Lumix DMC-FZ100 is undoubtedly its speed. Full-resolution images can be captured at 11 frames per second in burst mode, using a mechanical shutter to prevent smearing of extreme highlights. Burst depth at this speed is some 15 images, for a little under 1.4 seconds per burst. Reducing the resolution to 3.5 megapixels allows the still image framerate to be boosted even further, to some 60 frames per second (for 16:9 aspect ratio -- the file size varies to as little as two megapixels in 1:1 mode for this frame rate). Almost as impressive as the burst speed is the FZ100's ability to shoot at five frames per second, while using continuous autofocus to track motion between frames.

As you'd expect for a long-zoom camera, the Panasonic FZ100 offers both an electronic viewfinder and an LCD display. The Panasonic FZ100's EVF is a 0.20-inch LCD type with 201,600 dots of resolution, and yields a 100% field of view. The FZ100 also includes an articulated tilt / swivel 3.0-inch LCD display with 460,000 dot resolution and 100% coverage. The Panasonic DMC-FZ100 has a 23-point autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. As with many digital cameras these days, there's also a face-detection function, with Panasonic's implementation using the information when determining both focus and exposure variables. In addition, the FZ100 can be programmed to recognize the faces of an unspecified number of specific individuals for labelling purposes. The Panasonic Lumix FZ100 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required.

ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 80 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this as far as ISO 6,400 equivalent in High Sensitivity Auto mode. Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds are possible, controlled automatically. The Panasonic DMC-FZ100 uses Intelligent Multiple metering, with Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes also on offer. There are nine white balance settings including Auto, two Manual modes, five fixed presets, and a color temperature option. A generous selection of 17 scene modes let users tailor the look of their images. For the creative types there are both manual and aperture- / shutter-priority modes on the Panasonic FZ100. A My Color mode allows the user to adjust color, brightness and saturation and preview the effect immediately on the camera's display, and there are also new Pin Hole, Film Grain, High Dynamic and High Dynamic B&W options.

The FZ100 also includes Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Exposure, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Selector, and Intelligent Resolution functions as seen on past models. As well as Raw and JPEG still images, the Panasonic FZ100 can capture movies with sound at up to high definition 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution. Movies at 720p or below can be recorded using either the older, less efficient QuickTime Motion JPEG compression. In addition, 720p mode allows AVCHD Lite compression for smaller file sizes. A high speed movie mode allows shooting at up to 220 frames per second in QVGA resolution.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer SDHC and SDXC types. There's also 40MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed, standard definition NTSC/PAL (NTSC only for North American models) video output, and high-def HDMI video output (although the cable for this is an optional extra). Power comes from a 7.2V, 895mAh proprietary lithium-ion battery, rated as good for 410 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 began shipping in late-August 2010, priced at US$500.

 

Panasonic FZ100 User Report

by Greg Scoblete, Dave Etchells, and Shawn Barnett

Panasonic's Lumix FZ100 sits at the top of the company's fixed lens ultra-zoom series and is aimed squarely at consumers who are attracted to digital SLRs, but who might not be interested in stocking up on accessory lenses. The Panasonic FZ100 packs a 14-megapixel MOS sensor, a whopping 24x optical zoom lens, an articulating 3-inch LCD display, and an extensive arsenal of Scene modes and photographic effects. As explained above, there's a lot of heavy-duty technology packed into the FZ100, and we were eager to find out if is as good as they say.

In addition to a robust menu of photo features, the Panasonic FZ100 delivers high definition video recording in the same AVCHD format found on higher-end consumer camcorders. This isn't the 720p "AVCHD Lite" variety found on lower-cost Panasonic compacts, but the full 1,920 x 1,080 resolution.

Look and Feel: The Panasonic FZ100 has far more in common, both aesthetically and ergonomically, with a digital SLR than your average compact camera. In practice, you'll get a camera that's not afraid to flaunt its prominent curves. The hefty 24x lens gives your left hand something to hold onto while the large ergonomic grip to the left of the lens barrel gives you a sturdy anchor. When the lens telescopes out, the Panasonic FZ100 looks a bit like a bazooka. It's imposing.

