Having fallen in price by a third since its launch late last year, at a street price of less than £300 Panasonic’s classic fixed-lens bridge camera is now in serious danger of becoming a bargain. Based on a popular camera design that’s enjoyed creeping changes over the last few years, this incarnation increases its appeal by extending its zoom capabilities from 18x to 24x. That’s optical zoom – not digital.
Some rivals do offer more features than the DMC-FZ100, and it’s no substitute for a D-SLR, but for simplicity and high quality landscapes where convenience is a must – and we’re thinking of both urban and rural situations – the Panasonic has to be a serious contender. Not just for travellers tired of a D-SLR, but for all kinds of home situations, too.
The lens that lies at the heart of the camera is a 25mm wide-angle zoom f/2.8-5.2 Leica DC Vario-Elmart model. As well as 24x optical zoom (which equates to 28-600mm in old money), the DMC-FZ100 can reach 50.6x digital zoom for still images only, though doing so does cut the resolution to three megapixels.
Better by design
Design-wise, the DMC-FZ100 is a resounding success. A 3in LCD screen at the rear is mounted on a swivel arm that can flip out, camcorder style, nestle on the back of the camera in a more traditional position, or even bend out to face the subject.
There’s also a viewfinder – sadly, it’s electronic – that can be used instead in bright conditions, or to save battery, and a pop-up flash with a side-mounted manual activation control.
Powered by a lithium ion battery, still images are captured in 14.1-megapixel resolution to SD or SDHC cards, while the DMC-FZ100 also has 40MB of internal memory built in that will slightly lessen the blow if you forget to bring, or lose, your memory card.
Unlike a lot of bridge cameras, this one does shoot in the data-heavy RAW format.
Using the DMC-FZ100
Onscreen menus are delightful, and so too the stout manual dial on the camera’s right-hand top; included in the options on this is a talented ‘Intelligent Auto’ setting, as well as aperture priority, shutter priority, portrait and sports modes, movie mode, some manual colour modes (such as pin-hole, film grain, silhouette and black & white) and 17 scene settings.
Beside (and almost part of) that dial is the zoom lever, which feels natural to use; the design of this feature is key to the whole super-zoom concept, and it’s very well implemented – the lens itself is whisper-quiet.
Elsewhere the DMC-FZ100 feels comfortable to hold and of peerless build quality. Measuring 124x81x95mm (wdh), it weighs just under half a kilo – which is just about right for travellers who are after something serious.
Although the DMC-FZ100 can hardly be called a one-of-a-kind, it does have a few nifty features that most of its rivals can’t match.
One of our favourites is the ability to zoom during video recording – and to the hilt, too, all the way up to 24x.
Video is captured at the Full HD resolution of 1,920×1,080, and in AVC HD, a video file format that’s read from SD cards and USB sticks by consumer electronics gear elsewhere in Panasonic’s arsenal (its Viera TVs and Blu-ray players, for instance). The alternative is to attach the DMC-FZ100 to a Viera TV using a HDMI cable – though it’s far simpler to just pop out the SD card.
A range of frame rate options is available, to such an extent that the DMC-FZ100 seems slightly too obsessed with video. It’s a tendency that’s echoed by its camcorder-like LCD screen – though it’s more flexible than most; shutter speed and aperture can be tweaked in what Panasonic calls the ‘creative movie’ mode, and video is relatively well-focused, sharp and free from excessive blur on quick pans.
Sound, meanwhile, is recorded in Dolby Digital via a dual microphone on the camera’s top, and it creates perfectly decent stereo sound if you’re simply after home movie-style footage.
A quick camera to wake up, the DMC-FZ100 sports an incredibly easy to use interface that’s complemented by a logical, intuitive physical design and controls – and its picture aren’t bad, either. With a tripod, we managed some pin-sharp photos, dressed in natural colour tones, even at maximum zoom.
Camera shake isn’t the problem it sometimes is – the on-board Power O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilization) works well – and in everyday use the DMC-FZ100′s results are sharp, colourful and correctly exposed.
Despite being an easy camera to fall for, we do have one reservation about the DMC-FZ100, as with previous generations of the Panasonic super-zoom bridge. Pictures taken in low light suffer from a lot of digital ‘noise’ – but then, that’s a problem on almost all sub-£500 cameras we’ve seen.
Noise is a non-issue under most conditions, but as soon as the light was low or we shot indoors, in came some artefacts that couldn’t be cured by using the basic in-built flash.
Contact: Panasonic on 08705 357357
- Well designed and solidly built; outdoor pictures.
- Low-light images suffer from digital noise.
With the advent of 'micro four-thirds' cameras - a standard that allows compacts with mirrorless, interchangeable lenses - we're not entirely sure what the appeal of 'bridge' cameras are anymore, except to those not wanting to embrace the new tech until it's established, or actively wanting to avoid the possibility of additional lenses.
That said, we like this travel-friendly camera's flexible LCD screen and video options, as well as 90 per cent of its stills. As an all-rounder it's relatively bulky but brilliantly made, and the flexible super-zoom camera is highly appealing - especially at the rock-bottom prices we've seen recently online.