Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Replacing the very popular DMC-FZ18 from last year, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 is yet another powerful Super-zoom model to add to the "FZ" ranks. This new camera offers many of the options we have come to love on past models, including the 18x optical zoom lens, MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, color EVF, Face Detection AF, 0.39-inch Macro capabilities, and 7.2v 710mAh Li-ion battery pack. However, panasonic has added some appealing new features like their all new Venus Engine IV image processor, 10-megapixel image sensor, a larger 2.7-inch LCD, HD (1280x720, 30fps) movie mode, use of the optical zoom while recording video, an 11-point AF system, I.Exposure (Intelligent Exposure), 50MB of internal memory, RAW and JPEG still image capture (RAW+JPEG too), in-camera "leveling" (playback option), Record/Playback mode switch, component video output, and 4 new exposure modes.
With Intelligent Auto and 22 Scene modes, this capable camera can be used as a simple point-n-shoot by everyone in your household or office. Included in those 22 scene modes are five "Advanced" scene modes (Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Macro), which offer several options to better define the specific shooting situation. These modes help increase the chance that you will get a great shot, no matter what shooting environment you are in. For those of us who prefer more control over the exposure process, the FZ28 delivers. You can gain as much control as you are comfortable with by choosing from Program, Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, full Manual, and 4 Custom modes.
While the FZ28's design is almost identical to the FZ18, Panasonic has added a new component video output terminal on the right hand side as well as a Record/Play switch. On past models, playback mode was accessed via the mode dial. These are welcomed additions, and I especially liked the Mode switch. It allows you to quickly switch back and forth, without have to rotate the mode dial away from the current exposure mode being used. Ergonomics are also the same. The large hand grip offers a secure feel in your hands and the various controls are well-placed across the rest of the body. The menu system is logically organized, and we liked the Q.Menu (Quick Menu). This shortcut menu allows you to quickly make changes to important exposure options that are often changed. The only issue I had was with the 4-way joystick control. You press it inwards to bring up the Q.Menu, and I found that it required quite a bit of force to do so.
Like most super-zoom digicams, the FZ28 features both a large 2.7- inch color LCD as well as a high-quality color EVF (Electronic ViewFinder). EVFs are just tiny LCDs (this one is 0.2-inches) that are located in the eyepiece and magnified for easy viewing. This particular EVF showed very good color rendition and there's a diopter adjustment to match your eyesight. EVFs have many advantages over optical viewfinders, providing an accurate viewfinder image, a wealth of overlay exposure information, and the ability to playback images. However there are some drawbacks as well, like a delayed live image (not the case with the FZ28), freezing when using the burst capture mode and they consume about as much power from the battery as the LCD on the back does.
I found both displays worked well in various lighting conditions. When shooting in low ambient light, they brighten or "gain up", allowing you so see your subject for framing. Outdoors, the LCD was bright enough to be usable on sunny days, however the coating is still reflective. The EVF's eyepiece blocks out most of the ambient light when shooting in bright conditions, making it ideal when outdoors. The only issue I had with the EVF was the fact that the eyepiece is hard plastic, compared to the soft rubber or a dSLR. Therefore, it can be uncomfortable at times, especially with prolonged use.
The FZ28's shooting performance was similar to past models, great for a camera in this category. It took only 1.9 seconds to power up and capture the first image; pretty amazing when you consider it has to boot up and extend that 18x lens. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release to actually capturing the image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and only 3-4/10 of a seconds including autofocus, depending on the amount of focus change. In single frame mode, the shot to shot delay averaged only 1.5 seconds without use of the flash and between 1.8 and 2 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life.
You can choose from two standard continuous shooting modes as well as two continuous Scene modes located in the SCN menu. The Normal continuous mode captures a max of 3 images in just 6/10 of a second (5.0fps), which blows away Panasonic's claim of 2.5fps. Unlimited mode will continue to capture images at a slower frame rate, and using it I was able to capture 10 images in 4.9 seconds (2.0fps). Lastly we have the High-speed Burst and Flash Burt Scene modes. High-speed gives you a choice of Speed priority or Image priority, then you choose the aspect (4:3, 3:2, 16:9). Image size is 3M Normal (depending on aspect), and I captured 88 images in just 10.1 seconds (8.7fps)! This is very impressive, and even though the image size drops to 3M, there is plenty of resolution to create 4x6 - 8x10-inch prints. In Flash Burst, again you choose the aspect, and the image size is dropped to 3M Normal. Using this mode, I was able to capture 5 flash images in 2.5 seconds. Both the LCD and EVF viewfinders briefly display the last image captured in burst mode, which makes it possible, but a bit difficult to follow fast moving subjects.