While some may balk at the large grip, I found it quite useful--it keeps the Panasonic FZ100 steady and gives you something to hang onto when you're not shooting if you don't want to go the neck-strap route. Needless to say, you'll probably want to use the included neck-strap or a camera bag for any extended tours of duty with the Panasonic FZ100. At 4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 inches and 1.2 pounds with memory card and battery, it's far too large and heavy for even a jacket pocket.

Nevertheless, the Panasonic FZ100 is quite comfortable to hold aloft for long stretches. In addition to the nice grip, there's a small thumb rest in the upper right corner of the camera which helps your grip should you want to shoot one-handed. The HDMI and AV Out/Digital ports, pictured at right, are covered with a soft rubber hatch. There's a separate mic/remote socket also covered with a rubber hatch.

Controls: As you'd expect with an enthusiast camera, the Panasonic FZ100 makes a lot of its functionality accessible via external controls. Moving from left to right atop the camera you'll find a mode dial which can be swung around the full 360 degrees, making it easy to access your desired mode (and every possible slot is filled, so there's no blank space to steer through). Next is a sliding on/off switch, a smaller control for entering into burst mode, a larger movie shutter marked off with a prominent red dot and a still photo shutter button inside a zoom lever. The burst mode and movie shutter buttons are bunched together fairly closely, but both are very responsive.

On the back of the FZ100, above the display, you'll find a control to pop open the flash, a button to toggle between the electronic viewfinder and LCD, an AF/AE lock button, and a scroll wheel with integrated button for making adjustments to camera settings like aperture and shutter speed. To the right of the LCD is a display control and playback button, beneath which is a four-way controller with a menu button sandwiched in the middle. Finally, situated at the bottom of the camera is a quick menu/trash button.

The controls to the right of the Panasonic FZ100's display are on the small side and bunched up fairly tightly, considering the overall size of the camera. You'll have to use the edge of your thumbnail to navigate through the four-way control. That said, it's not a clumsy arrangement by any means.

Finally, on the lens barrel you'll find a switch to move between manual focus, autofocus and autofocus-macro.

Lens: It's pretty clear that zoom length has joined, or possibly eclipsed, resolution as the latest claim to fame among camera manufacturers as they scramble to pack ever-larger focal lengths into their long-zoom cameras. Lucky us. The 24x optical zoom lens loaded onto the Panasonic FZ100 is a large beast, delivering the best of both worlds. With a focal length of 25mm-600mm (35mm equivalent) you've got a nice wide-angle lens to swallow up more of a scene when you're up close, plus the ability to get right on top of distant action. Armed with a 24x lens, there's no such thing as a bad seat at the soccer field.

The FZ100's lens design features three extra-low dispersion elements intended to minimize chromatic aberration at the telephoto end, and has a total of 14 elements in 10 groups, of which there are two aspherical lenses with three aspherical surfaces. The Lumix FZ100 includes Panasonic's POWER O.I.S. lens-based image stabilization system, that is said to offer double the stabilizing power compared to the earlier Mega O.I.S. system. The minimum focusing distance for the Panasonic DMC-FZ100 is ordinarily some 30 centimeters at wide-angle, or 200 centimeters at telephoto, but drops to just one centimeter at wide-angle, or 100 centimeters at telephoto, when switched to Macro mode.

As you travel out toward the end of the telephoto, the Panasonic FZ100 gets rather sensitive to camera shake, so Panasonic's "Power O.I.S." (optical image stabilization) is a must. It's available in three modes--auto, mode 1, and mode 2--for both still photos and video. You'll have to dig a bit through the menu to change your Power O.I.S. settings, as they're not immediately accessible (and not, unfortunately, available via the Quick Menu). Set to automatic, I noticed very little blur in my still photos even at maximum telephoto. It's bit less effective when shooting movies, however, and as the camera zooms out you'll have difficultly keeping your footage steady if you're just relying on your hands.

