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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Review
by David Rasnake -  10/9/2008

Glance at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 and unless you know what to look for, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was the previous model – the Lumix FZ18. Visually, the differences between Panasonic's latest camera to bring a stunning 18x zoom lens to the table and its immediate predecessor are remarkably few.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28


Of course, taking cues from a strong forerunner isn't necessarily a bad thing: the Lumix FZ18 was one of our higher rated ultrazooms, largely on the merits of snappy, responsive performance that made the camera easier to live with for fast-paced shooting than many point-and-shoots. But the FZ28's many resemblances to or direct carry-overs from its predecessor will undoubtedly leave some asking whether there's enough that's new here to keep Panasonic's long-zoom model at the front of the pack.

FEATURES OVERVIEW
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
PERFORMANCE
IMAGE QUALITY
CONCLUSIONS
SPECIFICATIONS

FEATURES OVERVIEW
The FZ28 updates one of the more generally successful long-zoom cameras of the last few years – Panasonic's popular FZ18. Built around a 10.1 megapixel CCD sensor (versus the FZ18's 8.1 megapixel imager), the FZ28 features a wide-angle 18x Leica lens with similar, though not identical, specs to the unit seen on its predecessor: a wider-than-before 27mm short end expands the FZ28's field of coverage at the expense of a little telephoto reach. As before, the lens is optically stabilized via Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. technology.

Descended from the FZ18, the FZ28 has a strong performance heritage to live up to. To this end, Panasonic has invested obvious resources this time around in the development of new AF technologies for its flagship cameras: first seen on Panasonic's high-end ultracompact, the FX500, AF Tracking allows the FZ28 to lock focus on a particular object or area within the composition frame and hold focus – even if the subject moves or the shot is recomposed. A related system can be used to track faces when shooting with Face Detection AF, even allowing the camera to track faces in profile (though subjects must still look at the camera straight-on to get an initial lock).

As with most ultrazooms, the FZ28 attempts to appeal to a broad range of shooters, from serious amateurs to absolute beginners. The FZ28 offers users seeking more control the complete range of manual exposure modes. For less experienced shutterbugs, a total of 32 scene modes, including Film Grain and Pin Hole settings borrowed from the new LX3, provide a comprehensive list of automatic shooting options.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Pin Hole scene mode

Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, which analyzes a scene and automatically selects the best combination of settings via its Intelligent Scene Selector, is also available. The complete range of shooting modes on the FZ28 includes:

HD video capture is Panasonic's calling card for the fall line; to this end, the FZ28 earns the ability to grab video at up to 1280x720/30 fps. An optional component HD cable allows the camera to be connected to an HDTV to play back movies and display images.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

The video looks very good as a rule, and the FZ28 even permits you to use its wide-ranging zoom while filming (though at creeping speeds to limit the amount of zoom noise pick-up). However, scratchy sound from a poorly positioned microphone means that the overall results don't exactly rival a camcorder in terms of quality. In short, the ability to capture 720p video may be appealing, but in light of its obvious limitations compared to even a moderately priced video camera, it's hard to recommend purchasing the FZ28 on the merits of this feature alone.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality
The FZ28 brings over the previous FZ18's visual package largely as an unchanged whole, with a few minor tweaks to the control panel representing the only update of note between generations. Like the FZ18, the FZ28 is built in the "mini DSLR" style common to ultrazooms, with a pronounced zoom snout and a hand-grip deeper than what some SLRs provide.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Textured rubber is inset into the grip, providing a stable, lightly cushioned hold area, but as with some other Lumix cams we've looked at lately, I can't support the use of hard plastic molded to look like textured rubber on the thumb grip area. Would it really have been that much more difficult or cost-intensive to use actual grippy rubber instead?

