Having used and tested Panasonic cameras for quite some time (beginning with their original mega-zoom camera the FZ1 with 12x optical zoom, image stabilization and 2-megapixel resolution), I have come to expect excellent performance and good prices from them. The new Panasonic DMC-FZ28 features 18x optical zoom (with optical image stabilization Panasonic is known for), 10.1-megapixel resolution and a very reasonable street price.
What is Panasonic FZ28
The Panasonic DMC-FZ28 is a digital 10.1-megapixel camera with 18x optical zoom, including wide angle of 27mm (27-486mm), 2.7-inch LCD and a custom Li-Ion battery. The camera stores photos and videos on the SD (or SDHC) memory cards and weighs only 14.7 oz.
The Leica-branded lens features maximum apertures of f/2.8 at wide angle and f/4.8 at full telephoto. Face detection and video recording are also present. The camera is available in black (FZ28K) or in silver-grey (FZ28S).
The FZ28 looks like a miniature SLR. Not surprisingly, just as the previous cameras of the FZ line, the FZ28 is easy to use with intuitive menus and controls. The min SLR-like shape and optical image stabilization make it easy to shoot in dim light and/or at high magnification levels.
I found the camera very similar in shape, controls and use to the previous Panasonic FZ cameras, especially with its predecessor, the FZ18. The camera is so easy to use, I have not read the manual but was able to figure out to use all its features in no time.
The electronic viewfinder has very good resolution (201,600 pixels) and lets you use the camera in bright light. The zooming is smooth and uses two speeds, depending on how hard you push on the zoom lever.
The range of zoom is amazing. The wide angle of the lens is 27 mm, which is as wide as it gets with digital mega-zoom cameras, The full telephoto of 486 mm magnifies far-away objects extremely well.
The mega-zoom cameras are fun to use and this one is no exception. In addition to full manual modes, which let you use the camera without having to think about such things as aperture of shutter speed, there are modes where you can enable manual control of aperture and shutter speed.
Preset scene modes provide a good middle ground and the face recognition works really well and lets camera figure out where to focus, which is especially important at telephoto.
The camera is powered by a proprietary Li-Ion battery, which looks similar to an SLR battery and provides enough power to last through over 460 shots.
The camera provides RAW mode if you want to edit photos on your computer before it is compressed to JPEG. I used JPEG however.
The excellent Panasonic image stabilization really works and lets you obtain sharp pictures with no motion blur in low light and/or telephoto. I was able to get sharp results at up to 2-3 stops beyond normal.
The camera comes with 50 MB of built-in memory. I used my 2-GB SD card with it. The camera can also use high-capacity SD cards (SDHD - Secure Digital High Capacity). Also included are the USB cable, the A/V cable, CD-ROM with software (I haven't installed it and probably never will), the battery pack and charger, lens hood, lens filter adaptor, lens cap with a strap and a shoulder strap, manuals.
The camera comes with a filter adaptor and a lens hood. The lens hood is very useful to avoid flare, which has a potential to reveal itself if shooting on a sunny day with the sun ahead. The hood is not very easy to attach, but it works well.
The camera has features that enthusiasts will find appealing such as Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mode. The aperture range is up to f/8 and the shutter speed is up to 60 seconds.
Mega-Zoom and Optical Image Stabilization
Consumers like cameras that provide high optical zoom numbers (e.g. 5x and higher). I like them too. Having a camera with an optical zoom over 5x lets you magnify images far away without loss of sharpness. But not all mega-zoom cameras are created equal. Some of them have no optical image stabilization, which makes images shot at high magnification or in dim light blurry.
Optical image stabilization lets you have substantially sharper images in low light or at high zoom levels. It lets you shoot handheld in many situations that would otherwise require a tripod. I would never buy a camera with high optical zoom unless it has optical image stabilization (see exception below). All mega-zoom cameras of Panasonic FZ (including this FZ28) line have optical image stabilization.
One exception to this rule is the S-series of Fuji cameras, some of which are equipped with Super-CCD sensors that have very low noise at high ISO settings. This lets you increase ISO and thereby shoot at faster shutter speeds decreasing blur.
