The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 is a feature-packed superzoom that offers almost unlimited quick-fire shooting opportunities, and a 24x zoom. In doing so, it suits everyone from parents who want candid close-ups of their kids to photo enthusiasts aiming to capture splendid panoramas. It will cost you around £400.
Jack of all trades
The FZ100 echoes Panasonic's own G-series Micro Four Thirds cameras in features and layout. With strong competition in the recently rebooted superzoom sector, what makes Panasonic's 14.1-megapixel beast so special?
For starters, not many of its rivals, save for the Fujifilm FinePix HS10 and Nikon Coolpix P100, offer such an expansive set of features and remain as user-friendly, responsive and reliable. Admittedly, you're paying for it. At around £400, the FZ100 is currently more expensive than both the Fujifilm and Nikon models. Despite its higher price, though, the FZ100 lacks the massive manual zoom and focus rings of the HS10. If a big zoom isn't your chief priority, a similarly priced entry-level digital SLR with a standard lens kit might be a better bet.
Like those rival cameras, the FZ100 offers a top-plate-mounted stereo microphone, an accessory hot shoe for an external flash or better-quality mic, and a 1080p-video-record button. There's also an adjustable LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder. Rather than the HS10's eye sensor, the FZ100 has a dedicated button to swap between the two.
The 76mm (3-inch), 460,000-dot monitor can be tilted up or down, flipped out at right angles to the body, or turned inwards for added protection. The LCD can be flipped to face the subject, which is an added bonus for group portraits when the photographer wants to squeeze into shot. In terms of flexible shooting, the FZ100 has the edge over rivals. There's also a built-in flash of the pop-up variety, with a dedicated side-mounted button for manual activation.
The FZ100's chunky construction, although a little plasticky to the touch, manages to feel both lightweight and robust. The camera weighs just 539g with an SD, SDHC or SDXC card and rechargeable battery. Yet, when gripped, its manfully proportioned handgrip allows three fingers to comfortably take hold. We were rather disconcerted by the sound of the lens rattling around in its housing when we walked around with the FZ100 in a dormant state. This camera won't fit in your pocket, so calling it a 'compact' seems slightly misleading.
More positively, a flick of the top-mounted 'on' switch powers up the FZ100 for the first shot in just over 2 seconds. Its shooting-mode dial is crammed with options -- 14 in total. They range from program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual options to point-and-shoot subject-recognition modes like 'intelligent auto'. Optimised scene, custom and 'my colour' modes fill the gap in between. The dial is just stiff enough to avoid accidentally jogging the camera from one setting to another when transporting it.
Unsurprisingly, the FZ100 handles like a cross between a snapshot compact and a fully fledged dSLR. Before the advent of mirror-less Micro Four Thirds hybrid models, this type of superzoom formed the bridge between the two types of camera.
featuring a back-mounted thumb switch, the whopper of a zoom is operated by an
ergonomic lever encircling the shutter-release button. In practice, the image-stabilised
lens takes just over 3 seconds to get from maximum wide-angle to extreme
telephoto, sound-tracked by a low mechanical buzz. The range is the equivalent of
28-600mm in 35mm-film terms. Its relatively quiet transitions ensure that, unlike with the Pentax X90 or Olympus SP-800UZ, the optical zoom can be used for recording
video with sound, alongside stills.
Many of the user-friendly, time-saving features of Lumix's lower-range point-and-shoot models make an appearance on the FZ100. A tiny 'quick menu' button provides a shortcut to an on-screen toolbar of key settings, such as colour effects and picture size.
Capture the moment
Video recording commences with a press of the top-mounted dedicated button, which commits 1080p movie clips to either the inserted flash memory or 40MB of internal memory. In practical terms, the ability to jump suddenly from shooting stills to video without having to turn a dial and change the settings provides a greater chance of capturing spontaneous moments. Stills are fine but, despite the FZ100's top-notch, 11-frames-per-second shooting speed, many will opt for video recording when it comes to action scenes.
So, what of the FZ100's image quality? First, the bad news: this Lumix is no star performer when shooting in low light without flash -- and not because of the usual superzoom problem of camera shake, but rather because noise starts to degrade images beyond ISO 400. Compared to the competition, the FZ100 demonstrates below-average performance.
As you'd expect, it's possible to see instances of converging vertical lines and barrel distortion when shooting at the maximum wide-angle setting, although natural subjects hide this better than hard-edged structures. Pixel fringing is also present, although, again, this is well-hidden. As we've found with other models in the range, the FZ100 delivers warm and colourful results straight out of the camera. The results require little post-processing, save, perhaps, brightness and contrast adjustment to add a little more punch.
The bigger the zoom you have at your disposal, the more opportunities you have for taking pictures. While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100's 24x optical zoom range falls short of the 30x zoom offered by the Fujifilm HS10 and Olympus SP-800UZ, its biggest drawback is its cost. You're paying a premium for comfort and consistency with the FZ100. We enjoyed using the camera and were pleased with its results, but there are better options available at this price.
Edited by Emma Bayly