Final Verdict – Panasonic Lumix FZ100

January 13, 2011

*Panasonic lent me an evaluation unit to use during CES 2011 and the following is my recap and review of the camera.*

So, it’s done. After shooting nearly 2000 photos and multiple videos over the course of three weeks, I have come to a ruling on the Panasonic Lumix FZ100.

It’s OK.

Maybe a little better than OK, depending on your requirements.

That might seem to be the most blah rating for a camera ever, but I have my reasons. On one hand, I was amazed and enthralled by some of the functions. Stuff I had never seen in a camera this size. On the other, I was disappointed. Bitterly disappointed. Almost to the point of tossing the unit into the canal at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Let’s go through the gamut of feelings and I’ll show you some of the shots and videos to illustrate my emotions.

The Good

Picture quality is off-the-charts. Crisp, clear, representative of true colors. The lens in this machine is great. While I’m sure the current line of DSLRs on the market rival the quality, this is a quasi pocket camera that can do most anything you can get with a camera costing $1100 more.

Here are some examples…

The zoom is amazing. I didn’t fully realize how strong the zoom lens was until late in my coverage of the International Consumer Electronics Show. By that time I was done with press conferences and had some time to explore the Las Vegas Strip. Look at the following two sets of photos and tell me you’re not impressed.

Photos go from far away to annoyingly close…

The sound quality is adequate and definitely all you need if you’re doing video interviews up close with this camera. While in a loud exhibition hall, the microphones on top of the camera were really adept at capturing audio from my subject. I would prefer to have an external mic, but that’s something you give up when going with this type of model over a DSLR.

Here are a couple videos taken at CES in loud environments and you might think I had a shotgun mic on each subject…

And finally, the burst mode got me to shake my head in amazement. You can take more photos than you’d ever need to in the span of a second or two. I was able to stop birds flying to and from my feeder with just the touch of a button. For anyone with kids or who follows wildlife, this feature is rock solid.

Look at the first few shots in this photo set on Flickr to see what I’m talking about

Add to all those good things the crisp and really useful flip-out display; the adjustable diopter; the multiple menu options; and the comfortable grip; and you’ve got a good argument for snagging one of these cameras for both personal and professional shots.

But, if you’re still with me and haven’t run out to buy yourself the FZ100, there are some annoyances that would cause me to not purchase this camera. Really. I might be a little persnickety when it comes to my tech gadgets, but I carry a lot of them around and that is part of the problem.

I want equipment that responds as fast as I can think or act. The Lumix FZ100 was fast out of the gate with focusing and first shots…but getting ready to take a second shot was horribly slow. This was in the regular photographic mode and not in the aforementioned burst mode. But having to wait a perceptible amount of time for the camera to write to the SD card and then be ready to shoot again is a bother. And these situations were in full daylight, so I wasn’t waiting for the flash to load.

The placement of the display buttons is horrible. Of the 50 times I pulled the camera out of the bag to shoot events and people at CES, there were a grand total of three times that my thumb didn’t press the display buttons that reside right on the back side of the grip. This meant that each time I was readying for a shot, I had to be extra careful not to touch the recessed button or else the camera wouldn’t be in shooting mode.

Before you buy, hold one of these and make sure your fingers don’t inadvertently press buttons that switch modes on you willy nilly.

To that end, the flash button is in an odd spot too. It’s behind the left grip on the camera. There’s no worry about hitting it by mistake, but it took me a few times to remember where it was. Many similar cameras put this button on the front side either beside the flash or on the front of the body. That wasn’t a deal breaker, but also indicative of the UI on this model.

The deal-breaker for me was the connectivity. As I mentioned up top, I carry a lot of equipment with me. I’m an all-platform journalist and therefore have a computer, audio recorders, iPhone, USB modems and other gadgets/tech in my bag. I try to travel as light as possible and try to remain as connected as possible no matter where I go.

While it might have been incumbent on me to read through the entire Lumix manual and explore all the online forums (as I had to when I hit a video transfer wall), it wasn’t something I expect most users do and I was trying to behave as a regular consumer.

So, when I had taken a handful of videos with the FZ100, I did what anyone would do and popped out the SD card to transfer those files to my computer. But Panasonic has designed this product so it doesn’t work this way with the Macintosh. There’s no way to get videos off the camera and onto an Apple Macintosh computer without the proprietary cable.

Recall my light-traveling ways. Well, I left that cable in the box at my office 2400 miles away. So any and all videos I shot with the camera, in Panasonic’s AVHD format were useless to me until I returned home.

Facing that wall, with content I needed to share online for clients trapped on the camera, was the straw that made me realize I’d have to go with a camera that had a more universal format for video. It was also at this point I was tempted to fling the camera across the room in frustration, but I restrained myself.

What’s the verdict? $375 is a good chunk of money, but there are many lesser cameras out there for more money. This model is a little bigger than I’d like to carry around with me and the crazy video format aside, it did everything I needed it to do. It’s not perfect, but if I could train myself to not press the display button and maybe put a faster SD card in it, the Panasonic Lumix FZ100 could work for me.

For now, the search for the ‘perfect’ camera continues.