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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Review
by Andy Stanton -  10/20/2011

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 is Panasonic's premier ultrazoom, an enhanced version of the very capable DMC-FZ47. The principle difference between the two cameras is that the FZ150 uses a 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, while the FZ47 uses a 12.1 megapixel version of the more commonly-used CCD sensor. The CMOS sensor is designed to provide increased speed of operation and better low light ability.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

The FZ150 replaces the DMC-FZ100, which was wisely praised for its excellent performance and many features, but received criticism for its low light image quality. Panasonic claims to have addressed this issue by, among other things, lowering the resolution from 14.1 megapixels to 12.1 megapixels.


The Lumix FZ150, like the FZ47, is equipped with a 24x optical zoom Leica lens, with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 25mm through 600mm. While this is not the longest optical zoom available (the Nikon P500 and Olympus SP810 UV have an incredible 36x optical zoom), the lens range of the FZ150 is long enough to cover most circumstances a photographer is likely to encounter. For instance, in the images below, the ducks can hardly be seen at 25mm, while they can be viewed in great detail at 600mm.

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Wide Angle

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Telephoto

If more optical zoom is desired, the FZ150 uses digital zoom (which Panasonic calls Intelligent Zoom Technology) to extend the zoom up to 32x (800mm). While digital zoom, a form of cropping, can adversely affect the image if overused, its use with the FZ150 does not greatly degrade image quality.

The FZ150 has many appealing features, including a fully articulated, high-resolution LCD monitor, a 1080p movie mode that can record up to 60 frames per second, a hot shoe for attaching a separate flash, a dedicated movie button, an electronic viewfinder, RAW shooting ability and a very quick continuous shooting mode enabling it to take full resolution photos at 12 frames per second. The camera uses Panasonic's Power Optical Image Stabilization system with an active mode which allows it to operate while taking movies. Optical zoom can be used in movie mode. The FZ150 includes an Intelligent Auto system and manual exposure controls including shutter and aperture priority.

I began my experience with the FZ150 as a Panasonic customer. I've owned an earlier Panasonic ultrazoom, the 18x optical zoom FZ28, for the past three years and have enjoyed it a great deal. As I mentioned in my First Look, I anticipated being able to shoot in very good weather conditions. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the weather for the past two weeks has been overcast and rainy. However, I still managed to take a large number of photos and videos with the FZ150. Let's see if the camera met my expectations.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The FZ150 has the styling and build of a small DSLR, with a deep, rubber-coated right hand grip. While the camera is mostly plastic it apparently has a metal frame underneath and feels very solid. Its buttons and dials seem well-made. It has a large, chunky mode dial that turns in well-defined clicks. The camera weighs approximately 528 grams including its lithium-ion battery and a memory card. I found the camera easy to hold and use even for an extended period of time.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

Along with the camera itself, Panasonic bundles a lens hood, a lithium-ion battery, a charger, a USB cable, a lens cap, a neck strap a basic owner's manual and a CD-Rom which contains the full manual, Photofun Studio for organizing photos, Silkypix to edit RAW photos, Quicktime, and a trial version of Super LoiLoScope for editing videos.

Ergonomics and Controls
The FZ150's deep right hand grip, with its rubber coating, allows you to get a firm hold on the camera, while leaving your forefinger free to press the shutter and manipulate the metal zoom ring. The large lens barrel contains controls on the side that can be used as an alternative method for adjusting the zoom or manually focusing the camera.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

The front of the camera includes a lamp for auto focus assist and timer. One side of the camera contains a compartment for a microphone or a remote control cable and a second compartment with ports for an HDMI cable (not included with the camera) and a USB cable. The compartments are protected by solid, rubber covers.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

A small speaker is located on top of the camera. Next to it is the flash mechanism, which is opened by a button at the camera's rear. Above the flash are the camera's left and right stereo microphones and the hot shoe. Next to the flash is the circular mode dial and, to the right of the dial, are an on/off switch, a button for controlling continuous shooting options, a dedicated movie button and a metal shutter button with an enclosed zoom ring. All controls work very well with one exception - I found the movie button difficult to press because it did not protrude sufficiently from the camera.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