When you power up the camera, the lens can automatically "remember" where it was when you shut the camera off and reset itself accordingly. This can be disabled in the menu, which I did as I found that feature just a bit annoying. There's no automatic lens cap either, which is kind of a bummer. There is, however, a sturdy, bayonet-mount lens hood that keeps the lens safer and increases image contrast by reducing unwanted light coming into the lens from odd angles.

If you want to squeeze a little more magnification from the Lumix FZ100, there's a function Panasonic dubs "Intelligent Zoom" which extends the magnifying power by 1.3x - bringing you from 24x to 32x while maintaining a 14-megapixel image. iZoom uses the camera's Intelligent Resolution feature, which is a form of localized sharpening that separately considers outlines, texture and gradation in images. Panasonic says there is no noticeable degradation image quality with iZoom, but it's there if you look closely. Up to 4x conventional digital zoom is also available. Extended Optical Zoom, which just crops from the center of the sensor without interpolating, is also offered at lower resolutions. All types of zoom can be combined to give up to 269x, according to Panasonic.

Sensor and Processor. With a 14.1-megapixel resolution, this 1/2.33-inch RGB MOS image sensor is designed to reduce image noise, according to Panasonic. Analog-to-digital conversion is now integrated into the sensor itself, along the edge of the array -- the same technology used in one of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens models, the Lumix GH1. The pixel structure has minimized wiring area, and uses a new "Micro Light Tube" structure that increases transmission efficiency from the micro lens to the photo diode below, minimizing signal loss and crosstalk between adjacent red, green and blue pixels. Image results, unfortunately, show that though this effort might improve what a MOS sensor can do, it's not quite as good as a CCD can do at this resolution. We should note that few 14-megapixel CCDs of this size do very well either.

The Lumix FZ100 also includes the latest generation of Venus image processing technology, incorporating three processing cores, and bearing the name "Venus Full HD," a nod to its HDTV processing prowess. The increased power of the FZ100's Venus Full HD image engine enables more sophisticated image processing, which was intended to bear fruit in the form of better noise suppression, with less loss of underlying subject detail. With the Lumix FZ100's processor, Panasonic's engineers have enough computing horsepower at their disposal to look at luminance (brightness) noise and chrominance (color) noise both separately and together. They found that chroma or luminance variations that corresponded to legitimate subject detail tended to be correlated with each other. (That is, the color and tone changed simultaneously.) Pure noise showed little correlation. By looking for this correlation, they could destroy the noise without also killing important subject detail. See our analysis below for whether this all had an effect.

Modes. One could expound at considerable length on the variety of modes crammed into the Lumix FZ100. In addition to PASM choices, the Mode dial offers options for Intelligent Auto, a "My color" mode, Portrait, Landscape, Children, Macro, Night mode, Scene modes, a Custom setting and Movie mode.

Set to "iAuto" and the Panasonic FZ100 will do the thinking for you, matching up a Scene setting with the shooting environment. But if you want to exert greater influence over the look and feel of your photos, the Panasonic FZ100 contains a seemingly limitless capacity to experiment. Nearly every mode contains several sub-settings, allowing you to make finer-grain tweaks to the look of your images.

Take Portrait, a standard Scene mode. When you select it, the Panasonic FZ100 will offer you several sub-settings to choose from such as Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, and Creative, which lets you adjust how much of the background you want to blur by adjusting the aperture. In Landscape mode, you can choose Normal, Nature, Architecture, and Creative. I didn't notice a striking difference between many of these sub-settings (with the exception of the aperture adjustments) and they are a bit of a double-edged sword. They're nice to have, as they give you the ability to fine-tune a preset, but they can also overwhelm and confuse a user with the number of choices available.

If you want effects beyond blurred backgrounds, you can opt for several My Color modes, which include Silhouette, Pin Hole, Film Grain, Expressive, Retro, Pure, Elegant, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Dynamic Art, Dynamic Black and White, and a Custom setting. With the exception of the Custom setting, these are "set and forget" settings without the option to make any subtle changes. In the custom setting you can adjust the Saturation, Brightness, and whether to emphasize reds or blues in the photo along a sliding scale of intensity.


Standard vs. Dynamic Black & White: Dynamic adds a little more contrast to the image.