Plastic construction is largely de rigeur in the world of ultrazooms, and thus the FZ28's plastic body isn't necessarily a con when compared to the competition. The fact that the camera feels quite robust, with basically no flex or creaking, should also help make a polycarbonate shell more palatable to those who obsess over camera construction details. While there's very little to gripe about (even the battery door feels sufficiently strong for a change!), I can't help but feel that the FZ28's plain – dare I say boring? – appearance and less than stunning plastic parts may fail to impress in light of some strong competition in this class.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Admittedly, things move somewhat slower in the world of ultrazoom camera design, with manufacturers preferring to hang onto what works for a bit longer than in the turbulent compact and ultracompact markets. With so many stylistic carry-overs from its predecessor, though, there's a serious concern that potential buyers may find the FZ28's look a little dated.

Ergonomics and Interface
A relatively large, deep hand-grip makes the FZ28 comfortable to hold for just about anyone, with the camera's relatively light weight making shooting with one hand a real possibility toward the wide end of the zoom, at least. Buttons are intuitively placed and fall nicely under your fingers for the most part; the fact that the FZ camera's basic shape hasn't really changed much means that Panasonic has had some time to refine the ergonomic formula, and what they've come up with seems to work well for a broad cross-section of users.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Physically, the FZ28's interface bears a strong resemblance to its FZ18 forerunner. Panasonic has done some general layout rearranging on the back deck, and added a few new buttons as well – pushing the FZ28 over that arbitrary but clear line into the world of "button bloat" as far as I'm concerned. I like dedicated controls on an advanced camera, but in this case I just can't see that enough people will be changing from auto to manual focus on the fly (given that manually focusing the FZ28 isn't easy...), for instance, to warrant a full-time button solely for this purpose.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

More than one impromptu tester who picked up the FZ28 off my desk commented on the Lumix's trademark mini joystick controller, which can be used in addition to the regular directional pad to navigate menus and make settings changes. If you're not used to this unique-to-Panasonic physical interface, it can be a little difficult to adapt to at first – though most menus allow the use of the four-way controller instead for navigation if you're feeling daunted. Once you figure out the joystick, though, I particularly like how seamlessly it works with Panasonic's Quick Menu (called up, incidentally, by pressing and holding the joystick) to access commonly adjusted parameters like ISO and focusing mode.

I appreciate the fact that the FZ28 includes a function button (down on the four-way controller) that can be assigned to one of several operations via the Setup menu. Looking for a dedicated sensitivity button? The function key can do that. Want to be able to access playback mode instantaneously? That's a choice as well. Overall, the ability to dynamically assign controls is a feature usually reserved for DSLRs – and hence, a nice touch on a camera in this price range.

What I'm not so happy about, however, is the way the FZ28's menus lay out. Depending on what shooting mode you're working in, you'll see more or less options in the main and shooting menus, which can make finding adjustments difficult. More than once I had the experience of hunting for something that I was sure I'd seen in the setup menu just a moment ago and not being able to find it because the list of options changes depending on your shooting mode (there are a mere five adjustments in the setup menu in iA mode for instance, but five pages of options are offered when you're shooting in program mode).

Display/Viewfinder
Panasonic avoided the 3 inch LCD mania currently overtaking the digicam market in putting together the FZ28, opting for a large but sensible 2.7 inch, 230,000 dot display in addition to an electronic viewfinder. Basic performance is all as expected, with crisp, contrasty images on the display. The display is not exceptionally color accurate in our testing, introducing a bit of false saturation compared to the actual image output, and a review histogram helps to sort out what you're seeing in this LCD's somewhat murky shadow areas.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Although it's a generally solid piece of kit, the FZ28's screen is certainly not the most responsive we've seen. The advantages of a wide range of screen power options may well be canceled out for many by the fact that the FZ28's display is a little sluggish, with trailing lines and "catch up" issues when shooting high-speed panning sequences. Screen refresh is particularly sluggish in low light as well, making it hard to compose action sequences and all but impossible to manually focus in less than perfect light.

