Panasonic FZ150 Review
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 11/15/2011
If there's still an argument to be made for the small sensor digicam, the most compelling would have to be the one made by the megazoom models.
Thanks to the relatively small size of the sensor itself, you can enjoy the most versatile lenses ever crafted. From a true wide angle that embraces a small room to an impossible-to-keep-steady zoom with a macro that makes small things visible, the megazoom delivers in one lens what no other camera can.
The drawback to this magic, however, is also the sensor size. Packing a lot of photo sites onto such a tiny imager means that the more sensitive ISO settings will deliver too many "false positives" per pixel, generating what we call Noise.
Compounding the problem is that image processors have become as cocky as an adolescent with car keys, smoothing out that noise at the expense of detail. Last year's FZ100, Panasonic's flagship megazoom, failed to earn a Dave's Pick for just that reason.
So how did Panasonic do with this year's top-of-the line FZ150?
Look and Feel. First of all, let's applaud the company for sticking to a well-conceived design that is also solidly built. The Panasonic FZ150 body is nearly identical to the FZ100 with only some silkscreening omitted, a larger stereo microphone grill, and a new side lever on the outside of the lens barrel which can be set to focus or zoom so you can put your left hand to use. Small refinements.
Photos make the FZ150 look larger than it really is. It's really not wider than an outstretched hand. But it molds into that compact form a very comfortable dSLR-like design with a real grip you can get your fingers around and plenty of room for all the glass in the lens.
In fact, I find the Panasonic FZ150 (and its competitors) small enough that I can stick with a wrist strap rather than resort to the included shoulder strap. That gives the advantage of letting me drop the camera in a small bag if I want to bring some accessories (like my credit card collection), or a holster if I'm talking a walk around the neighborhood.
But it's also a camera you want at the ready. I found the Panasonic FZ150 easy to hang the grip from my index finger as I walked around (with that wrist strap for insurance). And the weight of the camera wasn't taxing even when walking around like that for hours. Some megazooms (like the Canon SX40 HS) are heavy enough that you feel it after a while. Not the Panasonic FZ150.
It was also easy to find the Power switch, and quick to zoom to the best composition before snapping the shutter. Autofocus was very quick, too.
Almost all the Panasonic FZ150's controls are accessible with your right hand. The top panel has the Mode dial next to the popup flash, the Power switch sits near the back edge with the Release mode button in front of it and the Movie Record button in front of that and the Shutter button itself on the front edge of the grip. I really prefer the Movie Record button on top of the grip instead of on the back of the camera. It's easier to avoid camera shake.
The back panel controls run in a row above the LCD, starting with the flash popup button on the left of the Panasonic FZ150's EVF (which has a dioptric adjustment on its left side) and continuing with the EVF/LCD toggle button, the AF/AE Lock button and a very handy subdial stolen from more expensive dSLRs.
To the right of the LCD are the usual culprits, including the navigator and a few buttons to save you from jumping into the menu system. I discuss them in detail below.
There is a metal tripod socket on the bottom of the camera but it's right next to the battery/memory card compartment door hinge, making it harder to change batteries and cards with the camera on a tripod. Fortunately, the hot shoe on top is right where it should be, with four electrical contacts, too, allowing the use of a dedicated external flash (Panasonic DMW-FL220, FL360, FL500). You can also attach a stereo microphone (Panasonic DMW-MS1) to the Lumix FZ150's hot shoe, which connects via a cord to the Mic/Remote jack on the left of the camera.
Another distinction the megazoom features compared to its smaller siblings is an electronic viewfinder. The lens extends too far for an optical viewfinder to be practical, but it's an increasingly rare blessing to have a viewfinder at all. Whether in bright sun or just for privacy, the Panasonic FZ150's EVF was my preferred method of shooting.
But there were at least a couple of occasions where I was very happy to have the articulating LCD. One was in taking a portrait of a turtle sprinting over some sand. The cage was made of plexiglass and I was able to hoist the camera over the top of the scratched and milky barrier to get a clean shot only because I could manipulate the Panasonic FZ150's LCD into a comfortable viewing position.
And, I'm happy to report, I did not have an issue with the lens hood (as I did with the FZ47). It's a bit of a snug fit but I didn't feel as if I was about to break something to get it to snap on.
