Thursday, November 24, 2011

Want to improve your photography?

Digital cameras are getting better and better each year as manufacturers solve the issues that bedevilled their earlier products.

The market roughly splits into three: compact cameras that sip into the pocket, large SLR cameras that come with interchangeable lenses and offer a myriad of features and the so called bridge cameras that fall between the two. Some of these bridge cameras overlap the prices of low end SLRs but this one is different. Search on the Internet and you will find the Panasonic FZ150 for as little as £310. That might seem a lot in comparison with the cheap compacts that you find in stores but this camera does offer an awful lot more as your will find from this review in PC Pro.

For anyone whose photographic aspirations lie beyond a compact camera, there are several different ways to go. For the ultimate in quality and control, you can choose an SLR, but many prefer a bridge (or superzoom) camera such as the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150.

The advantages of bridge cameras are many. They handle like an SLR, yet give you a huge zoom range without the bulk and cost. And compared to most compacts there’s a greater range of control.

So it is with the Panasonic FZ150. The zoom is longer, at 24x, than most compacts can offer, giving a huge range of 25mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 - front view

Aperture and shutter priority, full manual and program modes give you plenty of control, and it’s packed with SLR-style dials, knobs and buttons. A mode dial on top helps you flick between settings quickly, there’s a thumb wheel for adjusting settings such as aperture, and a dedicated movie button.

It captures RAW and JPEG images at 12.1 megapixels, and video at 1080p and 50fps in either AVCHD or MP4 format, and it sports a 202kpixel electronic viewfinder as well as a 3in fully articulated screen. Impressively, there’s also a hotshoe for mounting a flash, and a 2.5mm jack for connecting an external microphone.

The half-inch sensor can’t match an SLR’s for size and light-capturing capabilities, but responsiveness and performance is very good. We measured a shutter lag of 0.4 seconds and shot-to-shot performance at 0.8 seconds – as good as any compact we’ve seen before. Even with the flash on, that only drops to one second between shots, and in burst mode you can shoot 12 shots at full resolution in a second.

And quality, despite the small sensor, is stunningly good. At full zoom and full wide, shots look sharp across the board, with no fringing or distortion. Automatic exposures were consistently expertly judged and colours perfectly balanced. In low light, even at ISO 3200 noise is remarkably well controlled, although some detail is inevitably lost as the camera’s noise reduction routines battle to produce clean images.

In video mode, it’s even better. The Active Power OIS image stabilisation system works brilliantly to smooth out hand shake, to the extent that it’s even possible to walk while shooting without producing jittery footage. Autofocus is fast and the zoom motor, while just about audible in a quiet room, is silent in most everyday situations.

The quality of footage is surprisingly clean in low light, near-flawless in good light, and audio from the built in stereo microphones is excellent. An option on the mode dial, meanwhile, allows you to use the camera in aperture and shutter priority, program and full manual, and adjust the ISO sensitivity. You can’t make changes while shooting, though.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

All in all, the new top-end bridge camera from Panasonic is a triumph. It’s the fastest camera of its type we’ve ever tested, and faster than any compact we’ve ever looked at. It’s stuffed with controls and features, and it produces excellent quality stills. The price might seem a little high at the outset, but when you consider you’re getting video quality to rival the best single-sensor camcorders, as well as a 600mm zoom lens, it suddenly looks an absolute steal.

For a more detailed review go to

Other models to consider are the Nikon Coolpix P500 which has an even longer zoom range, the newly released Fujifilm X-S1which has a larger sensor and so should produce cleaner images or the Canon SX20 IS.

PS Bear in mind that a Canon 600mm f4 image stabilised lens for my SLR would cost just shy of £11,000.

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