By Josh Fate
Built to have the feel of a dSLR, it has the same shape and control layout of the more expensive cameras. An electronic view finder (EVF) allows you to shoot at eye-level, giving the feel of a dSLR. The FZ100's main controls are well placed and easy to change on the fly while shooting. The menus are also easy to navigate, but lengthy due to the camera's versatility. If the EVF is not for you, then the 3.0-inch Free-Angle LCD will be. Its 460,000 dots provide a clear, sharp image and the combination of the anti-glare coating and ability to tilt the screen allow you to see it in any lighting condition, or even around objects.
With a newly designed Venus Engine powering the FZ100, it has some pretty outstanding performance features. It uses advanced signal processing to reduce image noise and controls the camera's intelligent features. A button on top of the camera allows you to quickly choose the burst rate that is right for your shooting situation. They range from full 14-Megapixel images at speeds of up to 11fps and 3.5-Megapixel images at 60fps. Unfortunately we were only able to reach 5fps with a class 10 SD card, even at the highest burst setting. This is a bit of a let down when you are looking for one of the fastest rates on the market. This engine also allows for the capture of full 1080i HD videos at 60fps. If you are into slow motion movies, you can also capture QVGA (320x240) sized videos at an astounding 220fps.
Capturing our outdoor image samples using the iAuto shooting mode provided us with very high image quality. The images are well exposed, vibrant and sharp, showing us extensive amounts of fine details within the photos. Noise and chromatic aberrations are controlled very well, but there are slight instances throughout our outdoor samples. You will also see some very distinct barrel distortion when shooting at the 25mm wide end. We also noticed that when shooting at the wide end of the zoom with the included lens hood, you will see the hood on the outside edges of your images, which you might not notice when you are shooting.
Our indoor sample images were taken using both iAuto and Aperture priority modes. Both modes produced excellent quality, capturing very sharp images whether at f/3.3 or f/8. Noise is also controlled very well, allowing you to make prints when shooting at any of the ISO settings. ISO 100 - 400 will allow you to make large clear images. While ISO 800 and 1600 are not as clear, they can still be used to make smaller prints. Assisting with your indoor and low-light shooting is a pop-up flash unit. This flash has a range of up to 31 feet (9.5m) at wide angle using ISO auto, but the range becomes very limited if you want to keep the ISO down for higher quality images. This can be seen in our portrait sample, as the ISO quickly went to 400 with the subject only being about 6ft. away. On the bright side, the flash did provide us with natural looking skin tones and no redness in the eyes.
Helping with your portrait shots, Panasonic has included Face Detection and Face Recognition software. This allows you to store your favorite faces in the camera, allowing it to give them priority over the rest of the image when they are detected. The Face Detection works very quickly, finding and then easily following any faces within the frame. It is also one of the best that we have used at finding and following faces while using the full telephoto zoom.
Shooting video with the FZ100 is very easy and almost instantaneous thanks to the dedicated video recording button located right behind the shutter release. This allows you to capture 1080i or 720p HD videos with stereo sound, depending on what the camera is set for. This button allows you to capture these videos no matter what shooting mode the camera is in. The FZ100's video quality is very good for a compact camera, with movies that are bright with vivid colors and play back smoothly. On the computer the videos look very sharp, and when viewing on an HDTV through the HDMI port, we did see a little bit of noise, increasing quickly with faster motion, but overall it provides a good viewing experience.
The FZ100's 7.2V 895mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery provided us with enough power on a single charge to complete all of our tests including approx. 200 images and videos, without the battery coming close to running out. This fits well with Panasonic's claims of capturing up to 410 images on a single charge. To quickly charge the battery, Panasonic has included a portable quick charger, which travels easily, so you can take it with you anywhere anytime. While battery life is quite sufficient for a long day of shooting, we still recommend you add a second battery pack to your purchase is the budget allows. It's cheap insurance that could save you from missing that once in a lifetime shot!
Bottom Line - Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ100 is a powerful compact super-zoom camera that is packed with impressive features and controls. With excellent image quality and performance, there isn't much that this camera struggles with. Just be warned, do not buy this camera specifically for the burst rates, which we were not able to achieve. With a street price of $499.95 US or less, this is an excellent choice if you are in the market for a powerful digital camera.
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