In the same vein, like many Panasonic displays we've seen previously, the FZ28's does not get along well with bright lights: even the fluorescent lights in our office were bright enough to cause wash out and banding on the display. As with other Lumix cameras, the issue doesn't seem to affect the final image, but it can make shooting into the sun a bit of a chore when the screen whites out completely.

There's no auto-switching, but a button next to the viewfinder sets up the FZ28's composition image on the EVF instead of the LCD. Like most EVFs, the FZ28's viewfinder is a little cramped (in fact, I found the magnification and eyepoint simply too low to effectively use the finder with my glasses on; thankfully, there's diopter correction), and a little grainy/gridded besides. You can, however, call up a full range of display information on the EVF as well, and its flexibility, lower power consumption, and slightly more dynamic refresh made it my preferred composition method in spite of its obvious limitations. I do wish that Panasonic would implement a system similar to what we've seen on the interchangeable lens G1 on their flagship ultrazoom as well, allowing the main display to be used for status information (aperture/shutter speed, ISO, metering mode, white balance, etc.) and the EVF for composition, but in this generation, at least, it was not to be.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag
It's rare that we have a camera that hits both extremes of the spectrum in our timings testing, but the FZ28 does just that. While pure shutter lag (press-to-capture time with pre-focus) comes in at a reasonably if not particularly noteworthy 0.08 seconds, AF times were all over the map – mirroring a phenomenon we've experienced with Lumix cameras in the past. In the FZ28's default multi-area AF mode, the camera wants to go all the way to infinity and back before locking focus, resulting in a press-to-capture time without pre-focus of 1.25 seconds. By any measure, that's an eternity these days. Switch the camera into single-area high speed focusing, however, and you can drop your focus acquisition times by more than a second: our best press-to-capture tests without pre-focus in this mode came in at a lightning fast 0.16 seconds. That's easily DSLR speed, and faster than many consumer SLRs.

The problem is, the FZ28 isn't at all consistent in this regard. In one-area high speed AF mode (ironically, with the Quick AF setting – which attempts to lock focus before you press the shutter release – disabled) the camera is usually this fast, though at some working distances and with some subjects it will still run the entire focus range before locking in. Days and days of testing with different combinations of settings have yielded nothing in the way of consistency: there's simply no clear logic to when the FZ28 will fire quickly, and when it will take its sweet time.

Thus, while we're thoroughly impressed with the "best case scenario" numbers that this camera's capable of, it's hard to wholeheartedly sing the FZ28's praises in this area. Maybe a firmware update will correctly some of the hit-or-miss fishiness we experienced, and the fact that the camera seems to behave 90 percent of the time in single-area AF has us cautiously optimistic, but potential purchasers should definitely take note just the same.

For a point-and-shoot, the FZ28 offers up some pretty impressive continuous shooting numbers. In normal (limited) burst mode shooting full-res JPEGS, the FZ28 captures a maximum of three frames in a rapid 0.86 seconds, for a frame rate just under 3.5 fps – significantly better than advertised. We repeated our test several times to ensure that the initial numbers weren't some kind of fluke, but it looks like Panasonic may have wisely stated a conservative number with the knowledge that the camera would actually perform better than expected. Whatever is at work in this case, we're not complaining.

An unlimited burst mode is almost as quick initially, capturing three frames at just over 3.0 fps before slowing to a rate closer to 1.1 fps for subsequent shots.

Auto Focus
Panasonic is known for offering a well-stocked selection of auto focus options; compared to some previous models, however, the FZ28 keeps the number of focus modes a little more manageable. Six basic area options include the aforementioned multi-area and one-area high speed modes, a face detection setting, and an AF tracking option that lets you grab focus on a particular object or area in the frame and hold that point in focus even if subject moves or you recompose the frame.

AF is generally consistent, keeping in mind the issues with full-range focus hunt observed in our timings testing. The FZ28 eschews dedicated macro selection as a rule: simply move in close to an object and the camera automatically calls up the macro focus range accordingly.