Don't use it with the flash, though. It gets in the way.
The Panasonic FZ150's hood reverses for storage. It's a little awkward until you get the hang of it. You can't mount it the same way you do when it's facing forward, which requires a 90 degree starting point, because the two longer petals are way too long. Instead, you have to start at about five degrees, with one of the petals up against the flash housing, press firmly back, and twist it to the right. It locks very firmly. So firmly that unlocking it is difficult. After that, the reversed lens hood still travels with the lens when you power it on and zoom. It also cramps the available space between the lens and grip, such that turning the camera off can pinch your fingers against the grip. It's probably best to either commit to having it on, or leave it in the bag.
Controls. There are certainly more buttons on a megazoom than a compact digicam but there isn't a button for everything. It isn't quite a happy medium, either. You will spend plenty of time in the menu system between shots.
Two things make using the Panasonic FZ150 a more pleasant experience than usual. The first is Panasonic's Quick Menu button that pops up a toolbar on the top of the LCD with the options you're most likely to fiddle with between shots. That varies in each mode but it's nice to have just one place to go when you want to set something on the FZ150.
The other control that helps is the subdial near the thumb rest on the back panel. It's a great way to slide from one extreme to the other and pushing it in will actually activate the setting.
Another standing ovation for the Panasonic FZ150's Power switch, too. Having a switch instead of a button (and a tiny recessed button at that) is a real help. It makes it easy to turn the camera on or off without hunting for and pressing a power button and wondering if you've activated it.
The Shutter button on the tip of the grip is another favorite design. It's large, for one thing. And it's surrounded by the Zoom lever, which has a prominent grip protruding from the front. The Panasonic FZ150's Zoom lever operates precisely and at two speeds, which is particularly useful for recording video.
Behind it only slightly is the Panasonic FZ150's Movie Record button, which makes it nearly the same move to start and stop a movie as to capture a still. With Movie buttons on the back panel I'm always pushing the camera forward to start and stop recording -- and I always have to take my eye off the scene to do it. So I like this arrangement a lot better.
Behind the Movie Record button is the Release mode button which lets you select a Burst shooting option (Off, 2 fps, 5.5 fps, 12 fps, 40 fps, or 60 fps) at various image sizes. The Panasonic FZ150 can capture 12 fps at full resolution (our lab captured 11.96 fps, so it's pretty much on target). The 40 and 60 fps modes capture at reduced resolution (up to 5 megapixels and 3.5 megapixels respectively, depending on the aspect ratio).
The Mode dial is packed with options. Fourteen of them, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual. There's also an Intelligent Auto and a Custom option that can store three setups. A Movie mode and Scene mode join the list as well as a Creative mode and several more popular Scene options, all detailed below in the Modes section.
Playback is a tiny button just above the navigator and it does not power the camera on or off, simplifying things. You have a switch for that, after all.
Just to the left of it is the Display button that cycles through the various display options in both Record and Playback modes.
And below the navigator is the Q.Menu button to bring up the Quick Menu. In Playback mode it's the Delete button.
The navigator itself should look familiar. A Menu/OK button takes you to the main menu system or confirms choices. The Panasonic FZ150's arrow buttons have two jobs. The Up button handles EV, Right is in charge of ISO, Down is a Function button to which you can assign a menu (among Photo Style, Aspect Ratio, Quality, Metering mode, White Balance, I. Dynamic, Guide Lines, Rec Area, Remaining Disp.). And Left is the self-timer.
As one of the three critical exposure parameters, it's great to see ISO on a button. It's also nice to see an ISO Limit in the Main menu, so you have more than just manual control of this critical factor.
Lens. Like the Z100 and this year's Z47, the Panasonic FZ150 features a 24x optical zoom with a focal length of 25-600mm (35mm equivalent) and Panasonic's Power O.I.S. lens-based image stabilization system. On the Panasonic FZ150, Power O.I.S. operates in Active mode to stabilize video while walking, for example.
The lens design features three extra-low dispersion elements 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.
Panasonic adds, "With the newly applied Nano Surface Coating technology, light reflection is dramatically minimized at entire visual light range (380nm-780nm) by applying the extra-low refractive index coating with nano-sized structure on the surface of the lens. It results in the super clear picture with dramatic reduction of ghost and flare."