Switching the camera into RAW mode slowed the shot to shot delay down by quite a bit, with a gap of 3.8 seconds between frames. The Continuous modes are not available when shooting RAW. Our tests were done using a ATP Pro Max (Class 6) 4GB SDHC card, Program exposure mode, Large/Fine quality, preview off, flash off, ISO Auto (Max400) and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
As with past models, the FZ28's most prominent feature has to be the high-quality Leica Vario-Elmarit 18x zoom lens. Covering a focal length of 27-486mm (in 35mm equivalence) this lens offers a great deal of versatility in composing your shots. Unlike most super-zoom models that favor the telephoto end of the zoom range, the FZ28 features a very respectable 27mm wide angle extreme. This will allow you to capture wider landscapes, larger group portraits as well as offer better framing possibilities indoors. With 18x (486mm) magnification, you can bring those distant subjects up close and in your face. While zooming is not continuous, I counted 78 steps from wide angle to full telephoto, more than adequate for your composition needs. This remarkable lens is also fast, with a wide angle aperture of f/2.8 and f/4.4 at telephoto, which enhances your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. To help aid in the battle of camera shake and motion blur, the FZ28 also features Panasonic's exclusive MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) system, which is far superior to many other model's digital stabilization modes. Like most all zoom lenses, the unit on the FZ28 shows an average amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at full telephoto end of the zoom range. However, chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) were surprisingly scarce in our sample photos.
Usually, the longer the focal length of a lens, the more likely it is that you will see traces of camera shake (blurring of the subject due to camera movement). Non-stabilized lenses with high power telephoto capabilities require the use of a tripod/monopod or a faster shutter speed to overcome blur; the rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the lens focal length (e.g. 1/400 of a second when using a 400mm lens). Depending on the lighting conditions, a high ISO setting might be required to use a fast shutter speed, which can add noise, and in most cases compromises image quality to avoid blur. This is not an issue with Panasonic's "FZ" series of super-zooms. Their MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system reduces the effect of camera shake, by allowing you to capture images using slower than normal shutter speeds without raising the ISO.
While the zoom lens is the most prominent feature, image quality is the most important. The FZ28 has the ability to capture sharp images both indoors and out, with only minor edge softness. The AE system does a great job, producing well exposed images with and without the flash. I was also pleased with the color saturation of our sample photos, which was nice and vivid; something that will make your prints really stand out. When shooting indoors or in any marginal lighting where the flash is needed, you will have to work with the limited range of this pop-up unit. Panasonic claims it can illuminate up to 27 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto), which is an above average range for a consumer model. I had no problems producing nice flash portraits from about 8-10 feet away using the zoom to tightly frame my subject. One note I'd like to make is, when you lower the ISO or use the zoom capabilities like we did, the flash range will be effected. Overall, our individual portrait examples show the FZ28 can capture some very nice "people" photos. I preferred using Program with the ISO set to 100 and Face detection AF enabled. However, both Program and the dedicated Portrait mode were able to produce nice shots with pleasing skin tones as well as sharp facial features. Overall I'd say the FZ28 is a great choice if you plan on shooting a lot of people shots, especially since the Face detection AF system is fast and accurate. It was able to find and lock on to my subject's face almost immediately.
Imager noise was well controlled when using the higher ISO capabilities of this camera. I found you can create nice large prints using settings of ISO 800 and below. 1600 looks as if you could still get away with some good 4x6-inch prints as well. One feature I liked was the ability to adjust the amount of Noise Reduction. Under the Pict. Adjust option in the record menu, you can change the degree of NR by 5 increments (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2). Increasing the strength of NR seemed to do well on our set of ISO 800 shots, which you can see for yourself by taking a look at the Sample photos page.
The movie mode function on this camera has been updated in several ways. The FZ28 is the first "motorized zoom" model in the "FZ" series that allows you to have full use of the 18x optical zoom lens while recording video. Not only can you record at the typical 848x480, 640x480 and 320x240 sizes, but Panasonic has also added a new HD format (1280x720) movie mode choice. The frame rate of each resolution setting is 30fps, with the exception of the QVGA mode that also offers 10fps. Movies are recorded with sound, and like still images, you have full use of the cameras MEGA O.I.S. system for steady hand-held videos. I was very happy with our samples, which show that this camera has the ability to capture smooth video with almost no noise. The lens moves or zooms very slowly in movie mode, which is actually nice since the live image doesn't get way out of focus, then you have to wait for the AF system to "catch up". In fact, the Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) option worked very well, keeping up with moving objects without a problem. This system is able to adjust focus very quickly, which at times was so fast I could't even tell it was working. We highly recommend you purcahse a larger 4GB+ SDHC memory card if you plan on using the HD function often, our short movie sample is approx. 11MB in size.
Panasonic has supplied the same 7.2v 710 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack that previous models have used. They claim you can capture up to 460 images on a single charge. We were able to capture over 100 photos, several movies at various resolutions, and conclude the rest of our tests on a single charge. In fact, the battery indicator still shows 2/3 full. Normally we recommend you purchase a second battery, however I feel as long as you are not going on a vacation where you plan on taking 500+ images a day, the included pack should server you well.
Bottom line - As with all of the past "FZ" series models, I was impressed with the Lumix DMC-FZ28. If you are one who is in the market for a powerful super-zoom model or one who is unsure about jumping into the dSLR market, the FZ28 might just be the next digicam for you. With an awesome zoom lens, great image quality, robust performance, HD movie mode, and plenty of exposure options, the FZ28 is a well-rounded digicam. The only real issue I had with this camera was the Joystick control. I had to press it in Very hard in order for it to bring up the Q.Menu, which brings up longevity concerns. That said, with a street price of US $399, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 offers an outstanding value for such a versatile super-zoom model.