At the camera's rear is its large, 3.0-inch diagonal monitor that has a 460,000 pixel resolution. The monitor, which has an anti-reflective coating, is fully articulated and can be set so that the screen faces in or out as well as moved to the side. Above the monitor is an electronic viewfinder with a 0.20 inch, 201,600 pixel screen and 100% coverage. On one side of the viewfinder are a diopter control for adjusting the viewfinder screen and the button for opening the flash. On the other side you'll find a button for alternating between the electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor, a button for locking the autofocus, and a dial for moving through menu screens.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

There is also a sculpted area for resting the thumb while holding the camera, which I found very useful. Beneath that is the standard control panel with a four-way dial (timer, exposure compensation ISO and function) surrounded by buttons for display, playback and quit menu/trash.

The camera's bottom contains a metal tripod socket and the battery/memory card compartment with a sturdy plastic cover. The FZ150 will accept any SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card.

Menus and Modes
As I've found with other Panasonic cameras I've experienced, the menu system is very straightforward. The menu screens available to the user are shooting-mode-dependent, but with the most commonly used modes, Intelligent Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority, the menus have three basic components - shooting, movie and setup, with various sub-menus. The menus have large type and are very easy to read on the LCD monitor. Here are the camera's shooting modes:

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Normal
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
High Key
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Sepia
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
High Dynamic
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Pinhole
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Film Grain
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Miniature
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Expressive
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Retro

 

Display/Viewfinder
The camera's LCD monitor has a 3.0 inch diagonal in a 3 x 2 aspect ratio with a resolution of approximately 460,000 dots. It has an anti-reflective coating and provides 100% coverage. The monitor can be adjusted in seven settings for brightness, contrast/saturation, red tint and blue tint.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150

DCR tests cameras for LCD screen quality, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and at least 500 nits. The LCD monitor of the FZ150 was found to have a contrast ratio of 508:1, 305 nits for peak brightness and 0.60 for dark. While the contrast ratio is in the optimum range, peak brightness is on the low side. However, despite its relatively low peak brightness score, I found the LCD monitor to be very usable in all conditions, including in bright sunshine.

The Lumix FZ150 also has an electronic viewfinder (a small LCD) with a 0.20 inch, 201,600 pixel screen and 100% coverage. The viewfinder is small but fairly bright. Next to the viewfinder is a diopter wheel for adjusting the viewfinder screen.

PERFORMANCE
Performance is a definite strongpoint for the FZ150. During the entire time I used the camera, I never was conscious of any delay, either in general operations, using the menus or while shooting. Everything worked the way you'd expect it to - not something you can say about all cameras. The camera took about two seconds to start up, which is somewhat quicker than most point and shoot cameras. However, the FZ150 really shines in its consistently quick shot-to-shot speed. No matter what shooting conditions I encountered, the camera was able to take successive pictures as fast as I could press the shutter. Using the flash slowed things down to about 2 seconds, which is still relatively quick.

Shooting Performance
The camera's performance tables set out below confirm what I suspected. Compared to three of the top ultrazooms available, the Nikon P500, the Fuji HS20EXR and the Canon SX40 HS, the FZ150 ties for first in the category of shutter lag when pre-focused (0.01 second) comes out way ahead in shutter lag when not pre-focused (0.15 seconds), and has the fastest continuous shooting speed (12 frames per second). These are among the best scores I've seen for a point-and-shoot camera.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 0.01
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.01
Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR 0.01
Canon PowerShot SX40 0.02

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 0.15
Nikon Coolpix P500 0.30
Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR 0.33
Canon PowerShot SX40 0.46

Continuous Shooting
Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 12 12.5 fps
Nikon Coolpix P500 5 10.0 fps
Fujifilm FinePix HS20 EXR 8 4.1 fps
Canon PowerShot SX40 2.3 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

I had little problem finding and locking focus even in dim light and when the long end of the zoom is used, which usually makes focusing more difficult.