Digital zoom options include a conventional 4x option (96x total) as well as Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom (32x total) with less image degradation using Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution, and Panasonic's Extra Optical Zoom (29.4x with 4:3 at 8 megapixel), 37.5x at 4:3 with 5 megapixel, 46.9x at 4:3 under 3 megapixel).
Maximum aperture is f/2.8 at wide-angle and f/5.2 at telephoto. In wide-angle the Multistage Iris Diaphragm ranges from f/2.8 to f/8.0 and in telephoto from f/5.2 to f/8.0. So you do have something to play with in Aperture Priority mode.
Sensor & Image Processor. The Panasonic FZ150 captures light on a 12-megapixel MOS sensor and processes the capture with a quad-core Venus Engine image processor. The combination enhances both sensitivity and speed with a Signal-to-Noise ratio improvement of 3.9dB (ISO 100) to 4.7dB (ISO 1,600) compared to the FZ100.
According to Panasonic, a new Multi-process Noise Reduction filter tailors noise reduction to the brightness of each part of the image. High frequency noise in the shadows and low frequency noise in the highlights are both suppressed improving images shot in low light.
The multitasking Venus Engine's quad-circuit system can process large amounts of progressive full HD data at high speed. That makes not only smooth 1,920 x 1,080 60p full-HD video recording, but also a burst still capture at 12 fps (without auto focusing) and 5.5 fps (with auto focusing) at full resolution.
The image processor also makes it possible to record high speed video at 220 fps in QVGA. And it's responsible for the Panasonic FZ150's quick response time. Autofocus is about 50 percent faster speed than on the DMC-FZ100. Autofocus Tracking also becomes faster thanks to the improved tracking performance which doubles its sampling frequency.
Modes. There are 14 options on the Panasonic FZ150's Mode dial, and that's not the whole story. Which can be a little confusing if you're looking for something (like Handheld Night Shot).
PROGRAM. In Program mode, you can change exposure using the EV Compensation button.
APERTURE PRIORITY. To select an aperture, set the Mode dial to A and rotate the rear dial. Options vary depending on focal length between f/2.8 and f/8.0.
SHUTTER PRIORITY. To select a shutter speed, set the Mode dial to S and rotate the rear dial. Shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second are available.
MANUAL. To set both the aperture and shutter speed, set the Mode dial to M and rotate the rear dial. Press the rear dial to toggle between aperture and shutter speed. An exposure scale indicates the approximate over or under exposure. The values turn red when they are too low as well.
Apertures vary depending on focal length between f/2.8 and f/8.0. Shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second are available.
INTELLIGENT AUTO. Set the Model dial to the red iA camera icon and press the Shutter button halfway down to prompt the camera to identify the scene and set the camera appropriately.
The Panasonic FZ150 can detect Portrait, Macro, Night Scenery, Scenery, Night Portrait, and Sunset still scenes. In video mode, it can detect Portrait, Scenery, Low Light, and Macro.
CREATIVE CONTROL. Set the Mode dial to the palette icon and use the Up and Down arrows to select a style for either still or video recording:
- Expressive is a "pop art style" emphasizing color
- Retro captures a soft image "that gives the appearance of a tarnished photograph"
- High Key brightens the image
- Sepia captures a monochrome image with a sepia tone
- High Dynamic adjusts dark areas and bright areas "to appropriate brightness, together with enhancements on colors"
- Pin Hole underexposes with soft focus
- Film Grain simulates a grainy texture
- Miniature Effect defocuses the surroundings to make the image look like a diorama
SCENE. The standard set of Scene modes includes Panorama Assist, Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Flash Burst, Panning, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Photo Frame, High-Speed Video, and 3D Photo.
The two Baby settings allow you to set a name and birthday for two different infants, which can then appear during playback or stamped on the recorded image using the Text Stamp feature.
High Sensitivity uses pixel binning to reduce noise. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, image size is three megapixels.
Flash Burst can capture up to five images continuously with flash while the Shutter button is held down, again at smaller image sizes.
Photo Frame offers three types of clip art frames but the image size is set at just two megapixels.
3D Photo takes a series of images before selecting two to combine into a single 3D image viewable on a 3D MPO-compatible TV.