Adding to the list of photo effects, the Panasonic FZ100 also offers several Film modes, which can be accessed in the on-screen menu, not the Mode dial. These modes include Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Vibrant, Nostalgic, Standard Black and White, Dynamic Black and White, and Smooth Black and White. Like Portrait and Nature, each Film mode can be further tweaked based on a series of sub-settings to get you closer to the look you want. For each Film mode you can make adjustments to the Contrast, Sharpness, the Color (where applicable) and the amount of noise reduction applied to the image. Adjustments are made quite simply using the four-way controller. The camera remembers the settings when you leave the mode or shut the camera off, which is helpful.

There are also two My Film slots where you can create your own customized preferences using the same set of options. There's a Multi-film option, which allows you to choose three Film modes and have the Panasonic FZ100 shoot a photo using each in rapid succession, much like a bracketing mode. Very cool. The film modes really do deliver some neat looking effects and the ability to further tweak them provides for plenty of experimentation.

Frames. One of three frame choices available on the Panasonic FZ100.

In addition to Film and Color modes, the Panasonic FZ100 has 17 additional Scene modes tucked away in the menu. These include options like Panorama assist, Starry sky, Fireworks, Snow, and Photo frame. This last one encloses a 3-megapixel image inside one of three frames (given the numerous options available in other modes, having only three frames to choose from seems a bit stingy).

HD Video Recording: The Panasonic FZ100 boasts 1,920 x 1,080i video recording in the AVCHD format. This is the full AVCHD format--not the 720p "Lite" version that Panasonic had rolled out in some of its lower-end point-and-shoots. There is also an AVCHD 720p mode and a motion JPEG recording option as well. AVCHD videos are sharper in quality and don't gobble up as much memory card space as Motion JPEG files (H.264 format), but working with AVCHD files can grind down a slow computer. If you're due for a computer upgrade, preferably something with two or more cores, you may want to stick to Motion JPEGs; otherwise, AVCHD is the way to go.

HD video. 1920x1080i AVCHD format. (Click to download 43.9MB MTS file.)

You can jump into movie recording at any moment by using the dedicated Movie button atop the camera, a very nice convenience. If you want to tweak your Movie mode settings, you can set the Panasonic FZ100 into Movie mode using the Mode dial.

There's plenty to like about the Panasonic FZ100's video recording capabilities, especially because many of the same creative options and ability to make subtle changes to your images are carried over into the camera's Movie mode. You can access PASM modes in video, in addition to the same series of film modes that you'd find in still shooting mode (and with the same ability to adjust sub-settings). You can use the long zoom lens while you shoot and it's relatively quiet, although on some occasions, when I took my finger off the zoom lever quickly, I could hear it snap back into place on the video's audio track. Zoom range is 31-735mm equivalent when shooting movies.

Fast frame rate video. The Panasonic FZ100's 220fps mode does a nice job slowing down the action if you're willing to live with QVGA resolution videos. (Click to download 6.5MB MOV file.)

You'll find a large stereo microphone on the top of the pop-up flash, which captures crisp audio. There's a microphone input too if you want to add accessory mics. The camera uses Panasonic's zoom mic capability, which is normally found on the company's camcorder lineup, that focuses audio recording toward the center of the video as you begin to zoom to telephoto. There's also a wind-cut feature to reduce wind noise, which is fairly effective considering that the mics, positioned on the top of the flash, are well exposed to the roar of the wind.

There's a Slow motion/Fast frame rate Movie option available too, which records at 220fps at QVGA resolution. The quality isn't spectacular (no slow-mo modes are yet) but these are still very useful for select settings, like sports. Somewhat strangely, the High-speed movie option isn't available to you when you're in Movie mode, but it is one of the choices in the Panasonic FZ100's Scene menu.

Menu: Given the multitude of features and settings available up front, you wouldn't think there'd be much left for the in-camera menu. You'd be wrong. There are multiple tabs and often up to five pages worth of settings to scroll through to find what you need. Still, the Panasonic menu is well organized and you can make your way by scrolling down through the settings fairly quickly. If you hit the shutter, you'll jump directly back into Record mode. If you want to re-enter the menu, the Panasonic FZ100 will remember the last page you were on and bring you back to it, which is quite convenient.