Most focus modes with a fixed point or range of points will also let you manually reposition them as desired by pressing the Display button when selecting the AF area mode in the quick menu; the joystick or four-way controller can then be used to position the focus point (or group of points in the case of the multi-area mode) within the frame as desired. It's a nice touch, and the ability to quickly access point position adjustment via the dedicated Focus button next to the shutter release in most shooting modes is an added bonus that further expands the function's usefulness in the real world.

AF drive mode can also be switched from single to continuous via a setup menu option.

Like many cameras in this class, the FZ28 also provides a manual focus option. With the inclusion of a dedicated AF/MF button, switching between auto and manual focus couldn't be much easier, but as is usually the case on cameras without a physical focus ring, actually focusing the FZ28 is easier said than done in many cases. The Lumix does provide zoom assist in MF mode – meaning that a small crop box in the center of the screen zooms in on the focus point, making it easier to tell if you've hit focus.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

The four-way controller can be used to relocate the manual focus zoom area, and focus is moved in or out by toggling up and down on the joystick controller. A scale on the right-hand side of the display provides focal distance information.

While the system works acceptably well – especially if you're shooting at narrower, more focus-forgiving apertures – LCDs are poorly suited to confirming fine focus (even with zoom assistance). Similarly, comparatively slow operation makes it hard to envision trying to use the system with a moving subject, though if you're seeking precise focus in a landscape or architectural composition, the FZ28's MF mode may just be the ticket.

One final note on focusing: the FZ28 handles low-light AF surprisingly well with the help of its surprisingly powerful assist lamp. The only problem has to do with the assist lamp's location. If you're a two-handed shooter with this DSLR-style camera, chances are you'll inadvertently cover the lamp, as it sits just to the left of lens barrel – and thus, right where my left hand falls naturally when holding the camera.

Lens and Zoom
Panasonic has slightly refined the specs on the FZ28's 18x zoom when compared to the FZ18. The new lens is slightly wider (as in a single millimeter wider at the wide end), at the expense of just a little telephoto reach. A focal length of 27-486mm at apertures of f/2.8-4.4 mean the lens is relatively bright throughout its range – rivaling high-end long glass at its telephoto extreme for speed.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

As before, lens action is smooth and quick, taking less than three seconds to travel from one extreme to the other. It's also unobtrusively quiet, meaning you're unlikely to draw undue attention to yourself if you're looking to use the FZ28's long reach for candid snaps. A focal scale at the bottom of the screen provides information about minimum focusing distances when zooming – a nice touch for figuring out how close you can reasonably get to your subject for macro or close-up work.

Barrel construction is robust, with brushed metal collars providing threaded mounts for both filters on the lens itself and the FZ28's hood adapter on the lens's outer, stationary ring.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Panasonic also supplies a hood standard with the FZ28. It's a lightweight plastic unit with enough coverage to help mitigate off-axis flare concerns. The hood mount arrangement is interesting insofar as the FZ28 uses a threaded ring which screws into the lens's outer housing; the hood itself then uses a clamp arrangement to lock itself down onto the threaded ring, making it easy to unscrew and rotate the hood for better lighting control as desired.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

The system looks a little awkward at first, but in use it's clear that a lot of thought went into the design – which allows both flexible positioning and quick removal.

Sure, having more than 400mm of telephoto reach is the impressive number that many shooters will look to first, but we found the FZ28's macro performance to be just as stellar. In macro mode, the FZ28 can consistently focus at wide angle at subjects less than half an inch from the front lens element.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Lock is dead on, acquisition speed is good, and at this distance, shadowing the subject with the lens barrel becomes a primary concern. With anything short of a DSLR and a dedicated macro lens, you'll be hard pressed to beat the Lumix's close-up performance and macro-distance sharpness.