ADVANCED SCENE. Panasonic goes Scene mode one better by adding options to the standard scene modes. They're accessible by pressing the Menu/Set button after selecting one of the following modes:
- Portrait: Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor
- Scenery: Normal, Nature, Architecture
- Sports: Normal, Outdoor, Indoor
- Close-Up: Flower, Food, Objects
- Night Portrait: Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Handheld Night Shot, Illuminations
MOVIE. The Panasonic FZ150 can record video in either AVCHD or MP4 formats.
AVCHD mode offers three recording options: 1920x1080p60 (60 frames per second progressive scan) at 28 Mbps, 1920x1080i60 (60 fields per second interlaced) at 17 Mbps, and 1280x720p60 (60 frames per second progressive) at 17 Mbps. Sensor output is always 60p. Models that support PAL capture 50p or 50i video from 50p sensor output.
16:9 MP4 mode offers two settings: 1920x1080p30 at 20 Mbps and 1280x720p30 at 10 Mbps. 4:3 MP4 video can also be captured at 640x480p30 at 4 Mbps. PAL capable models capture 25p video.
High Speed video is captured in Motion JPEG format at 320x240 and 220 fps.
Options, set in the Menu system, include a Wind Cut to prevent recording wind noise and Zoom Mic to record distant sounds at telephoto focal lengths and nearby ones at wide-angle.
But the real option is to use manual settings when video recording. You can select Program, Aperture Priority (f/2.8 to f/11 in wide-angle or f/5.2 to f/11 in telephoto), Shutter Priority (1/30 to 1/20,000 second) or Manual mode (both). Slowest shutter speed when using manual focus is 1/8 second.
The noise of the 24x optical zoom is suppressed during capture and an Auto Wind Cut filter can also be enabled. The flash housing hosts stereo zoom microphones that record Dolby Digital.
In Movie mode you can also capture a 3.5-megapixel still enhanced by the progressive capture and Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution technology.
There's also a Scene mode option for High-Speed Video.
CUSTOM. The Custom option on the Mode dial registers most camera settings to C1, C2 or C3 for recall.
Menu System. There are two distinct menu systems on the Panasonic FZ150.
The Main Menu system is accessed from the Menu/Set button in the middle of the four-way navigator. That system addresses settings you won't want to change frequently, including Record functions like Autofocus mode (Face Detection, AF Tracking, 23-area focusing, Spot focusing), Digital Zoom, Stabilizer, AF Assist Lamp, Flash (although note there is no Flash Off option because that's accomplished by leaving the flash down). Movie recording options like Wind Cut and Zoom Mic are also accessed here. And all the Setup Options as well.
In Scene mode, you select a different Scene from the Main menu. All the Scenes appear on a tab of their own. And in Advanced Scene modes, the various refinements appear on a tab of their own as well. That's also how you change Creative Control options.
But for settings that might change from shot-to-shot, the Quick Menu provides a handy menu that runs across the top of the LCD when you press the Q.Menu button below the four-way navigator.
In Program mode, for example, options include Flash mode, Metering mode, AF mode, White Balance, Aspect Ratio, Picture Size, Movie Recording Quality, and LCD mode. As you scroll across the top of the screen with the arrow keys, the menus pop down to display your options for each setting.
That makes it very quick to change any of those settings. One we frequently took advantage of was the Aspect Ratio setting with options for 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1.
Extras. The Panasonic FZ150 has a few other features worth noting:
- You can save RAW format captures. You can also save RAW+JPEG captures.
- SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.1 SE RAW developer included in the software bundle.
- Face Recognition remembers registered faces to autofocus and remove red-eye.
- The new Image Uploader can upload tagged images to Facebook and videos to YouTube.
- PHOTOfunSTUDIO 6.5 BD Edition included for photo/video management and editing.
Storage & Battery. The Panasonic FZ150 includes about 70MB of built-in memory. That's enough to store 15 12-megapixel images or 1 minute 49 seconds of VGA-quality video.
With a 2GB SD card, however, you can store 380 12-megapixel images or record 8 minutes of Full HD 60p video.
Panasonic recommends a Class 4 or higher card. The FZ150 can handle SD (up to 2GB), SDHC (4 to 32GB), or SDXC (48 to 64GB) cards.
