Camera Reviews

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Review

Panasonic DMC-FZ100

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100

“Despite stellar specs, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ100 takes noisy still photos and poor-quality video.”
  • 24x wide-angle zoom
  • High burst rates
  • AVCHD video
  • Underwhelming video and picture quality
  • Not worth $499

Introduction

HD video capability on cameras is as common as trashy political ads on TV. Most digicams capture 720p clips, but several new ones take Full HD movies such as the just-released 14-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100. Does this get us to the point we can put our old high-def camcorders on Craigslist? Time to test out this new 24x wide-angle zoom model…

Features and Design

The FZ100 is one beefy Mega-Zoom. The basic-black camera weighs 1.2 pounds with battery so it has a very substantial feel. It has a nice textured surface and like all Mega-Zooms, looks just like a small DSLR – and at $499 it’s priced like an entry-level DSLR but without interchangeable lenses and larger APS-C sized sensors. What it does have is a 24x optical zoom with an excellent focal range of 25-600mm. You’d have to spend a fortune for similar coverage with a DSLR, a key reason these cameras are so popular. We love the 25mm option and the impact it has on landscapes, architectural shots and even portraits – and that 600mm telephoto option catches faraway birds sitting in the trees. It’s not the 840mm of the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS but it’s pretty potent.

The front of the 4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 (WHD) FZ100 is dominated by the optically stabilized lens. You’ll also find an AF Assist/self-timer lamp, remote sensor in the hand grip and too many white, red and gold decals. Calm down boys; look at the SX30 IS for inspiration which hardly has any “marks” and looks very cool.

The top has a hot shoe for optional flashes and mics; large Dolby Digital Stereo Creator built-in mics are on the auto pop-up flash. Next to this is a large mode dial, a shutter button surrounded by a zoom lever, a dedicated red dot video button, a key to switch quickly into burst mode and the on/off switch. The burst options on this camera are pretty amazing—you can grab up to 11 frames per second at full 14.1MP resolution, far beyond most DSLRs. The mode dial options are similar to a DSLR, offering everything from iA Intelligent Auto to PASM (Program Auto, Aperture- and Shutter-Priority, Manual). Aperture options are f/2.8-8.0 with shutter speeds of 60-1/2000th of a second. There are also specific scene modes on the dial (portrait, landscape, sports, macro, night portrait). Move to Scene and there are 17 more, Custom lets you set three favorite settings, while Movie lets you choose between four exposure modes. Clearly this digicam offers more options than the basic aim-and-forget iA and it’s as close to a DSLR as you can get without tearing off the lens.

The rear has two key features—a .2-inch EVF with diopter control rated 202K pixels and a vari-angle 3-inch LCD monitor that lets you hold the camera at a variety of angles. The screen is high-quality 460K pixels. The Canon SX 30 IS has a 2.7-inch vari-angle screen rated 230K. The Panasonic’s Auto LCD setting adjusts brightness to the ambient light and we had no issues even in direct sunlight. A small speaker is on the right side of the EVF. You’ll also find flash-open, EVF/LCD and AF/AE Lock buttons along with a conveniently positioned jog wheel. With this you scroll through your aperture/shutter speed options, pressing in on it to switch between the two. It adjusts other settings like exposure compensation, depending on the mode. To the right of the LCD is a four-way controller with center Menu/Set button. The four-points of the compass give access to ISO (100-1600), Function for adjusting film mode, self-timer and exposure compensation. Surrounding the controller are Display, Playback and Q. (Quick) Menu buttons.

On the left side are two compartments. One is for optional mics/remotes while the other has USB and mini HDMI connections. The bottom of the Made In Japan camera has a compartment for the Lithium-ion battery which is rated a very good 410 shots and the SDHC/SDXC card slot. Definitely use at least Class 6 speed for recording HD videos. We used a 32GB Class 10 SanDisk Extreme SDHC card for our tests.

What’s In The Box

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 comes with a neck strap, lens hood, lens cap with attaching string, battery, plug-in charger, USB and A/V cables. You also get a 44-page basic manual while the full 240-page guide is on a CD-ROM. A second CD-ROM has SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE for handling RAW files and PhotoFun Studio 5.2 HD edition for AVCHD movies. It’s a solid package.

Performance and Use

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 is the company’s first digicam to use a 14.1-megapixel MOS sensor. It’s still a smaller size (1/2.33-inch) than Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds chips which are even smaller than APS-C sensors found in DSLRs and competing compact interchangeable lens cameras. Cramming more pixels on a smaller piece of silicon can be an invitation for trouble (i.e. digital noise). Bear with us and we’ll let you know shortly if the camera succumbs to this.

Fall is here and that means it’s not too difficult taking good, colorful shots with any decent camera. How can a combination of turning leaves, blooming mums, pumpkins, along with other primary-colored plants and sunny, blue skies be bad? The critical tests were indoors and in dim light. As always, we started in iA at 4320 x 3240 pixel resolution for stills and Full HD AVCHD for videos. We moved to RAW where appropriate. When done 8×10 full-bleed prints with no post processing were made, videos watched on a 50-inch plasma and files were closely examined on the monitor (100%+).

Before answering the $500 question, we will state that the Lumix FZ100 is a good camera to shoot with. Controls are in the right spots, the pistol grip is comfortable and the jog wheel above the right-hand thumb rest on the back is perfectly positioned. This is a very personal take and you should handle this or any other camera before you pull the trigger. Another plus? When you connect it via HDMI to a compatible Panasonic HDTV, the set powers up and switches to the proper input when you turn the digicam on. Thank goodness for small favors…


Sample picture courtesy of Panasonic (full resolution)

Panasonic cameras have had problems in the past with too much digital noise. The company spent years improving this situation but with the FZ100, we’re back in the “bad old days.” Noise is under control at 100 and 200 but hit 400 and the speckles return. Beyond that (it reaches 1600), you’re in deep trouble. We can live with digital noise if the camera delivered excellent, crisp photos. Sad to say, the FZ100 is not even in same league as the Nikon P100 or Canon SX30 IS, two even less expensive, but far superior mega-zooms. You would think color flowers on a crisp, Fall days would get some sparkling shots but not with this baby. And forget comparing this to a DSLR like the recently reviewed Nikon D3100. The FZ100 does have very good responsiveness and frame rates but it doesn’t do you much good if basic image quality is poor.

The Lumix FZ100 also shoots AVCHD videos (1920×1080/60I). Quality here is decent with little digital blocking. Focusing was O.K. but again the videos weren’t crisp and had little pop. You’ll appreciate the fact the zoom works while shooting but you won’t be too thrilled to hear the zoom motor which gets picked up by the mic.

Conclusion

On paper the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 is impressive—14MP, a 24x wide-angle zoom, up to 11 fps, AVCHD videos. Sounds cool, right? Too bad the image and video quality doesn’t measure up—especially with a hefty list price. You can do a lot better.

Highs:

  • 24x wide-angle zoom
  • High burst rates
  • AVCHD video

Lows:

  • Underwhelming video and picture quality
  • Not worth $499

Editors' Recommendations