The new Panasonic DMC-FZ150 is my fifth camera from Panasonic's FZ series and, by any measure, the best one so far. I started with the petite FZ5, then the supersharp FZ18, followed by the so-so FZ28, and finally by the go-anywhere, shoot-anything FZ35. Up till now, the FZ18 still produced the best images, but it was fussy about getting the exposure, contrast, and white balance exactly right. The FZ35 was much more forgiving about the shooting conditions, but wasn't as sharp as the FZ18. What I needed was a camera that combined the best features of both.
I skipped the FZ100 and its overcrowded 14 megapixel sensor. No raves about this one. Just a bunch of unhappy users who weren't too thrilled with the image quality. Was the poor image quality the result of too many pixels or was it because this was the first of the FZ series with a CMOS sensor instead of the usual CCD? So I waited for another year, afraid that the FZ35 would be the end of the line for me.
Then the FZ150 was announced, with the usual PR puffery about all of its great new features. I waited some more, willing to let others be the first to own one. But then reports praising the image quality started to appear. So I finally bought one, and just in time as it turns out. At this writing, they are in short supply.
The FZ150 is my first digital camera with a CMOS sensor. It also benefits from Panasonic's wise decision to lower the number of megapixels from 14 to 12. The less-crowded sensor shows a great improvement in image quality. In addition, there are lots of new features that make this camera a real step up from the earlier models that I own.
There's a lot to write about with this camera, since I think it marks a real milestone in digital cameras, so expect to see a number of posts about the different aspects of the FZ150 and its actual use. But first, my overall impressions of this camera as a photographic instrument. Simply put, in over fifty years of photography, both as a professional photographer and as a reviewer of photographic equipment, this is the best camera I've ever owned.
A little bigger and a little heavier than my earlier FZ models, the FZ150 packs an impressive 24 X zoom lens (25mm to 600mm), a swing-out 3 inch LCD viewer and controls rearranged in way that makes them a little easier to get at. All of this in a package that weighs about 20 ounces with battery, lens cap, etc. A nice, compact camera that goes for about $400, street price. Pretty amazing, when you stop and think about it.
The small size makes it unobtrusive, and it's absolutely silent in operation. You won't draw attention to yourself, as with a bigger, nosier DSLR, and that's how I prefer it. I like to be mistaken for an innocent hobbyist.
So, how well does this work out? I first realized how good this camera is when I took some pictures at my granddaughter's violin recital. We were back in the audience, but that was no problem with the FZ150's zoom lens. I snapped some pictures, and thought no more about it.
The surprise came when I put the pictures on the computer. First of all, I had taken far more pictures than I thought. This seems to be one characteristic of the FZ150. Maybe it's the speed or the ease of handling, but I find myself snapping away without feeling the camera as an impediment to work around. But what really brought me up short was the quality of the images. The pictures were sharp and detailed, with good white balance and excellent skin tones. I checked and the FZ150 had picked 800 ISO for these shots. But the quality was more like you'd expect at 200, or even 100 ISO. I was sold. ( I had set the camera for "Intelligent ISO," with a max of 800, and I set the white balance manually for the overhead fluorescent lights.)
In the next couple of posts, I'll be putting up some examples of what I've done with my FZ150.