The bulky lithium-ion battery packs 7.2 volts with 895 mAh and charges in a compact charger with folding prongs, ideal for travel. Using CIPA standards (which are pretty heavy on zooming and flash use), Panasonic claims 410 shots on a charge, which is pretty good.
An AC adapter is available as an option.
I never ran out of the battery power despite not charging it between shoots.
You'll want to buy a fast SD card to handle the demands of HD video capture as detailed above. You'll also want to buy an HDMI cable to connect video out to your TV if you don't already have one. No AV cable is supplied.
The Panasonic FZ150 can take an optional 1.7x telephoto conversion lens (DMW-LT55) or a +2 close-up lens (DMW-LC55), which requires a lens adapter (DMW-LA5) that attaches to the front of the lens housing.
Shooting with the Panasonic FZ150
I'd just finished reviewing the Panasonic FZ47 before the FZ150 arrived. The FZ150 is no doubt the flagship Panasonic megazoom but the FZ47 is pretty nice in its own right.
The FZ47 isn't a stripped down FZ150. It's a CCD megazoom. It does lack a few of the higher-end features of the Panasonic FZ150 like the hot shoe, the side lever on the lens, the nanosurface coating on that lens, the articulated LCD, RAW captures, the burst options and the High Speed video capture. And much of that you can attribute to the FZ150's MOS sensor.
But the FZ47 is a legitimate megazoom in its own right. One I'd be perfectly happy to find in my bag.
On the other hand, it's awfully nice to have a hot shoe. And a big articulated LCD. And RAW captures (now and then). And, well, I could go on. Every one of the FZ150's additional feature matters.
Let's make another important distinction. The Panasonic FZ150 does improve -- and rather dramatically -- on the FZ100 it replaces. That earlier MOS megazoom distinguished itself by becoming the first Panasonic megazoom to not earn a Dave's Pick. The problem was the poor detail at rather modest ISO sensitivity on its 14-megapixel sensor. "Even if the ISO is kept to 100," we said, "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."
I've repeated the FZ100 crops at ISO 100 comparing the FZ35 and the FZ100, adding the FZ150 to them. I've also added the FZ150 at ISO 400 and ISO 3200 for comparison. You can see at the higher ISOs the FZ150 is still pretty aggressively reducing noise (and losing detail). But at ISO 100, detail is relatively unmolested.
In my gallery shots, there are a few more ISO 3,200 images. Like the lab shots, detail in doll's hair is gone. But notice how it is maintained in the eyebrows of the doll on the right. It's as if Panasonic is applying a different degree of noise suppression to these two areas of the image (as it does with Intelligent Resolution).
In fact, Panasonic told us the FZ150 uses a new multi-process noise reduction technique, especially for low light shooting. The first step suppresses noise in bright areas (and is more blotchy). The second step suppresses noise in dark areas (and is more fine-grained).
In fact, the doll image at ISO 3,200 beats the 1/5 second, shaky doll images at ISO 400. And it even beats the High Sensitivity Scene mode image (also taken at ISO 3,200). It has much better color and even better detail, perhaps because in High Sensitivity Scene mode the data has been binned, combining pixels for a smaller image size.
Add to the useful high-end features and improved noise suppression one other important note. Autofocus speed is quite fast at wide angle (0.31 second) and even faster at telephoto (0.20 second). That's dSLR performance.
And if you prefocus by holding the Shutter button down halfway shutter lag is only 0.014 second.
If you've got an older big zoom you love, that alone is a compelling reason to upgrade.
In the field, these three benefits paid big dividends.
My first field trip was to the Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park. It's a routine event for me every September and always a joy. The flowers burst open with color but in such a variety of shapes you can't believe they're all the same tuber.
To my surprise, the FZ150 in Program mode preferred an ISO of 200 for these mid-day sun shots. Not to my surprise, they tended to be overexposed. It wasn't just the bright flowers I had to set EV to -0.7 but even strongly colored ones. One pair of purple flowers required -1.0 to hold the color.
You may call that a defect if you like, but it seems par for the course these days. I expect to fiddle with EV and I'm just glad it's easy to do it on the FZ150. The EV button is the Up arrow and the Subdial lets you quickly make the change.
The flowers aren't in a hurry anyway.
You may also notice what nice backgrounds the telephoto shots created, isolating the flowers as if they were portraits.