Flash
The Lumix FZ28 uses a pop-up style flash for additional illumination.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

A maximum advertised range of nearly 30 feet at wide angle is relatively impressive, though as our ISO 100 dark room test shot shows, the FZ28 relies to some degree on boosting ISO to get room-filling power.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Power is sufficient for most purposes just the same, and good metering keeps hot spots and wash-out well controlled when shooting with the flash, even at moderate to close distances.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Note that flash power can be compensated a full 2 EV in either direction (in 1/3 EV increments), making it simple enough to cut back the strobe's power if you need to. The pop-up unit's placement means that there's a little bit of side-shadowing going on when shooting in portrait orientation, and it should also be noted that the FZ28's hood seriously impedes flash coverage through a good portion of the zoom range.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

In terms of modes, the Panasonic provides the typical auto and red-eye reduction options, as well as forced fill and slow synchro modes. Unlike many cameras at this price point, the FZ28 allows you to specify first or second curtain sync in slow synchro mode via a setup menu option. The ability to use second (or rear) curtain sync further expands the FZ28's creative options for capturing subjects in motion.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Full power flash recycle comes in an SLR-like 3.9 seconds, making the FZ28 one of the most responsive flash shooters around. The only other thing that serious users might ask for, in fact, is a hot shoe for connecting an external flashgun – though with decent power and those kind of recycle times, you simply may not need one.

Image Stabilization
It's hard to imagine trying to effectively utilize an 18x zoom without optical image stabilization. Thankfully, the FZ28 comes equipped with Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. shake-reduction system, which uses a shifting lens element to help keep things stable.

Most IS systems perform at about the same level, and we rarely have a lot to say on this topic beyond a simple affirmation that the system works generally as advertised. However, we were repeatedly impressed by just how well the FZ28's stabilizer performed. Three modes (single-shot and continuous, plus an auto mode that decides what stabilization type is most appropriate based on the presented scene) are available, and working almost exclusively in the auto IS setting I found the FZ28 to be capable of hand-held shots at shutter speeds as low as half a second at wide angle.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
IS enabled, 1/2 second shutter

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
IS disabled, 1/2 second shutter

With my shaky hands (which usually start to test IS systems at around 1/15), that several extra stops of performance that I experienced again and again with the FZ28 left me impressed. Likewise, I tend to avoid shooting hand-held without some kind of additional stabilization at the long end of cameras with this much zoom range, as the results usually aren't particularly sharp. While it was still difficult to get tack-sharp shots beyond 300mm or so with the FZ28, the results were certainly better than expected – and I attribute this largely to the FZ28's effective stabilization system.

Battery Life
The FZ28 uses an SLR-sized battery that, in spite of its less than phenomenal 7.2 mAh rating, churns out shot after shot without needing a recharge.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

The CIPA test standard puts this camera at a claimed 460 shots between charges, and with some flash use and even a little video shooting, I didn't find 300 clicks before the battery warning fires up to be an unreasonable expectation for real world performance. In fact, we only had to recharge the FZ28 once during its entire, 500-image stint in our office. If you're conservative and rely heavily on the more power-friendly EVF, you could potentially milk an entire week-long vacation out of a single charge.


IMAGE QUALITY
In reviewing the FZ18 late last year, DCR's Ben Stafford had this to say about its image quality: "Overall, most casual photographers, and even some enthusiasts, will be very happy with the image quality from the FZ18.  Color reproduction was good, details were sharp across the entire frame, and default exposure was good." In spite of what the previous model did well, however, dynamic range and noise were both identified as hurdles for the FZ28and potential stumbling blocks for serious shooters.

Step forward a generation and Panasonic brings us refined image processing, a new (albeit higher resolution) imager, and a redesigned lens – all aimed at addressing the obvious IQ challenges posed by a camera with a small sensor and an exceptional zoom range. The good news is that at the most basic level, the FZ28's package improvements – especially much improved noise reduction processing and dynamic range expansion options – work. Serious shooters will still find details to pick at, but compared to the FZ18, casual shutterbugs are even less likely to notice the FZ28's dynamic range and noise limitations.

Exposure, Processing, and Color
One of the FZ18's primary weaknesses in our estimation was the more slightly compressed look exhibited in its images. Take the camera outside on a bright day, and the last FZ struggled more than its strongest competitors to bring in highlight detail without clipping and smoothly roll off shadows at the same time. The net result of too much default contrast and limited dynamic range? Silhouetted shadows and washed out highlights.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18

With this starting point, I was thoroughly impressed by the grace with which the FZ28 handled high dynamic range situations.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

In this case, use of the Warm rendering setting helps some to soften the shadow transitions, as does Panasonic's dynamic range expanding Intelligent Exposure function (which can be set enabled at one of three levels of intensity – the "low" setting being used in this shot). Default multi-area metering accuracy also appears to see some improvements, with the camera hitting a better highlight-preserving balance than its predecessor.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

All in all, in spite of the addition of two million more pixels to the FZ28's sensor compared to the FZ18, better processing technology seems to be largely to thank for improved results on the exposure side.

Default color rendering is refreshingly neutral. Those coming from saturation-heavy consumer digicams, in fact, may find the FZ28's colors a bit lifeless at times, though serious shooters will appreciate that there's some headroom for saturation adjustments in post-processing without running into channel clipping issues.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

As a rule, we found the FZ28's default color rendering to provide nice, richly saturated blues especially, without pushing too much in any one area.

Interestingly, there's no high-saturation color preset, with the aforementioned Warm and a complementary Cool setting providing the only pre-packaged "flavoring" options for your shots (though, as noted, I did find the Warm setting particularly nice for bringing some vibrancy and a softer, almost vintage look back into high-contrast outdoor images).

If you're really serious about processing adjustments however, the FZ28 offers something even better: five-step contrast, saturation, sharpening, and noise reduction sliders via its Picture Adjustment menu. Pulling the contrast, saturation, and sharpening sliders to their minimum and then maximum values across the board shows just how much lattitude the FZ28 gives you on the processing side.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Minimum contrast, saturation, sharpening

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Maximum contrast, saturation, sharpening

Tweaks are saved across sessions, meaning that you can fine-tune for a specific look without having to worry about recreating your preferred settings every time you turn on the camera.

Finally, while the function may overshoot much of the FZ28's target audience, it should also be noted that this camera is capable of capturing raw files. We were generally pleased with the Lumix's JPEG output, and thus didn't spend a lot of time shooting raw, but for those looking for maximum exposure control (and, per our tests, just a little bit more dynamic range as well), the option is there.

White Balance
White balance performance with the FZ28 is best described as fair. The camera's automatic setting is able to take into account a wide range of lighting conditions, but its rendering tends to be a bit warm of true. Ditto for most of the presets, including the incandescent setting.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Halogen White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

Incandescent light – the typical trouble spot for automatic white balance systems – is only slightly better than average here, with a strong yellow skew.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

In addition to the typical presets, the FZ28 does sport both a user-set WB mode (in which the camera is balanced based on a sample shot) as well as a Kelvin temperature option.

Lens Faults
Panasonic's Leica-designed 18x zom has been one of the high points of the FZ series since the introduction of the FZ18. The lens gets revamped this time around, with a 27mm focal length at the wide end. As before, for a lens covering such a huge amount of ground, the FZ28's optics hold up quite well under scrutiny.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Wide Angle

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Telephoto

There's some mild pincushioning at full telephoto, but in spite of a wide field of view, the wide end of the range is almost completely distortion free. It's likely that most users will find the fact that the lens's color shifts pretty drastically from cool at the wide end to warm at telephoto of more concern than the distortion issues.

Likewise, we noted some slight softness below f/5.6 when shooting at or near full telephoto, though it's often hard to determine what may be caused by the amplification of camera shake at such extreme focal lengths.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

Shooting directly into strong light sources, the FZ28 can be a little prone to flare. Overexposed contrast boundary areas also show some blue fringe when shooting toward the wide end of the zoom and/or at wider apertures.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
100% crop

In both cases, careful consideration of exposure and composition can help keep issues at bay.