Panasonic has equipped the FZ150 with an excellent lithium-ion battery. During my use of the camera I sometimes took 200 shots and videos in a day and never noticed any lost bars on the battery icon. Panasonic claims that battery life is 410 shots, which is probably accurate.

Lens Performance
The FZ150 uses a high quality Leica lens with a nano surface coating. The lens has a very wide range from 25mm through 600mm (35mm film camera equivalent). I noticed very little distortion overall. Chromatic aberration (colored fringing) was rarely present, even in high contrast situations, such as a tree branch against a light sky.

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Telephoto

The lens had consistently good sharpness, with perhaps a slight drop-off towards the corners. Vignetting was not a problem. I did not find any appreciable barrel distortion at extreme wide angle or pin cushion distortion at extreme zoom.

Video Quality
The Panasonic FZ150 has several different movie modes, of which the highest quality use the AVCHD format. The camera uses optical image stabilization with an active mode, which allows it to operate while taking movies. Other options for use in movie mode are optical zoom, adjusting shutter speed and aperture and using the Creative Control art filters. The camera also can use wind cut, which prevents the recording of wind noise, and zoom microphone, which will clearly record far sounds when the zoom is used, and surrounding sounds at wide angle.

I was pleased with the quality of the 1080p AVCHD movies produced by the FZ150. Shooting was smooth and colors were good. The camera managed to keep the subject in focus as I zoomed in and out.

Download Sample Video

According to Panasonic AVCHD videos can be up recorded up to approximately 110 minutes long (as long as there is sufficient storage space on the memory card).

Image Quality
The FZ150 produces sharp, images with colors that are well saturated, but not unrealistically so. The images are rarely affected by distortion. I occasionally noticed overexposure, which is something that is endemic to cameras with small sensors like the FZ150.

The camera can shoot macros as close as 1cm. I enjoy shooting macros of flowers, and the FZ150 did not disappoint.

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image

I used the camera's auto white balance setting, which worked well. White balance can also be manually set to clear sky, cloudy sky, shade, flash, incandescent and preset. The image below shows auto white balance under fluorescent lighting:

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The camera's flash can be set to auto, auto/red-eye reduction, forced flash (on/off) and slow synch. Panasonic claims a flash range of up to 9.5 meters (31.2 feet) at wide angle and 5.1 meters (16.7 feet) at extreme telephoto. This is a very powerful flash but it operated intelligently, using just enough power to appropriately light the subject.

As shown by the ISO table below, the FZ150 does well when shooting at low, medium and even moderately high ISO's. Its image quality is very good, with good sharpness, strong color and very little noise, through 400 ISO.

Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Noise and the smearing effect of noise reduction start to become visible at 800 ISO but do not become a major problem until 3200 ISO. It is clear to me that Panasonic has successfully resolved whatever caused the FZ100 to have image quality problems at higher ISO's, as the FZ150 is among the best point and shoot cameras in this area.

Additional Sample Images
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image
Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image Panasonic FZ150 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
As you can tell from the preceding review, I think very highly of the Panasonic DMC-FZ150. It has good build quality and ergonomics (with the minor exception of its dedicated video button). It's a feature-rich ultrazoom with excellent performance, especially its shot-to-shot time and continuous shooting ability. Image quality is consistently good, with very little distortion of any kind, though it is occasionally affected by overexposure, as is typical of cameras with small sensors. Finally the camera has a very good movie mode with many options.


The camera's only real drawback is its relatively high price. For less money one could buy an ultrazoom with much more optical zoom, although without the many advantages of the FZ150. For slightly more money one could buy a compact interchangeable lens camera or an introductory DSLR, which have larger sensors.

I said in my First Look that I thought the FZ150 could be one of the best ultrazooms. After spending more time with the camera I believe my first impressions were correct and that the FZ150 is one of the top ultrazooms available. It should receive serious consideration by anyone who wants an excellent ultrazoom and does not mind paying a premium price.

Pros:

Cons: