Panasonic was always known for manufacturing the highest quality electronics, and over the past 7 years or so, their Lumix line of digital cameras are still considered the best in the compact and travel niches. Just recently, they also came out with the GH1 and GH2 – the first truly powerful video camera/dSLR hybrids that can work without any problems as one or the other.
But if you’re not a professional photographer and don’t want to start learning all the ins and outs of digital photography, but still want to have a powerful camera under hand, the FZ line from Panasonic would also be among your first choices. They combine high quality fixed lenses with the best sensors and enough manual controls to satisfy even seasoned professionals – aside from the lens, these cameras are mostly like dSLRs.
The earlier models are good at photography and not that good at shooting video, but the latest device in the series fixes that and can truly be considered the perfect camera/camcorder hybrid for beginners and amateurs. I’m talking about the Lumix FZ100.
The FZ100 looks like any other prosumer digital camera on the market – it has a digital SLR’s body, but without the inter-changeable lens. There’s really nothing worth noting about the exterior, except the dual microphones for stereo audio recording (which is actually standard fare on modern cameras) and the swiveling screen that should help a lot with taking shots from any position you want. The flash is neatly hidden on the top of the camera, and pops up when you need it.
You’ve got all your standard camera controls – the 5 positions navigation pad, various buttons for quick function access and of course, the main wheel that lets you select from the camera’s 14 shooting modes and combinations. The main display is a beautiful 3 inch LCD unit with a 460K pixel density that makes it a pleasure to view the photos you’ve just taken. The Electronic Viewfinder is also great – it is pretty much pixel-free thanks to the 201K pixels crammed in a 0.20 inches space.
The camera has excellent shooting features, from Panasonic’s own Intelligent Auto Mode, which automatically adjusts everything for you to the Power Optical Image Stabilizer, the best in class – the picture is perfectly still even at half the zoom, and the zoom on this thing is huge at 24x plus digital zoom.
The Lumix FZ100 uses a new high-speed MOS sensor, which is 14 megapixels in size and allows the camera to shoot 6 frames per second at 14 megapixels and a whopping 60 frames per second at 3.5 megapixels, whether in JPEG or RAW formats – that’s in line with most entry and mid-level dSLRs! The picture quality is simply great – if you’re not a professional who simply needs different lenses, this camera can deliver everything you need and more.
Video quality is also very high, with the image being sharp and the autofocus fast enough to not notice the change. The dual microphones do a great job at recording stereo audio and removing noise when possible (wind cut is available, but it makes the voice sound a bit synthesized). The FZ100 can shoot 1080i HD, 720p HD, 848×480 widescreen and 640×480 pixels videos, all at 30 frames per second or more. At QVGA, you can enable the 200 FPS mode, which can be used to film things that move too fast for the eyes to see (a bird’s wings flapping, for example). Of course, you will need a fast class 4 or higher memory card to take advantage of all the shooting speeds, but if you buy this camera, you certainly won’t save a few bucks on a cheap SD card.
The Panasonic Lumix FZ100 is a wonderful camera that is worth the money, and is currently the best choice when it comes to prosumer cameras – few others can match its picture quality and flexibility. It’s not even that expensive at about $450, so if you’re looking for your next day-to-day video and stills camera, this one’s definitely worth a look.