- Good range of manual controls
- Fast start-up
- Quality lens
- Video output is only in 1080i
- Clunky software included
- Review Price: £290.00
- 18x optical zoom lens
- Face detection
- 27-486mm range
- AV and Mini-HDMI
By a strange coincidence it is precisely a year and a day since I reviewed the outstanding Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18, an expensive but immensely capable 18x zoom, 8.1-megapixel super-zoom bridge camera and arguably the best of its type, at least until recently.
The camera market moves on however, and there have been several recent launches of more powerful 10-megapixel bridge camera or super-zoom models from rival manufacturers, such as the 20x zoom Olympus SP-570 UZ (£285), the 18x zoom Nikon Coolpix P80 (£225), and the 18x zoom Fujifilm S8100fd (£185).
Not surprisingly then, Panasonic has recently launched the new Lumix DMC-FZ28, an 18x zoom, 10.1-megapixel super-zoom bridge camera, an upgrade of the FZ18 which is obviously intended not just to keep up with the Joneses, but to try and keep one step ahead of them. It’s an expensive camera at the moment, but then it’s only just been launched. Give it a few months and the price should come down to more realistic levels.
At first glance the FZ28 looks identical to the FZ18, with a body design almost unchanged since the FZ8; in fact looking at the pictures above you’d be hard-put to spot any difference at all. The external differences are indeed very subtle. The LCD monitor is a little larger, but an increase from 2.5 to 2.7 inches isn’t exactly Earth-shattering. The surround of the viewfinder eyepiece is a slightly different shape, but is still made from glasses-scratching hard plastic, there is a small difference in the options on the main mode dial, and the right-hand side of the camera now sports a small hatch concealing the component video output connector, a new feature for the FZ28 which allows it to be connected to a HD TV. Oh, and the pattern of holes over the microphone are slightly different. I bet you missed that one, didn’t you?
In terms of features too the changes are only small, but there are a lot of them and the overall effect is a significant improvement on what was already an outstanding camera. Most of the changes are to the camera’s automatic systems, with improved Face Detection now capable of tracking 15 faces at once; Intelligent Exposure, which helps to reduce the occurrence of black shadows and burned-out highlights; Intelligent Scene Selector, which automatically selects the correct scene mode, and Intelligent ISO Control, which as the name suggests selects the best ISO setting for the situation.
As anyone who reads a lot of camera reviews will have spotted, none of those features are unique, and similar features exist (albeit with different names) in many other cameras, however Panasonic have combined them all into one Intelligent Auto setting that supposedly makes it much easier to take good shots quickly. It does work, and you can rely on it to cope with even quite unusual lighting situations, but I can’t honestly say it works any better than the automatic settings on any other high-spec cameras. It’s still sometimes fooled by high contrast scenes or bright backlighting, and needs to be over-ridden.
Like the FZ18 the FZ28 has a good range of manual controls, with shutter and aperture priority and full manual exposure, and these too have seen some improvement. Aperture settings from f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speeds of 60 seconds to 1/2000th of a second, in increments of 1/3EV are available, as well as spot metering and a selectable focus point, which offers a lot of creative potential. The metering spot can be moved to match the AF point too, which is even better.
The white-balance options have also been improved, with dial-in colour temperature, two measured white balance settings and an option to manually adjust the colour balance within quite wide parameters. This means that the camera can be set up to cope with almost any lighting conditions. It’s an impressive system, and you’d have to buy a DSLR to find more adaptability.
Other improvements include the pop-up flash, which is significantly more powerful with an impressive 8.5m maximum range, and the video mode, which can now shoot in 1280x720p at 30fps, although the component video output is only in 1080i.
There have also been several improvements to the FZ28’s performance, primarily the inclusion of the new Venus Engine IV image processor. The camera starts up in less than two seconds, which is exceptionally fast for a big super-zoom camera, and shuts down again just as quickly.
