Zoom, zoom, zoom
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ28 is extremely versatile, especially for a small camera. It's armed with a 27mm lens that has a long 18x optical zoom, which provides a paparazzi-like 486mm length for distance shots. That makes it suitable for plane spotters hoping to get a great shot of an Airbus A380 landing at the airport, or even for party-goers who want to snap friends from close range.
- 18x optical zoom, no noticeable chromatic aberration, no lens distortion, relatively compact size
- Colours were a little under-saturated, images looked soft, noticeable grain at ISO 200
This is a decent model to choose if you want a long zoom range and versatile controls, yet don't want a bulky digital SLR. It's good for travellers in this respect, despite its soft pictures and slightly underdone colour.
Price$ 769.00 (AUD)
While it doesn't quite have SLR-like physical controls (not like the Lumix DMC-FZ50, for example), it does have a dedicated thumb-control that allows for the aperture size and shutter speed to be changed on the fly while in manual mode. This means you can take control and be as creative as you like with this camera, yet it also has plenty of useful program modes for when you don't want to have to fiddle with any settings. There are aperture priority and shutter priority modes, as well as a large array of pre-set modes for capturing sunsets, portraits and action shots.
Panasonic has implemented what it calls Intelligent Auto mode, too. As well as adjusting the shutter and aperture, this mode also adjusts the ISO value depending on the lighting in the scene. It changes these values automatically and the end result is a picture that is almost always well lit. However, the image quality does suffer when the ISO value is increased, and even at ISO 200 we noticed some graininess in our test shots. In manual mode, you can elect to switch on the auto ISO mode, which will select the best sensitivity value for your shots, but again, you run the risk of taking grainy shots. It's probably best to stick with ISO 100 in manual mode and play with the shutter and aperture values to get the lighting right.
The FZ28 does have a large aperture; it goes up to f2.8, but this isn't maintained all the way through the zoom range. It will only shoot at f2.8 at the lens' widest point; at 2x zoom, it will close to f3.4, and at 18x zoom it will close to f4.4. Nevertheless, a range of f2.8-4.4 is quite good for such a long lens. It's important to note that at maximum zoom, pictures can tend to look a little blurrier than usual. This is due to camera shake. It's especially difficult to hold this camera steady at its maximum zoom point because it is so small and light.
To counter this, it has built-in image stabilisation (IS) technology, and it does a respectable job. It also helps in low-light situations. Photos in low-light while zoomed in on a subject were very blurry with IS disabled, but came out well-defined with IS (mode 2) enabled. They were still a little soft, but you could at least see the subject, instead of only seeing blurry lines.
With a 10-megapixel sensor, the FZ28 will take huge pictures, and their quality will be good. But our test shots were a little less vibrant, and not as sharp, as we would have liked them to be. In fact, most of our test images looked soft and under-saturated, even in bright sunlight. We also couldn't get a decent bokeh background effect when focusing on foreground images; the background did become blurry, but it was still too recognisable. We were impressed by the lens' minimal chromatic aberration, and also its almost unnoticeable barrel roll. As it's such a long zoom lens, we expecting straight edges to be curved when shooting at the lens' widest point, but in our test shots, straight lines remained straight.
Physically, the FZ28 didn't leave a great impression. While its body felt solid enough, it also felt like the lens was loose when we moved the camera (we could also hear a slight rattle). Furthermore, when zooming while pointing the camera upwards, the motor made a noise while initiating the zoom, suggesting that it was struggling against gravity to push the lens up.
The zoom control for the lens is located on the ring around the shutter, and every flick of the ring seemed to move the zoom 0.5x. We like the distinct two-step feel of the shutter, and we also think the menu controls are easy to use and well laid out. For framing your shot, you can either use the LCD screen, or the electronic viewfinder. The LCD can be viewed adequately in bright light, but it does have noticeable colour-shift on the vertical axis, which makes it hard to see what shots from high or low angles look like before you actually take them.
The speed of the camera was good in single-shot mode, as shots were written to our 1GB SD card in under one second, but it was a little slow in burst mode, managing only a little over one shot per second. We like the fact that the display will tell you how long there is to go before a shot is written to memory, especially when taking shots with a long exposure time. The longest shutter time you can select on the FZ28 is 60sec, and this conveniently counts down on the screen after you press the shutter button, and again when it saves the shot to memory.
Overall, the FZ28 is a decent model to choose if you want a long zoom range and versatile controls, yet don't want a bulky digital SLR. It's actually a very good camera for travellers in this respect. Despite its soft pictures and slightly underdone colour, it will take good looking shots and you can always add a bit more saturation in a photo editor later on.
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