Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
10.1MP | 27-486mm (18X) ZOOM | $325/£240
The FZ28 replaces the popular FZ18 and continues the history of Panasonic’s highly successful big zoom ‘FZ’ cameras. There was no reason for Panasonic to radically change the FZ18’s winning formula and therefore, unsurprisingly, the FZ28 is more evolution rather than revolution. The zoom range has marginally shifted towards to wide end and inevitably the sensor resolution has increased slightly (10.1 vs 8.0 MP). There is also a new RAW mode and HD video recording but most other modifications are of a rather minor scale. The specification highlights are:
- 10.1 effective Megapixels
- 27-486mm equiv lens with 18x optical zoom and up to 128x Extra Optical Zoom
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder with 100% Field of View
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 6400
- Enhanced Face Detection and D-Range Optimizer
- 14 shooting modes including Intelligent Auto Mode with AF Tracking
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
- 1280 x 720p HD recording
- Optional accessories available
- Battery life: 460 shots
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Like many of its competitors in the super zoom arena the FZ28 is packed with features. The Leica branded, stabilized 18x zoom lens offers an extremely versatile range from 27mm wide angle to 486mm (35mm equivalent) super tele; for those who can’t ever have enough lens reach, there is also an optional 1.7x tele converter available. Images are captured on a 10.1 megapixel sensor. The maximum sensitivity of ISO6400 (in High Sensitivity mode) and a continuous shooting frame rate of up to 13 fps are both impressive, although these settings only work at a reduced resolution. The RAW mode is new on the FZ28 and will certainly be interesting for those who want maximum control over their imaging pipeline, and for those who prefer moving images to stills the FZ28 now also sports HD video. Both images and videos can be reviewed on a 2.7” LCD screen.
From a design point of view Panasonic has stuck to the tried and tested formula that was established back with the launch of the FZ7. The FZ28 is one of the smaller cameras in this comparison and externally very similar to its predecessors, ergonomically shaped with a useful rubberized grip and thumb rest. The camera’s control layout and menu design also have only been marginally modified. Pressing the joystick button takes you into the very useful quick menu for access to the most important settings. Like previous Lumix FZ generations the FZ28 is nice to look at and manages to integrate good ergonomics, SLR-like controls and a massive zoom range in a compact package.
Image quality and performance
The FX28 is a solid performer in all areas. It takes approximately 2.3 sec from pressing the power button to recording the first image and after that things stay pretty swift. Shot-to-shot time is 2.1 sec and 2.5 sec if you are firing the flash (3.4 sec with activated anti-red-eye). The AF performs well, taking approximately 0.4 sec to lock onto a subject at wide angle and 0.7 sec at tele setting. In low light these figures can increase slightly but even in very dark conditions and at the long end of the zoom the FZ28 almost always, with the help of the AF light, manages to lock the focus without any hunting.
In review mode the speed of image browsing and magnification is fairly average. At first there is a very slight delay between images but once the thumbnails have been buffered the transition becomes more or less instantaneous.
Image quality is generally very good, with reliable focus and exposure. The output images are very consistent, all the way across the frame, throughout the focal length range. The small sensor means its images are never super-sharp (there's always a hint of noise reduction being applied, even at the lowest ISO settings), and they struggle with fine low-contrast detail and can easily be overwhelmed by bright light, but then that's true of all the cameras in this test. Overall, an impressive performance for a camera of this type and one that's undeniably enhanced by the removal of chromatic aberration, which appears to be processed-out by the camera. Shooting RAW allows you to remove that layer of noise reduction (and to process the images exactly as you wish), but you don't get much more resolution - the lens would appear to be the limit here.
The FZ28 is one of only two cameras in this test to be able to capture high definition video. As with the Fujifilm S2000HD, the Panasonic records 1280x720 video (720p), again at 30fps. However, unlike the S2000HD, the Panasonic uses the Motion JPEG format, which means the files produced are a very large 2.7MB/sec. The image quality of the video is considerably higher, too, helping to justify those larger files. Like the S2000, the Panasonic can also zoom while recording video. The speed of the zoom is significantly slowed during video recording (taking over 8 seconds to reach full zoom, rather than the sub 3 second time in stills mode), but has a number of advantages. Not only does it reduce nausea in the viewers of your videos, it also allows the focus to keep up with the zoom so your video doesn't suddenly completely lose focus and have to hunt to regain it.
We've long been fans of Panasonic's compact super zoom range, even if the race to add more and more pixels and bigger and bigger zooms has had an increasingly detrimental affect on image quality over the last couple of generations. The FZ28 is quite a return to form, offering significantly better ISO 400+ performance than its predecessor, and a good candidate for the best ISO 1600 in this group. The user interface may not be as pretty as, say, the Canon's, but it works well and puts an awful lot of control at your fingertips. The RAW option allows you to override the camera's processing and get far cleaner results at base ISO (though it will also expose just how noisy the sensor is at higher ISO settings) and - unusually for such a small, lightweight camera - the image stabilizer does a pretty good job.
The FZ28 isn't the sleekest looking camera here, nor does it have the most impressive specification, but it does what it does well, without too much fuss, and it improves on the FZ18 in several key areas. A real all-rounder that packs a lot of power into its compact body, and a clear front-runner for the top spot in this group.
- We like: Easy to use, good image quality, effective image stabilization, decent high ISO output (for smaller prints), compact design, useful zoom range, RAW mode (and full RAW converter package in the box), HD movie capture
- We don't like: Some highlight clipping of contrasty scenes, slightly soft pixel-level output, small viewfinder.