The FZ45’s overall performance is excellent. It starts up and is ready to shoot in less than two seconds, and shuts down again just as quickly. In single-shot mode and Fine JPEG image quality it has a shot-to-shot time of 1.2 seconds, which is very quick by any standard, and faster than the FZ28. Shooting in Raw or Raw + JPEG mode however the performance was not so good, in fact attempting to shoot two quick consecutive frames in this mode caused a fatal write error and crashed the camera with every memory card that I tried, including one of Panasonic’s own ultra-high-speed Class 10 cards. To be fair though this may be a firmware problem with the early production sample I was testing.
Like the FZ38 the FZ45 doesn’t have a long-period continuous mode, just a fairly slow 1.8fps burst mode which is limited to three frames in fine mode or five in standard mode regardless of image size. This option is not available in Raw or Raw + JPEG.
The FZ45’s autofocus system appears to be the same as the FZ38, but this is no bad thing. It is extremely fast and reliable, with very good low light performance, focusing just as quickly in twilight as in full daylight. It has a good bright AF assist lamp with an effective range of around four metres, and focuses with this very quickly even in total darkness.
The main selling point of the FZ38 was its outstanding picture quality, and I’m sure the same will be true of the FZ45, however I wouldn’t advise any FZ38 owners out there to trade up just yet. The lens quality is of course superb, as we’ve come to expect from Panasonic’s Leica-branded optics. In Raw or low-compression JPEG mode the level of fine detail is comparable to a DLSR, and even at the 25mm wide angle end the lens produces almost no optical distortion and excellent corner-to-corner sharpness, with no trace of chromatic aberration.
Colour reproduction is very good, exposure and focusing are accurate and reliable, but the FZ45 is nor without a couple of problems, predictably the result of the increased sensor pixel density. Even using the Intelligent Exposure mode the dynamic range is quite limited, with poor shadow detail, but it is the image noise problems that are the biggest cause for concern. The FZ38 had virtually flawless image quality at 200 ISO, and produced acceptable results even at 800 ISO. Sadly the FZ45 cannot match this performance. Quality at 80 ISO is unquestionably very good, but there are small but visible blotches of colour distortion even at 100 ISO. The image quality at 400 ISO is no better than its main rivals, and at 800 ISO the noise reduction has blurred out almost all fine detail. It is very disappointing that Panasonic has chosen to sacrifice the outstanding image quality of one of its most popular cameras for the sake of a pointless increase in image resolution.
The Panasonic FZ45 is a superbly designed and very well made super-zoom camera that is absolutely loaded with advanced features. It has comfortable handling, excellent performance in all lighting conditions, and is a real pleasure to use. In general use the image quality is very good, but disappointingly its high-ISO performance and dynamic range are inferior to its predecessor the FZ38.