Sensitivity and Noise
We had trouble recommending the FZ18 for shooting above ISO 400, with the last two settings in its ISO 100 to 1600 range looking particularly noisy. Panasonic revised its processing for its current generation of models, promising better noise control among other things. With more resolution but an identical sensitivity range (ISO 100-1600) we were interested to see how the FZ28 would fare.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 400
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 800
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 1600
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 1600, 100% crop

At first glance, it's clear that Panasonic has made some serious strides in making its high-sensitivity settings more usable. Although noise reduction can be fine-tuned, I found the FZ28's default approach to hit that elusive balance between noise and noise reduction about as well as could be expected. ISO 800 is clean enough this time around to be almost "no reservations" usable, and colors hold their vibrancy throughout the range.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
ISO 1600

Pushing the camera at ISO 1600, you can still induce some nastiness. The shot above shows the FZ28's continued difficulties in controlling color noise, especially, in darker (but not black) solid-field areas. That said, considering its price and competition, it's hard to gripe about the level of detail that the Lumix brings back at this relatively high setting.

Like all current Panasonics, the FZ28 uses a fairly advanced and savvy sensitivity setting system that lets you shoot in a "capped" auto mode that will work in any range you specify (from ISO 100-200 to ISO 100-1600). Panasonic's trademark Intelligent ISO function builds on this idea, working at the lowest sensitivity possible based on subject motion and lighting conditions, but boosting ISO as necessary to guarantee a sharp capture. As in other Lumix cameras we've tested, Intelligent ISO provides one of the more dynamic and responsive auto ISO options currently available on any point-and-shoot.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28


CONCLUSIONS
In many ways, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 is like a perfectly broken-in baseball glove: most users will find that the camera's functions, features, and form conform perfectly to just about any shooting situation, making it easy to trust the Lumix to haul in great images time after time. Solid performance all around – including some noteworthy improvements to the very good FZ18 platform – make this one of the most balanced ultrazooms we've had the pleasure of shooting with this year. There's enough here to keep serious shooters occupied, but with Panasonic's excellent Intelligent technologies reprised for this model, novice users should be able to quickly intuit their way into consistently good shots as well.

In general, you have to dig fairly deep to find concerns with the FZ28. Some AF weirdness may give potential buyers pause, and the camera could still offer cleaner low-ISO settings and additional high-ISO ones. White balance is rarely spot on – quite possibly the FZ28's most serious concern – and I wish Panasonic would get screen white-out and banding issues sorted. Little of this, however, tends to get in the way of taking just about any kind of shot you can envision.


Overall, the FZ28 sets a very high bar for the next generation of ultrazooms: it's rare that a camera has this much to offer to shooters of widely varying skill levels, and at the end of the day, this versatility will likely make the FZ28 one of the new models to beat in its class.

Pros:

Cons:


SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor 10.1 megapixels, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom 18x (27-486mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmarit, f/2.8-4.4
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K dot TFT LCD Display
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600
Shutter Speed 60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes

Intelligent AUTO, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, 2 Custom Modes, Portrait (Normal, Soft Skin, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative), Scenery (Normal, Nature, Architecture, Creative), Sports (Normal, Outdoor, Indoor, Creative), Night Portrait (Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Illuminations, Creative), Close-up (Flower, Food, Objects, Creative), Scene, Motion Picture

Scene Presets

Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Flash Burst, Panning, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Pin Hole, Film Grain

White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, Halogen, Color Temperature, White Set 1, White Set 2
Metering Modes Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes

Face, AF tracking, multi-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot

Drive Modes Single, Burst, High-speed Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 10 seconds (3 pictures), 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC, MultiMediaCard
Internal Memory
50MB
File Formats JPEG, RAW, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3648x2736
Max. Video Size
1280x720, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Yes
Battery Rechargeable 710 mAh lithium-ion, 460 shots
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, HD AV output, DC input
Additional Features Mega OIS Image Stabilization, Venus Engine IV processor, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Selector