Before we’re accused of being overly critical, it’s important that we point out that our review sample was a pre-production model, which means that firmware hasn’t yet been finalised and some of the issues we’ve identified below could well be ironed out before the camera ships in mid-October.
Equally, it’s also worth bearing in mind that, despite the FZ150’s DSLR-like styling and physical dimensions, it still employs a (1/2.3in) compact-sized sensor at its heart. In this respect it’s essentially just another compact, albeit one with a far-reaching lens on the front. Given this, and despite some niggly sharpness and colour issues – which we’ll detail shortly – the FZ150 delivers an overall level of image quality that we suspect the vast majority of owners will be more than happy with.
Indeed, compared to some other superzooms we’ve reviewed recently the FZ150 scores quite well in the image quality stakes. It’s not perfect by any means though and compared to cameras of a similar size that use larger sensors – Panasonic’s Lumix G3, for example – the FZ150 doesn’t even get close. Obviously it would be unfair to judge the FZ150 and the G3 side by side as they are different types of camera with their own individual strengths and weaknesses, but given that the price differential between the two isn’t all that great (less than £100), it’s certainly food for thought.
We don’t mind admitting that the first time we took the FZ150 for a walk we were actually left a little disappointed with the results, with a lack of sharpness and muted colour both figuring highly on our list of concerns. Perhaps we were just having an off day, because on subsequent outings we’ve been left much more impressed with what the camera can do.
Given the huge focal range, images aren’t always the sharpest, especially when the FZ150 is used at its wideangle extreme. At middling focal lengths though, the camera does deliver better results, especially when combined with an aperture ‘sweet spot’ of around f/5.6-f/8. Despite the overall drop in resolution the FZ150 resolves perfectly acceptable levels of detail, although this can suffer from heavy JPEG processing at higher sensitivities.
Panasonic claims to have improved the noise reduction process at both the sensor capture and image processing stages for better low-light performance. While we’re happy to confirm that the FZ150 does indeed compare favourably to other compacts at low to mid-range sensitivity settings of ISO 100-400, and easily outperforms its predecessor too. However, when pushed beyond ISO 800 performance can be seen to drop. Slightly better results can be achieved by recording in Raw and processing your own images of course, but this isn’t something that’s going to appeal to everyone.
Colour output when shooting JPEGs will differ quite dramatically depending on what Photo Style (colour profile) you opt for. Used on the Standard setting we found resultant images to be a little flat, especially in flat or dim light. The Vivid setting, in complete contrast, is often a bit too vivid and can make things look unnatural. Thankfully it’s possible to boost the former or tone the vibrancy down a notch or two on the latter via the custom settings. It’s certainly worth experimenting with.
Metering is generally pretty accurate when the camera’s used outdoors in cloudy or bright-but-even conditions. That said, we did notice a tendency for the FZ150 to occasionally overexpose when used in direct sunlight, which can result in blown highlights and skies that come out looking more turquoise than blue. Hopefully, this is something that will be tweaked before the camera is in the shops.
Used on the Auto White Balance setting the FZ100 is generally quite accurate, although there is a tendency for images to be a little on the cool side – something we’ve noticed with other Panasonic compact models.
With its wide focal range and generous feature set, the FZ150 is primarily a camera of convenience. At 24x it doesn’t quite match some other superzooms in terms of telephoto reach, however it does deliver good image quality and solid hi-def movie recording abilities. If convenience tops your list of priorities and a 24x optical zoom is sufficient for your needs then the FZ150 merits a closer look.