The dahlias were bliss compared to my trip to the California Academy of Sciences. This is such a challenging assignment I'm writing an ebook on it. You've got the rainforest terrarium with birds and butterflies, the aquarium with flooded forests and tide pools, the living roof, the African Hall -- all requiring a different approach but all of them a hard test for any camera. Or photographer.
In the Gallery, you'll see a couple of stuffed mammals and one live albino alligator, a bird, a fish and my most successful butterfly shot. You could spend all day crouched in front of some scene taking the same shot over and over again, trying to get it right. Unless you're there with the kids, that is. Which makes it even more difficult to get good shots.
This wasn't our first trip there, fortunately. But a couple of years ago, we took an Olympus ultrazoom with us and were dismayed how difficult it was to focus on anything. Sure, the birds are quick, the butterflies elusive, and the fish blur because there's no light.
This time, we did a lot better. That fast autofocus and short shutter lag really made a difference. Panasonic says the FZ150 and FZ47 autofocuses 50 and 35 percent faster than the previous models respectively, using an optimized autofocus algorithm and faster software processing. It was like shooting with a dSLR (which we've also done there).
Add in the 12 fps burst mode at full resolution and autofocus tracking at 5.5 fps and the odds are swinging in your favor.
But we did have some problems with the Panasonic FZ150 at the Academy. We kept getting a power cycle warning message. We had to turn off the camera and turn it back on again to resume shooting. And once, we had a write error, although we didn't lose any images.
There are a few special tricks I enjoyed, too.
Like the FZ47, the FZ150 has a Creative mode with eight filters. You can use them in Movie mode (Miniature is apparently hilarious).
And the Intelligent Handheld Night Shot micro-aligns several handheld shots. We took one at night of a some outdoor furniture lit by a fluorescent lamp. Simply not something some other cameras can capture.
Oddly enough, the Panasonic FZ150 does not have a fluorescent white balance option. It did pretty well with ours, though.
And then there's that magical High-Speed Video mode. That's not just fun, it's useful. Particularly if you're paid by the hour.
There are a few RAW shots in the gallery, too, including all the Academy images. Sometimes you really do want to do the processing yourself (perhaps to avoid some aggressive noise suppression). It's nice to have that option.
Overall, we had a great time with the Panasonic FZ150. See our image analysis and conclusion below for our final verdict.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Lens Quality
The DMC-FZ150 has a 24x lens, equivalent to a 25-600mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Most telephoto shots here were taken at 20x.
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very slight blurring at upper left
20x Tele: Sharp at center
20x Tele: Mild blurring, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's zoom shows very mild blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center. At 20x telephoto, performance is also good, with only a small amount of blurring that doesn't extend far into the frame. Considering the zoom ratio, this is an impressive performance.
Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
24x Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion, though barely visible
Wide: Very high barrel distortion
24x Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion
Geometric Distortion: There is actually little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.3%), and almost no perceptible pincushion distortion (0.1%) at full telephoto. Thus, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's processor is hard at work here.
Not surprisingly, uncorrected RAW files show much high amounts of geometric distortion at wide-angle. We measured 2.2% barrel distortion at wide-angle, though pincushion at telephoto was about the same as the JPEG. RAW converters that fully support the FZ150 should correct for this distortion automatically. (Adobe Camera RAW and SilkyPix do.)
20x Tele: Moderately low
Wide: High and bright
20x Tele: High and bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is quite mild in terms of pixel count, and though the blueish pixels are a little bright, the overall effect is minimal. Telephoto shows only slightly higher distortion as far as pixel count goes, though again, the effects are small.
As expected, uncorrected RAW files have much higher amounts of CA, so the camera is doing a pretty good job of removing much of the fringing in JPEG files.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail. Some blurring and chromatic aberration are present in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode), but the bigger problem is the strong overexposure along the left side. Minimum coverage area is 1.55 x 1.16 inches (39 x 30mm), which is quite good. Surprisingly, the flash exposure is almost better than the standard exposure, though the overall image is a bit bright.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Viewfinder Accuracy
20x Tele: EVF
Wide: LCD Monitor
20x Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor both showed just over 99% coverage at wide angle, and about 100% coverage at 20x telephoto. Very good results here, especially considering how much distortion correction is applied at wide angle.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Image Quality
Color: Overall, the Lumix DMC-FZ150 produced good color, though bright yellows are somewhat muted, and strong reds, blues and greens are pumped a little high. There are a few noticeable shifts in hue, such as cyan toward blue, yellow toward green, green toward yellow, red toward orange and orange toward yellow. However, most of these shifts are fairly reasonable, though cyan has the strongest. Dark skintones are significantly pushed toward yellow/orange, while lighter skin tones are closer to accurate. Overall, not the most accurate color, but still reasonably good.
Good, though slightly red
2,600 Kelvin WB:
Incandescent: The Lumix DMC-FZ150's Manual and 2,600 Kelvin white balance settings handled our incandescent lighting best overall, though both do have the slightest hint of a pinkish-magenta tinge in the skin tones and white shirt. Auto also produced pretty good results, though with a more noticeable red cast, while Incandescent produced a very warm image.
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,800~1,900 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,400 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result at 31.2 feet is inconclusive. (Note that we did use spot metering here since the target area is quite small, however the target's exposure is still slightly dim.) The telephoto test came out bright at 16.3 feet, though ISO was increased to 640 to help achieve this.
Auto flash produced overly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining very little of the ambient light at a somewhat fast shutter speed of 1/60 second, ISO 160. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 100 and 200, with some slightly visible softening beginning at ISO 200. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled up to about 800, where bright yellow pixels become obvious. Luminance noise only moderately increases, though a combination of noise grain and noise suppression efforts by the camera make details fuzzy at the higher settings. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.
ISO 100 shots look quite good at 13 x 19, with good high-contrast detail.
ISO 200 images are good at 11 x 14, with good color and detail.
ISO 400 shots look good at 8 x 10. 11 x 14s may be usable for less critical applications.
ISO 800 prints are good at 5 x 7. 8 x 10s here are a bit too soft to be called good, but may be usable for certain situations.
ISO 1,600 images are usable at 5 x 7, but look better at 4 x 6.
ISO 3,200 prints are not usable and this setting best avoided.
Overall, a noticeable improvement in the Panasonic FZ150 over what the FZ100 could do.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Performance
Startup Time: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 takes about 1.9 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty fast for an ultrazoom.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.31 second at wide angle and 0.20 second at full telephoto. Quick AF mode made no difference in our test. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.014 second, which is excellent.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is also very good, capturing a frame every 0.63 second in single-shot mode, and every 0.08 seconds or 11.96 frames per second in Continuous 12 mode (for a total of 12 shots). We weren't able to read our timer in Continuous 60 mode, which captures low resolution images (2.5MP) at up to 60 frames per second.
Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150's flash recycles in about 5.9 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is about average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just below 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 Lumix DMC-FZ150's download speeds are pretty fast. We measured 6,944 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
Included in the Panasonic FZ150 retail box are:
- Lumix FZ150 camera
- Battery Charger
- Battery Pack
- USB Cable
- Shoulder Strap
- Lens Hood
- Lens Cap
- Lens Cap String
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB should be a minimum.
- Camera case
Panasonic FZ150 Conclusion
Like the FZ47, the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 combines a 24x zoom with a 12-megapixel sensor in a compact design light enough to carry in your hand for hours, that puts all the controls that matter right at your fingertips. That makes it a pleasure to use in almost any situation.
While it isn't a fatal flaw, the FZ150 does tend to blow out the highlights (like most digicams) but the EV control is easily accessible to make the right adjustment right away.
And while noise reduction has been improved, using ISO 400 or above will reduce detail, although not evenly across the image. Panasonic has refined its noise suppression algorithms to handle highlight detail differently from shadow detail. A boon to brunettes if not to blondes.
You also have to admire the autofocus speed. There's almost no shutter lag, even at telephoto, when you prefocus, a real benefit in a megazoom.
There are a enough tricks like High-Speed video and Handheld Night Shot to amuse anyone, but there's also some unusual but helpful features like a hot shoe, RAW support, and the side lever for focus or zoom control. That makes the FZ150 a photographer's camera.
Panasonic more than makes up for the low image quality of the FZ100 with the Lumix FZ150, whose step back in resolution pays off in better image quality, worthy of the Panasonic long-zoom legacy and Dave's Pick, too.