The camera has a 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels (an improvement in resolution over the previous models) that covers 100% of the view. You can also use the electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a diopter adjustment. The LCD screen is fluid, has pleasing colors and good resolution. The LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases and you have to use the EVF, which works well in sunlight.
The optical viewfinder would be better, but it would not have been possible to make an optical viewfinder that would fit in such a small space and work with such a monster 18x optical zoom.
In the shooting mode, the "Display" button cycles through the image with no information, image with basic shooting parameters and a live histogram, image with lines that split the screen in nine areas and help you compose the shot better or image that is slightly decreased in size and the area around it filled with shooting parameters, etc.
At any time you can see the estimated remaining amount of pictures that will fit on the memory card as well as the battery status. The icons are descriptive and the information is displayed in easy to understand format.
The camera takes a couple of seconds to extend its lens when powered on, but is speedy otherwise. There are no delays between shots, unless the flash needs to be recharged. Even in that case, the delays are shorter than from AA-powered cameras.
The burst mode is very fast and the bracketing mode burst is fast as well. The flash is powerful at wide angle. And the focusing is fast, even in dim light.
The camera is very fast overall. It focuses very fast as well (well under a second, almost instantaneously).
The AF illuminator helps with faster focusing in dim light, but even if it cannot reach its target, the camera still focuses fairly fast. This is in contrast with many other cameras that try to focus in the same conditions for several seconds, at times successfully, at times failing to focus at all.
Overall, the focusing performance of the FZ28 is probably the best I have seen so far, even better than the already excellent Panasonic FZ18.
The camera has focus confirmation - it shows you a small or larger rectangle around the area where the camera is currently focused. The shutter lag when pre-focused is virtually absent and the picture is taken almost instantaneously. You can select to have the taken picture appear on the screen for 1 or couple of seconds after it's taken to confirm if it is good or you can select not to have this, so-called, quick preview at all. In the latter case, the LCD goes blank only momentarily.
Overall, depending on the focus mode, the shot-to-shot delay ranges between less than a second (High-Speed Autofocus) to a little more than a second (9-point autofocus). Since RAW images are much large than JPEGs, the delay is longer, depending on the SD card speed. Obviously, the times above are with no flash use.
Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. Depending on battery condition and the subject distance, you can expect the flash recharge time of 2-5 seconds, which is still very good.
Again, I cannot emphasize the importance of the wide angle capaility of this camera. It makes the camera more useful than other cameras that do not go as wide, especially indoors and while taking pictures on narrow streets.
The camera features excellent optics, which is very sharp. There is little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) at full wide angle and more at telephoto. The corners are a little soft at full telephoto. But the sharpness is excellent overall with sharp image at telephoto.
The barrel and pincussion distortion is virtually absent. Overall, the lens is excellent.
Unfortunately, Panasonic cameras still do not feature the best CCD sensors and it shows. The sensitivity is up to ISO 6,400. There is a little chroma noise even to lowest sensitivity (ISO) settings and it grows at higher ISO. The image processing tames noise but makes fine detail softer. If this issue was solved, this camera would be pretty much perfect.
The softness and slight noise are not by any means bad or intrusive. They are not visible on prints and you can print up to 11x14 at lower ISO settings, 5x7 or even 8x10 at ISO 800. The higher-ISO photos are adequate at 5x7 or 4x6, aside from ISO 3,200 or 6,440, which are barely usable.
I was able to connect the camera to my Windows 2000 SP4 Professional computer with no need to install any drivers or software. After that, the camera appeared as a removable drive in my system and I could copy the files from it. But the speeds were slow and I usually remove the SD card from the camera and just use my memory card reader, which accepts SD cards and is fast.
When new, the camera was quite cheap at less than $290. With 18x optical zoom, 10MP resolution and even 720p high-definition video recording it was a bargain.
Pros: Low price, excellent performance, zoom range, photo quality, ease of use, battery included
Cons: Slight chromatic aberration at telephoto, slight noise at higher ISO.
The FZ28 is an excellent camera for traveling, sporting events and more. With its combination of high resolution, 18x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, ease of use and excellent performance, it is a great choice and I highly recommend it, especially at its incredibly low price.