In single shot mode the shot-to-shot cycle time is approximately 1.8 seconds, while in unlimited continuous shooting mode it can maintain just less than two frames a second until the memory card is full. In RAW+JPEG shooting mode it can manage a shot every 3.8 seconds, again maintaining this until the card is full. This is impressive performance, but in fact in all shooting modes the FZ28 is actually slightly slower than the FZ18.
Some things are apparently unchanged, such as the AF system, although since it is already extremely fast and accurate and copes well in low light situations, it clearly wasn’t in need of much improvement.
The lens is also unchanged, but the slightly larger sensor means that its effective focal length has been slightly reduced, from 28-504mm to 27-486mm. To be honest the difference is barely noticeable, but it’s always nice to have a decent wide-angle setting. The optical quality of the lens is extremely high, as befits the Leica brand name which it bears. It produces almost no distortion at any focal length, and is pin-sharp right across the frame with no trace of chromatic aberration. The FZ28 unquestionably has the best lens of any current super-zoom camera.
The upgraded image processing engine has gone some way towards curing the one problem that has always dogged Panasonic’s cameras; that of image noise. Images at 100 and 200 ISO are now noise-free, and 400 ISO, while showing some signs of noise, has noticeably better colour fidelity. 800 and 1600 ISO are also quite noisy and lack fine detail, but the grain of the noise pattern is smoother with better edge definition, and might make slightly better prints.
Shooting with normal settings, exposure metering, white balance and colour rendition are all extremely good, and the overall picture quality is excellent, even more so if you shoot in Raw mode, although unfortunately Adobe Photoshop’s Camera RAW module doesn’t yet recognise the FZ28’s Raw files, so you’ll have to convert them using the supplied software, which is adequate but a little clunky.
On paper it looks like the FZ28 is only an incremental upgrade on the FZ18, but an objective analysis can’t convey the overall feel of the camera. Despite the obvious similarities, all the little changes add up to a camera that feels a significantly more accomplished and assured than its predecessor. It responds quickly, focuses accurately, exposes correctly and produces outstanding results, and is generally a very satisfying camera to use. The FZ28 will suit anyone looking for a super-zoom camera, whether they want the creative power of its extensive manual options, or the reliable simplicity of its advanced automatic features. In my opinion it is currently the best all-round super-zoom camera on the market, and will become better value as the price drops over the next few months.
”A range of test shots are shown over the next few pages. Here, the full size images at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced for bandwidth purposes to let you see the full image, and a series of crops taken from original full resolution images at a range of ISO settings have been included in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. ”
This is the full frame at 100 ISO.
At the minimum ISO setting the image quality is very good, with no trace of noise.
At 200 ISO there is virtually no difference.
Noise is starting to appear at 400 ISO, but there’s still plenty of fine detail and the colour rendition is still accurate.
Things are getting a bit fuzzy at 800 ISO, but there is still some fine detail and the edge definition is OK.
At the maximum of 1600 ISO the image quality is pretty poor, but it’s a bit smoother than the FZ18 and would probably be OK in a small print.
This is the full frame at 1600 ISO.
”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ”
Here’s the usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral, for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click to see the whole picture.
Low file compression, an excellent lens and a good 10.1MP sensor add up to plenty of fine detail.
The outstanding lens produces almost no wide-angle barrel distortion.
Centre sharpness is excellent.
Corner sharpness is almost perfect, with no blurring or chromatic aberration.
”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image. ”
The wide angle end of the zoom is equivalent to 27mm, slightly wider thanthe FZ18.
The power of the 18x image-stabilised zoom lens is awesome. It’s equivalent to 486mm.
The intelligent exposure mode copes well with difficult lighting, capturing both shadow and highlight detail.
Colour rendition is pretty much perfect.
Rich greens and saturated reds despite the overcast day.
There is a little purple fringing visible in this crop from the frame above, but not enough to cause a major problem.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Build Quality 9
|Camera type||Super Zoom|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||10.1 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||18x|
|LCD Monitor||2.7 in|
|Flash modes||Auto Flash, Flash ON, Flash OFF, Red-eye Reduction|
|Video (max res/format)||1280 x 720|
|Memory card slot||Secure Digital (SD) Card, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card, MultiMediaCard (MMC)|