The Menu is divided into three tabs: Record settings, Motion Picture settings, and Setup. If you're shooting in iAuto, the Menu will be greatly simplified, allowing you to access just a few settings, such as Picture size and Face recognition.

If you want faster access to select camera settings, the camera's "Quick menu" button will bring up a short menu bar atop the display for adjusting your Film mode, Flash mode, Metering, AF mode, White balance, Aspect ratio, Image resolution, and LCD controls. This Menu also gets shorter when you're in iAuto mode.

Playback: Given the nearly limitless options you'll find when shooting, it was somewhat surprising (though not unwelcome) to find a pretty minimalist set of Playback options. You'll find a Slide show mode with the ability to designate photo or video-only or category playback, which lets you play photos captured in specific photo modes, such as portraits. You can add titles to photos, cut video clips, and resize images into 3-megapixel or 0.3 megapixel-sized files for easier posting on the Web. You can also crop photos in-camera. All-in-all a respectable suite of Playback options, though by no means as extensive as what you'll find on other cameras.

Storage and Battery: With only 40MB of internal memory, an additional SDHC card is a must for the Lumix FZ100. The camera also accepts higher-speed, higher-capacity SDXC cards.

The camera draws power from a lithium-ion battery that's rated for a very respectable 410 photos. Both the battery and memory card are housed in a sturdy compartment below the hand-grip.

 

Shooting with the Panasonic FZ100

The Panasonic FZ100 was summoned to the pre-Halloween and Halloween festivities and proved to be a delight--not a fright. I found very little to quibble with as far as iAuto snapshots were concerned; they appeared well balanced, although there was some barrel distortion visible in some shots.

Pop-up? Set to iAuto, the Panasonic FZ100 does the thinking for you, but it won't automatically pop open the flash if you need some fill light.

It's hard to keep the camera in iAuto for very long, given the number of modes available to you. In many cases, the camera will display a preview of the effect on the 3-inch display so you can get a sense of how the effect will look before you snap the photo. When it comes to make smaller adjustments in the sub-menus, the camera really doesn't display the impact of those adjustments on the display. You'll have to rely on your monitor after the fact to analyze the differences.

The display itself is very bright and visible even in harsh sunlight. Set to automatic power and it will regulate its brightness rather effectively, though I often opted to set it at its maximum power outdoors. The articulating LCD is very handy for shooting from odd angles, making the Panasonic FZ100 even more versatile. It was great for getting more personal shots of kids without having to kneel down.

I didn't use the EVF much to frame shots, although the 0.2-inch viewfinder does provide an almost 100 percent view, according to Panasonic (and our tests agree).

11 fps. There's no question that the Panasonic FZ100 is fast, capable of capturing this rather ineffective swing.

One aspect of the Panasonic FZ100 that's immediately apparent during shooting is its speed. Ultra-zooms are often the tortoises in the digital camera world, but the Panasonic FZ100 is quite speedy. It springs to life quickly, ready to shoot, and there's very little shutter lag, taking 0.34 second at wide-angle, and 0.29 second at telephoto to autofocus and capture an image. That's pretty impressive in its own right, but the Panasonic FZ100 delivers even speedier performance in burst mode. Drive mode is tough to find, because it's not in the Menu; instead it's accessed via a button on the top deck, between the Power switch and the Movie record button. You'll have the option to fire off 11 full-resolution frames in a one second burst. Panasonic credits its Venus Engine processor for the performance, but whatever the cause, sideline shooters will definitely appreciate the camera's blazing burst.

Flash underexposed. Trying to prevent detail loss indoors, I employed the flash, which never captured a well-exposed image.

The FZ100 has a pop-up flash, but it's not automatic. Even if the camera feels it needs the flash, it's up to you to activate it. In practice, this can lead to a few blurry shots indoors. (There is a hot-shoe atop the camera for adding extra flashes too.) All of our laboratory flash tests turned out good, but out in the field, they were pretty well all underexposed by quite a bit, as seen at right.


Overprocessed fur. I was sure I had a great shot of these Golden Lion Tamarins, but it was not to be. Their lovely fur was a golden blur, with a digital pattern added in. Granted, the camera raised the ISO to 400, but I still expected better. The second image is a 100% crop from the beard of the right Tamarin.

While the Panasonic FZ100 has a lot to recommend it, it has a flaw shared by many digital cameras this season: its 14-megapixel (15.1 megapixels total) sensor. Even if the ISO is kept to 100, detail in images is mushed out in favor of impressionistic renderings, which wreaks havoc on the detail in hair, fur, and even on skin, especially if shadow is at all a factor in the image, but even when it is not.

Our senior editor, Shawn Barnett, took the Panasonic FZ100 to the zoo recently, and really enjoyed shooting with the camera, frequently giving the kids a closer look at some of the animals thanks to the extreme zoom on the camera. When he got the images home, however, he was really disappointed in the real-world results. His last trip to the zoo was with the Fujifilm HS10, and while it struggled with the hair on the various animals, it was nothing like the struggle the FZ100 had. Resulting images, many of them captured at ISO 100, are only usable at about 5x7 inches, because the fur is so extremely blurry. All shadow areas are an unreal mush, as well. All flash shots are also badly underexposed, a disappointing result, especially considering how well the camera did in the lab.

To better illustrate what we should expect from a high-resolution digital camera like the FZ100, I've compared our laboratory indoor shots, using the 18x, 12-megapixel Panasonic FZ35 from last year as an example. I would not have called this image perfect, but it really stands out as better compared to the FZ100's ISO 100 image.

ISO 100: The top image is a 100% crop from the Panasonic FZ35, a 12-megapixel camera. The bottom image is from the Panasonic FZ100, a 14-megapixel camera. This validates the bad results we got at the zoo. Despite all the interesting technology in the FZ100's sensor, it can't compete with the 12-megapixel sensors of 2009, even from Panasonic itself.


RAW at ISO 100. This image shows clearly why there's blur in nearly all of the FZ100's images. (ACR, no noise reduction, USM=250% with radius 0.5 pixels.)

Summary. Panasonic took a chance with its very popular long zoom line by replacing the relatively good quality CCD that appeared in the FZ35 with a new CMOS technology for better speed and full HD video. While it will probably suffice for most shooters who only view their images onscreen or on small prints, the enthusiast photographer who enjoyed the FZ-series for its good still image quality will be disappointed. Hair--an excellent indicator of sharpness--will pretty universally be soft or completely mushy from the Panasonic FZ100, even at ISO 100. Though it's harder to tell with the relatively noisy sensor as the only way of looking at the FZ100's optical quality, it appears that the optical quality of the Panasonic FZ100 is nonetheless pretty impressive. Those who don't enlarge much and those who just want to get a closer view for stills and video will probably be happy with the FZ100; RAW shooters should try some of our RAW sample images through their favorite RAW processing software before buying, as there's a lot of noise in those files too. See the sample at right. This is an ISO 100 image translated from RAW via Adobe Camera Raw with no noise reduction. It's clear why even ISO 100 images suffer from noticeable signs of noise suppression, and why fur and hair is so badly blurred. It's great that you can adjust noise reduction for JPEGs, something many of the FZ100's competitors can't do, but the noise is bad enough that hair and fur still get too blurry.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Soft in lower right

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's zoom shows minor blurring in most corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, with the strongest instance in the upper left corner (though this did not extend far into the main image area). At full telephoto, all four corners are just slightly soft, while the center is fairly sharp. Very good results overall, however there are noticeable artifacts (halos) visible from aggressive sharpening.


JPEG
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: A suggestion of pincushion distortion, though not really visible
Uncorrected RAW
Wide: Strong barrel distortion
Tele: Slight pincushion distortion

Geometric Distortion: JPEGs have very little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.3%), and almost no perceptible distortion (<0.1% pincushion) at telephoto. Excellent results.

Not surprisingly, uncorrected RAW files show much high amounts of geometric distortion at wide-angle. We measured 1.8% barrel distortion at wide-angle, though pincushion at telephoto was about the same as the JPEG. RAW converters that fully support the FZ100 should correct for this distortion automatically. (Adobe Camera RAW and SilkyPix do.)


JPEG
Uncorrected RAW
Wide:
Moderately high
Tele:
Moderate
Wide:
High and bright
Tele:
High and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderately high in terms of pixel count, though pixels are a little bright. Telephoto, however, shows fewer pixels, with moderately bright red coloration.

As expected, uncorrected RAW files have higher amounts of CA, so the camera is doing a pretty good job of removing much of the fringing in JPEG files.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's Macro mode captures a slightly soft image, though with good detail in the central portion of the frame. The left edge of the frame is greatly overexposed, and chromatic aberration is quite strong in the details of the dollar bill, as well as on the coin in the lower right. Minimum coverage area is 1.51 x 1.13 inches (38 x 29mm), which is quite good. Flash performance is surprisingly good here, and actually better than the standard exposure with external lighting, even if the overall exposure is a little bright.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: EVF
18x Tele: EVF
Wide: LCD Monitor
18x Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's electronic viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor both showed about 99% coverage at wide-angle and just over 100% coverage at 18x telephoto. Very good results.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Image Quality


Color: Overall color looks pretty good, with good saturation on strong reds, blues and greens (though bright yellows are subdued). Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow, orange and cyan. Dark skintones are close, with a small nudge toward orange, while lighter skin tones show a stronger shift toward pink. Still, good results overall.


Auto WB:
Noticeable red/pink tint.
Incandescent WB:
Much too warm.
 
Manual WB:
Very good.

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, though white values do show a slightly stronger blue content. Still, overall color is most pleasing with the Manual setting. Auto produced reddish results, while Incandescent mode resulted in a very strong warm cast.


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,350 lines per picture height. Converted RAW files contained a bit more detail, but were so noisy that most of the gains were wiped out by luminance noise.


Wide: Good
Tele: Fair, but slightly dim
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows fairly bright results at the specified distance of 10.8 feet at ISO 100. The telephoto test also came out a bit dim at its distance of 5.9 feet, ISO 100.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, though the faster shutter speed of 1/60 second (ISO 320) doesn't capture any ambient light. Because the flash exposure is so bright and the shutter speed fairly quick, you won't need to worry about blurring from camera or subject movement, though the loss of ambient light does affect the mood of the image.


100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is already somewhat soft at ISO 100 and 200 with stronger blurring at 400. Details continue to soften from there, as images at ISO 800 and 1,600 appear quite blurry. Chroma (color) noise isn't overly strong, and luminance noise only moderately increases. The real trouble is from noise suppression efforts, which wind up practically eradicating fine details. See Printed results below for more on how this will affect your prints.


Printed: ISO 100 printed results are usable at 13 x 19, though fine detail is a bit soft. Prints look much better at 11 x 14.

ISO 200 shots are good at 8 x 10, again with minor softening in some areas.

ISO 400 prints are good at 5 x 7, but have too much noise in the 8 x 10 to be called good there.

ISO 800 images look good at 4 x 6, but with some noticeable loss in color fidelity.

ISO 1,600 prints are not usable.

Printing my images from the zoo was very disappointing. None of them were good enough for printing at above 8 x 10. Those I liked at 8 x 10 were still soft after fairly aggressive sharpening. The Golden Lion Tamarins are really only acceptable printed at 4 x 6. Overall results are disappointing from a $500 camera. If all you print are 4 x 6 images, and you never crop, you'll never notice the low resolution, but most enthusiasts will notice.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Performance


Startup Time: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 takes about 1.7 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's about average for its class.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.34 second at wide-angle and 0.29 second at telephoto. Enabling the flash increases lag to 0.55 second, which is still pretty good. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.017 second, which is quite zippy.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is also very good, capturing a large/fine JPEG frame every 0.98 seconds in single-shot mode, with no apparent buffer limit and only 2 seconds to clear after 20 frames. Single-shot cycle times for RAW + L/F JPEG frames are also quite good, at 0.99 seconds for 13 frames, though buffer clearing is slow at 34 seconds. The FZ100's continuous mode speed is outstanding, able to capture 15 L/F JPEGs at 11.2 frames per second with 10 seconds to clear. RAW + L/F JPEG performance is similar at 11 frames per second for 11 frames, but takes 41 seconds to clear with our fast 30MB/s card. (Note that increasing ISO to 200 slows down the frame rate to about 4.9 frames per second.)


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's flash recycles in about 5.7 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's download speeds are quick. We measured 6,722 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Panasonic FZ100 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Really fun to use
  • Wide-angle, 24x optical zoom lens
  • Effective optical image stabilization
  • Good lens quality for the focal length range
  • Loads of scene, color and film modes
  • Full HD AVCHD video recording
  • Ability to zoom while recording videos
  • Ability to make adjustments to video while recording
  • Stereo microphone
  • Adjustable noise reduction
  • RAW mode (but see Con about noise)
  • 11fps full resolution burst mode, even when shooting RAW
  • Up to 60fps at ~3 megapixels
  • Fast start-up
  • Fast autofocus
  • Comfortable hand grip
  • Dedicated Movie button
  • Playback button (instead of switch)
  • Swing-out LCD monitor
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • Flash hot-shoe
  • External mic/remote jack
  • No automatic lens cover
  • Pop-up flash not automatic
  • Flash underexposes in field use
  • Multitude of options might confuse novice users
  • Fairly limited Playback options
  • Chromatic aberration is moderate in JPEGs at wide-angle
  • Overaggressive default noise suppression hurts detail even at ISO 100; hair becomes a digitized mush
  • Poor shadow detail
  • Noisy pixels on borders to color zones, giving a pointillist texture
  • RAW files very noisy
  • Uncorrected RAW files have lots of chromatic aberration and geometric distortion at wide-angle is strong (typical of long zooms, though)
  • Burst mode slows to 4.9fps at ISO 200
  • Auto white balance is unreliable
  • Smaller maximum print sizes than earlier FZ35
  • Premium price tag

 

On specs alone, the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 would make any enthusiast enthusiastic about its multitude of features and speed. Its enormous 24x optical zoom can bring you super-close to distant action while an "intelligent zoom" can extend the zoom's capability out to 32x with just a little degradation in photo quality. A lens of this size means a camera that's larger-in-size than your average point-and-shoot, but its comfortable grip and ergonomics make it comfortable to hold, despite its heft. Sadly, we didn't feel that the sensor inside the Panasonic FZ100 lived up to the fine lens in front of it, as images were softer than those from the earlier FZ35, despite that model's lower resolution, and images were a little soft, even at ISO 100. It had particular difficulty with hair and fur (a trip to the zoo was disappointing), and print sizes at high ISOs were at least a full size lower than those we found for the FZ35. Dialing down the noise reduction helps, but then the noise itself becomes more evident, leading to the problems with hair and fur mentioned above. Higher-contrast subjects do better (think landscape or architectural shots), and the FZ100 does offer HD video, but personally, we'd happily give up the HD capability to get back to the still-image quality offered by the FZ35 or some other long zooms.

The Panasonic FZ100 is a camera that you could spend hours exploring and still not have delved into every aspect. In addition to traditional settings, the camera packs dozens of Scene, Color and Film modes to give you some intriguing images. Almost every setting provides the option to make further tweaks to completely customize the effect. The camera makes these settings as simple as possible to manipulate, thanks to a straightforward menu system. That said, novices (and even some more advanced users) might still become overwhelmed or even confused by the blizzard of options the Panasonic FZ100 offers. While casual users may appreciate its numerous functions, if you're just looking for snapshots, a more basic long-zoom might be more to your liking.

We'd like to reiterate that using the Panasonic FZ100 is tremendous fun, and if you're not printing larger than 8 x 10 inches, you'll probably be happy. If you print larger or crop heavily at low ISOs, or need usable shots at ISO 1,600, this may not be the camera for you. It's so much fun to use, we really wanted to rate the FZ100 more highly, but in the end, this may be the first Panasonic long zoom to not earn a Dave's Pick.